Yasmina, Nour and Afif Bizri ’20 were disappointed when their summer internships were cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Afif had just graduated from the College of Charleston School of Business with a degree in business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurship. Nour was planning for her final year at CofC as a senior majoring in psychology. And Yasmina, who is majoring in finance with a minor in information management at the College, had just completed her sophomore year. But these CofC siblings didn’t let the disappointment get them down. Instead, they combined their strengths and launched their own handmade face mask business, Mino Charleston, LLC.
Their mother, Tina Khouja, says her son and daughters embraced the challenge.
“I’m so proud of my three kids! This experience provided them with an opportunity to use their education and help others,” says Khouja. “The whole point is to help break the cycle of the pandemic for the betterment of all.”
The idea for the business started when Nour had a severe allergic reaction to a mask. Earlier in the year, she had suffered a traumatic concussion that resulted in daily seizures and partial paralysis of her left side. Because of these medical complications, her immune system was compromised. Determined to find a mask that was safe for her daughter, Khouja, who studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and her kids began their search. After researching various types of masks, the family decided on the Olson Mask design, which was created by a nurse at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Into that design, they added a unique pattern lining on its inside as well as a pocket for a disposable filter. They chose safety pins to adjust the size of the mask so it is both comfortable and breathable. The final product was a handmade, breathable, washable, safe mask in a beautiful design. Pleased with their product, they made a few more and started donating them.
From top left: Tina Khouja sews a mask; fabrics used to make Mino masks; Nour Bizri packages a mask; Nour, Yasmina and Afif Bizri with their mother, Tina. (Photos by Heather Moran)
Nour began posting images of the masks on Instagram and before long, they were flooded with requests. With no time to waste, Yasmina designed a website, wrote descriptions and clever mask titles (’50 Shades of Gray’ for women, ‘Unda Da Sea’ for kids and ‘Anchor me to Charleston’ for men), Afif handled researching and purchasing of materials, Nour analyzed the market and created polls to better understand their customers, while Khouja sewed and sewed and eventually hired a team of part time seamstresses.
In their second week, the United States Postal Service placed a large order and Mino Charleston was really in business. Soon, they had orders from investment companies in New York, Ohio and London.
“I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve used my business school education in the creation of this business,” says Yasmina. “Especially the business statistics class, which is the hardest class in my opinion. This hands-on experience has taught me how to run a successful small business and now I want to teach others what I’ve learned.”
Yasmina says it hasn’t been easy. In between building the website, she spent hours going door to door selling the masks and learning how to not be discouraged by rejection. And each family member has been working 60 hours a week to produce about 100 masks a day. Giving back to the community is an important part of their work, too. Mino donates 20 percent of all profits to nurses, doctors and people in need, including oncology centers and a local church.
In between working on their business, Yasmina completed 15 credits over the summer and has no intention of slowing down. She’s looking forward to a full semester and is especially excited about the computer-based decision modeling class she’ll be taking.
“I hope to learn how to use data analysis to improve the way we manage our business,” she says. “Up until now, we have trusted our instincts, and this has worked well. Using data to understand consumer behavior will help us make even better decisions.”
Accounting instructor Jennifer Burbage says, “I’m not surprised that Yasmina is running her own business after only a few introductory business school courses. She was one of the few traditional students I have ever encountered who could really relate well to both students and faculty, even with so little experience in the ‘real’ world. Yasmina is a very passionate individual and this will help her succeed in this business and in any future endeavors.”
The family has already started planning for the near future, when the demand for masks (hopefully) declines, and they begin to transition from masks to clothing.
Mino masks can be ordered online at www.mino-charleston.com and in local retail locations, including the Gibbes Museum of Art, Leyla Fine Lebanese Cuisine, Grey Ghost Bakery and Bridge Dental.