Avakino is a Manchester-based headwear manufacturer that’s created its own Masumi Headwear range which is specifically designed for people living with hair loss and consists of a range of timeless, elegant and fashionable designs.
The business prides itself on providing an alternative to wigs for all occasions, whether that’s easy-to-wear everyday pieces, an elegant head scarf for a night at the opera, or a knock-out hat for a wedding.
All products are made from carefully selected natural fibres to provide headwear that is light, cool and effortlessly elegant. From Silky-soft cottons, to delicate bamboo fibres, every piece has been designed with comfort in mind.
Little in life happens by chance. Ali had worked in the wig industry for 15 years, most recently at Dimples Wigs, where he designed and developed the unique ‘Feather Premier Collection’ with the help of hair loss sufferers, nurses and hair replacement specialists.
“I grew so attached at the time,” Ali explains. “How couldn’t I? Some of the patients seemed so vulnerable and sometimes didn’t like wearing wigs because they were itchy, or took too much effort − I just wanted to do something; create something better!”
This passion gave birth to his plan to create something chic, fashionable and low-maintenance that people suffering with hair loss would feel good about themselves whilst wearing. But what Ali needed was the support to ensure he would start his business with a solid foundation and the right advisor beside him.
Ali first turned to the Business Growth Hub in 2014 with the product idea that he was eager to bring to market. He began working with Isabelle Farquhar, one of the Hub’s specialists, on our start-up programme.
Ali was eager to develop and learn as an entrepreneur. He accessed a whole host of Hub services which helped increase his knowledge around specific aspects of running a business such as market research, taking a product to market, pitching and tendering.
Ali says: “I just soaked up the knowledge. At the end of every event, I took something away from it that has helped me build my business.
“You know, I had all these ideas…but couldn’t always see the bigger picture. For example, I didn’t realise how important social media was – I didn’t even have a Facebook page!”
Meanwhile Isabelle introduced the business to the Department for International Trade NW, another part of Manchester Growth Company, who provided tailored support on how to find new markets overseas.
Avakino only started trading in November 2016 and within four months the Masumi range had secured 40 new accounts within the industry, along with distributors in countries such as Denmark, Spain, Sweden, France, Ireland and USA.
“Being an entrepreneur and running your own business is very challenging” says Ali. “But at the end of the day, when I get to see the results and receive messages from customers all over the world telling me how much they love my headwear, it really motivates me to carry on this journey.”
Ali has already secured a host of contracts to supply exclusive products from his Masumi Headwear range, including the likes of Maggie’s Centre at the Christie Hospital, York Cancer Care Centre, Huddersfield and Pinderfields Hospital.
Avakino’s latest collaboration is with the Teenage Cancer Trust. Initially being trialled in a couple of their centres in the UK, with the intention to roll-out nationwide, that will see each cancer patient receive an exclusive code at the start of their treatment which they can exchange for one item of headwear from their Masumi range for free via the company’s website.
Later this year Avakino will be releasing a new-to-market sports range of headwear, ‘Masumi Active’ to promote healthy living.
“As a new entrepreneur, I could never imagine we would be where we are in such a short period of time,” reflects Ali. “I strongly believe the business has only managed to achieve so much because of the great support behind us.
“Of course, this starts with the support of my wonderful family, but I’ve also been given great one-to-one support, so much expertise and the right network of contacts needed to succeed by the Business Growth Hub.
“In the early stages of starting a business, it can be really lonely. It’s been nice to have someone to talk to when I’ve needed it, without them I may have given up when things got tough.”
While working with the Hub, Ali was introduced to Venturefest 2016 Innovation Showcase winners, Nothing But Epic, who they’ve teamed up with to design and develop Avakino’s new ‘Headwear by Masumi’ e-commerce site.
Isabelle Farquhar adds: “Avakino has achieved a fantastic level of growth within a specialist niche sector in a short period of time.
“Seeing the success Avakino’s Masumi brand has achieved has been particularly pleasing, too, given that Ali’s work helps those who are currently undergoing treatment for cancer, as well as those who have alopecia.
Knowing that Ali is helping those who are going through a difficult time is very rewarding.”
As a proud graduate of Salford University, Ali is often very keen to support its academic community. He now delivers talks to postgraduate students at Salford University Business School.
And due to Avakino’s fast growth, Ali has taken on two interns from Salford University’s Graduate Programme, in collaboration with Santander, and is now planning to move into dedicated business premises as he continues to expand the business.
“It means a lot to me to be able to create opportunities wherever I can,” explains Ali. “Having graduated from Salford University’s Business School with a Master’s degree in 2009, it’s great to now be able to go back and create opportunities for the bright minds of the future – it’s truly an incredible privilege and something I’m very proud of.”