Thirteen years ago, Annie Qaiser began hand-crafting natural lotions and other beauty and wellness products using Islamic and South Asian-inspired ingredients. Born in Pakistan, Qaiser made the products after finding no such items on the market that catered to Muslims.
Eventually, Qaiser started selling her products at gift and craft shows. The positive feedback motivated her to make it a full-on business.
"It was high time I decided to take things into my own hands," she said.
Nearly five years after officially launching Silk Road Wellness, the name of her wellness brand, the products can be found at local food cooperatives such as the Wedge, Linden Hills and Lakewinds as well as other boutique stores in the Twin Cities. This past September, Silk Road Wellness was among a handful of brands picked for placement in Mall of America's Community Commons, a storefront created in 2020 on the second level of the megamall to support and showcase local businesses owned by people of color.
The majority of sales for Silk Road Wellness are e-commerce, and growth of the business has been steady, Qaiser said. Presence at MOA has exposed Silk Road Wellness to a wider audience and has helped Qaiser develop connections.
So far, the business is a one-woman show, with Qaiser making and packaging the products from her Rosemount home. She also works as a freelance copy editor and proofreader of medical publications, and she has authored four books.
"There's a lot of potential to take it to the next level," she said.
Silk Road Wellness is the first halal-certified business at the mall.
In 2019, Qaiser's products became halal-certified, meaning the manufacturing of the products follow halal principles. The products don't contain pork or any of its byproducts, are alcohol-free, toxin-free and don't contain ingredients or are processed in ways that are forbidden under Islamic law.
Qaiser started thinking of making her products adhere to halal standards about five years ago during her hajj, a pilgrimage Muslims take to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
"As Muslims, we contribute a lot to the economy, especially in the beauty industry," she said. "There's lots of Muslims who buy beauty care products, and it was kind of annoying that there was still not enough representation in the beauty industry, which is a multibillion-dollar industry. I want to be able to go to the store and just pick up something and know that it aligns with my faith value and with my personal beliefs."
Products sold under the Silk Road Wellness brand include solid lotions, tooth polishes, face polishes and natural deodorants. Many of the products are dry materials, which eliminates the need for adding preservatives.
The majority of the ingredients used in the products are sourced locally, including beeswax, with the remaining ingredients coming from Pakistan and Canada, where Qaiser still has family, she said.
Qaiser's family moved to the United States when she was 6. They initially settled in Kansas City, Mo., then moved to Toronto, where she majored in mass communication and professional writing at the University of Toronto. She moved to Minnesota in 2006 when she got married.
One of the ingredients Qaiser uses is black seed oil, which she said offers several health benefits.
The potential health benefits of her products make it appealing to a wider consumer base, she said. It also offers Qaiser the opportunity to teach consumers about her culture.
"I didn't want to isolate our business plan to just Muslims," she said. "It's for everybody."