When Hebatalla Mohamed moved to Saint John a little less than a year ago from Saudi Arabia she noticed a problem — options were limited for Muslim women looking to buy clothes.

"As Arabian women, we face a lot of problems and the biggest one is our style," she said. "We find it difficult to get our style here … that's why we were thinking of opening this store." 

Mohamed, along with her business partner Lamis Hijazi, opened their store Women's Zone on Tuesday. A clothing store that caters specifically to Muslim women, it's the first of its kind in Saint John. 

Before the store opened, women would get their clothes through online retailers. Mohamed said the shipping for the clothes could be costly and often it was hard to predict the quality. 

Mohamed moved to Canada about 10 months ago to give her children a better future. She had travelled to Dubai for a session on immigration to Canada and saw a video about Saint John.

Once in Canada, she attended the business mentorship program at the Hive Saint John, which is where she met Hijazi. The program is geared toward helping newcomers gain the tools necessary to succeed professionally in Canada. 

Matt George, who works for the Hive Saint John, said after Mohamed and Hijazi completed a training program in January he took them on one-on-one as an adviser.



His role was to help them navigate the requirements for starting a business in Canada. He said they received funding through the Impact Loan Program at the Hive to start the store. 

When the two partners met, Hijazi abayhad already been in talks with her brother in Turkey about having him supply clothes for a business in Canada. She said he gave her the idea to open up a store because she, like Mohamed, had noticed it was difficult to find clothes.

Around a year ago, Hijazi began bringing the clothes to Canada. She created a Facebook group and started creating a customer base. When she met Mohamed in the Hive program, they decided to expand the idea to an actual brick and mortar store.

The store opened Tuesday at noon and Hijazi said they were soon seeing a steady stream of customers. The plan is for Women's Zone to be open Monday to Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The store sells a variety of indoor and outdoor ware from pajamas to head scarves to abayas, a loose over-dress worn by some Muslim women. The pricing is reasonable with head scarves retailing for around $10 and an abaya costing $60. 

The response from customers has been positive. Hia Alaijel was in shopping today along with some other women and she was excited the store had opened. 

She said before Women's Zone, she would buy clothes online and from Mohamed and Hijazi, who were selling out of their homes. The store offers women more choice, she said. 

The store was imagined as more than a place for retail. There is a playroom for children and Mohamed said Women's Zone is addressing another issue in their community — the need for a place where women can "communicate, socialize with each other."

"We need a private place for women not only for our clothing," she said. "Most women, especially at the morning, do nothing but stay home." 

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Alaijel was among those who came for the company as well as the shopping. She'd been in the store for an hour already. 

Sarah Kester is a reporter at CBC in Saint John, New Brunswick. She can be reached at sarah.kester@cbc.ca.

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