N°12 : Meet Israr, barber and hairdresser

Meet Israr, our new guest on this English podcast episode. Israr has launched his barber shop in France! He tells us his story and the difficulties he had to face as a migrant who wants to launch his business in France. A story full of bravery and challenges that shows us all that anything is possible and that we should never give up!

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Je suis Coralie, je pilote Altavia Foundation. A chaque podcast, laissez-vous embarquer dans les coulisses d'un micro-commerce et de son créateur. Son quotidien, son ambition, ses freins, ses fiertés. Prêt à être inspiré ? C'est parti ! 

How and why did you start your own business?

Firstly, I want to express my gratitude for having me here. It's my pleasure to be invited, and I see this as a great opportunity to present myself. The reason I started my own business is that when I first came to France, I didn't have the necessary paperwork to work as an employee. However, once I obtained my legal right to work, I realized that instead of working for someone else, I could open my own business. Despite lacking experience, I believed I could handle it, and that's why I decided to venture into entrepreneurship.

You come from Afghanistan and have faced challenges for around two years to obtain refugee status in order to work. That's correct?

Yes, that's correct. I arrived in France in March 2019 without proper documentation. It took me two years of struggle to secure my paperwork, and fortunately, I obtained it in April 2021.

So, starting your own business was a way for you to integrate into the economy, avoiding the job search and creating your own employment?

Exactly, as I mentioned earlier. This venture isn't aligned with my professional background. I hold a master's in finance and have 12 years of experience in the field. However, the educational and professional landscape in Afghanistan and France differs significantly. Realizing this, I opted to create my own path rather than seeking traditional employment.

Your concept involves both hairdressing and barber services, or is it exclusively barber services?

It encompasses both.

Is it exclusively for men, or do you also cater to women?

It's a mix.

Okay, a mix of services and offerings. I recall you mentioning that it's a family tradition?

Yes, it's a family business. My father, grandfather, and uncle still operate our shop in Afghanistan. Despite my professional background being in finance, our family has a long-standing tradition in this business. As I mentioned during our last video call in 2005, my childhood experiences were different from those of European children. While they focused on education, in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, children often accompanied their fathers to work from a young age.‍

You followed your dad and learned how to cut hair. Have you acquired the skill of cutting hair?

Yes, I've been working in Afghanistan since 2005, learning alongside my father in our family shop. He used to start early in the morning, around 3:30 or 4 o'clock, and as a child, I would wake up at that time to accompany him until 7 or 8 o'clock. After that, I would attend school until around 12:30, followed by English classes, computer classes, algebra, and mathematics. It was a long day, and unfortunately, we often didn't have breakfast or lunch due to financial constraints. That was life back then.

In Paris, you've established your business in Passage Brady, a small street where we currently are. How do you differentiate your services since there are three barbershops here, including two others? How do you plan to distinguish yourself, especially considering you opened just six months ago?

Yes, you're correct. I'll address your question, but first, let me provide some context about Passage Brady. It's the oldest historical passage in France, particularly in Paris. It gained considerable attention in the news 40-50 years ago, and even 20-30 years ago, it was highlighted. I had worked here for a year before the shop closed. It presented an opportunity for me to open my own shop since I already knew people and had previous clients. As you mentioned, there are two other competitive barbershops that have been in business for more than 20 years each. I find myself in the middle, but I believe in my abilities. I'm confident that I can be the best and provide superior service.

Your confidence is a strength, and that's how success is achieved. So, don't apologize for it. Confidence in one's skills is crucial for success.

Thank you. That's how I am. I don't embark on something unless I'm fully committed. Now that I've started, I'm ready to see it through, and I want to succeed.

I understand there were many challenges. Can you share some difficulties you faced as a migrant launching your business, especially considering you weren't fluent in French at the time?

Certainly, every part of my life in France has been a story. For two years, I lacked any official documentation, making it challenging to gain trust or opportunities to develop and showcase my abilities. Additionally, being Afghan, I've noticed that some non-governmental individuals in Europe, especially in France, may not treat you well when they learn about your nationality. There seems to be a negative mindset associated with Afghanistan, possibly influenced by the Taliban. When I say I'm from Afghanistan, people might associate it with Taliban, blood, and similar stereotypes. However, I want to change this perception, not just for myself but for all Afghans. We are diverse, and not everyone should be judged the same way.

Some people, especially those knowledgeable about our history, express pride in meeting Afghans who are educated and open-minded. However, not everyone has this positive perspective. Personally, I continue to face difficulties. For the first two years, I lacked proper documentation due to the bureaucratic challenges. Even after obtaining my work permit in March 2021, I still haven't received my ID card after two years. Despite my efforts and emails to the government, there has been no progress. I have all the necessary documents and permits, but the ID card is still pending, creating additional challenges for me.

And what can the ID card give you access to?

This is a significant issue for me. I want to emphasize that, despite opening my business six months ago, I face challenges due to formalities. I have refugee status in France for ten years, with the necessary work permits and legal status. However, physically, I don't possess an ID card. This absence of an ID card affects various aspects, especially for my business. Without it, my business registration, society incorporation, professional banking, and other crucial elements are hindered. It serves as a prerequisite for several essential processes.

For example, I can't open my business (Khabis) without it. It also impacts my ability to travel, affecting various business-related transactions. Despite having refugee status for ten years, the physical absence of an ID card presents considerable challenges. It's been four years since I arrived in France, and I still haven't received my ID card.

It's an ongoing nightmare. Thank you for sharing that. Now, if we look at the positive aspects of opening your own business as a migrant, how has it connected you to this neighborhood and contributed to your sense of well-being in your host country, France?

Opening my business has been a positive morale booster for me. It has given me the energy to envision and work towards further development. I have a goal – I want to establish my shop as a brand and represent it across France. I hope to one day be recognized throughout the country.

So, you aim to expand and showcase your abilities on a larger scale. That's commendable. Have there been any associations that played a helpful role in your journey, such as Scarabee or others? Can you talk about it?

Yes, I'm grateful to Scarabee. While they haven't provided me with French classes, they've been immensely supportive in other aspects. They've assisted me with administrative tasks, paperwork, OFII classes, Poulain-Pulva, Zampou, CAMF, Prefecture, and even Ofpra. They never turn me away and are always ready to help. I express my gratitude to Scarabee, especially to individuals like Lisa, Michel, Carol, Marie-Anne, and Jeannes.

You appreciate the help they've provided.

They are incredibly kind and sweet to me.

Moving forward, do you have any current needs for developing your business?

Thank you for asking. As I mentioned before, I invested all my savings from working for four years in France into my business. While I don't need financial assistance, I do require specific materials such as machines, hair dryers, chairs, and other barber-related equipment. I also need support in marketing and communication efforts to gain more visibility and clientele.

You may be looking for a microloan to acquire these materials. Additionally, you need support in marketing and communication efforts. Is that correct?

Yes, exactly. A microloan would be helpful for the necessary materials. Moreover, I need assistance with marketing and communication to enhance the visibility of my shop.

Are you currently using platforms like T12 that connect you with clients?

I would like to, but currently, I haven't found such a platform.

Is there anything else you'd like to add or any advice you'd like to give to other entrepreneurs?

Thank you for coming here. It's been a good time, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings. Your understanding of my situation has been helpful, and I hope for the best for both me and you in the future.

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