‘How I Did It’ Episode 3: Toks Ahmed, Co-Founder of SOUL CAP

8 min readFeb 16


In the third episode of our scaling founder series How I Did It, we speak to Toks Ahmed, co-founder of inclusive swimming cap brand SOUL CAP. Find our how Toks and business partner Michael managed to scale their brand and build a community all while balancing cash flow and business challenges.

Tell us a bit about SOUL CAP.

SOUL CAP is an inclusive swimming brand that caters to people with long and voluminous hair. We have a particular interest in serving communities that are traditionally underserved by today’s swim brands.

How did SOUL CAP’s journey begin?

It all started when Michael, my business partner, and I went on holiday and realised everyone could swim but us. After this experience we both decided to take up swimming lessons and whilst at a lesson we noticed a particular lady in our pool who had an afro and was struggling with her swimming cap. It was a real problem: water kept going into her hair and she kept struggling to keep her hat on, and it was then we both had that ‘Aha!’ moment and asked ourselves why there weren’t any larger swimming caps.

We spoke to her, our mums and our sisters, and asked two questions:

  1. Is your hair one of the barriers to you taking up swimming as a hobby or sport?
  2. If there was a cap specially made to cater for your hair type, would you give it a chance?

To both questions, the overwhelming response was “yes”. Then we asked ourselves, “Is there anything credible in the market for people with voluminous hair?” — and the answer was no. So we thought, why not create something to solve this problem?

From there, we came up with the brand name, Michael designed the packages and that was the birth of SOUL CAP.

SOUL CAP’s first product, a swimming cap for voluminous hair

Once a side hustle, SOUL CAP is now a multi-million pound business. How did you get the brand off the ground?

Due to validating the concept so early on, we agreed that we’d let the business grow organically. We never had huge expectations, but because we enjoyed what we were doing, we decided to keep reinvesting the profits we made and do what we needed to keep fulfilling orders.

When we began, we invested £1,000 each; we saved costs by getting someone on [freelancer platform] Fiverr to help us with a logo. Michael focused on sorting out the brand packaging and he just made it work. Although there were times where we were both doing different things — myself in my city job and Michael finishing university — we would work whenever we could. There wasn’t much of a structure to it; we’d just be scrappy and get things done.

How did you overcome challenges you encountered in the beginning?

As orders started picking up, we very quickly realised cash flow — particularly cash flow needed to order more stock — was something we had to get on top of if we wanted to keep up with growth. We often had situations where we had a substantial amount of orders but the cash itself wouldn’t be paid to us for a particular period of time.

In such cases, Michael and I would both invest in buying more stock to ensure we could surpass the last set of orders, even though we hadn’t been paid for those orders yet. In that sense, we weren’t only reinvesting our profits but reinvesting from an equity standpoint as founders too.

Cash flow was something we had to get on top of if we wanted to keep up with growth

How did you keep up the momentum and expand the brand?

We launched new products and variations of our existing products, such as new size swimming hair caps, new colours, and eventually totally new products like hair towels. This, coupled with the launch of our social media channels and community engagement campaigns, really separated us from other brands. We became the go-to swimcare brand that clearly showed it cared about serving the communities it was catering for. Throughout the whole journey, we put the customer first, and ensured that we went above and beyond.

By this point, we had re-invested quite a lot by then. We had gone from doing things ourselves to investing and paying others to do things the right way. For example, photoshoots and branding played a big role in our growth and overall brand perception.

The more money we had available meant the more we could invest, so we ended up renting a space with a studio and I asked my now-wife, who works in that space, to hire us the best models, photographers and designers to ensure the brand continued to come across as premium.

Since 2018, you’ve tripled your revenue. How did you go about acquiring customers?

There were a few ways we did this, but one key thing was our focus on Amazon. We had our own e-commerce store but it wasn’t getting very much traffic. Our Amazon store, however, was different. One thing we noticed straight away was that people were coming to Amazon with an intent to buy. Therefore it was a very strong acquisition tool for customers, particularly if you are the obvious choice for customers based on your reviews, imagery and product specification.

Amazon helped us with our growth massively, particularly because of its global reach. Once we got a hang of things between 2018 and 2021 on Amazon UK, we were able to open up a shop on Amazon US pretty much overnight, allowing us to expand into a totally new market which now makes up close to 50% of our annual sales. Not only has it allowed us to break into the States but [we are also in] Canada which, all three combined, are enormous markets.

With that said, while we did have our e-commerce website working for us, we didn’t spend loads of money on Google ads, Facebook ads and so on. We decided that we would smash one acquisition channel and then take the profits we made from that to feed other acquisition channels.

SOUL CAP Microfiber Hair Towel

Tell us how SOUL CAP secured Olympic athlete Alice Dearing as an ambassador. How did it all happen?

First of all, Alice Dearing is an inspirational young woman and the first female of colour to go the Olympics and represent Great Britain for Team GB. We saw her in an article written by Seren Jones, one of the co-founders of the BSA [Black Swimming Association]. At the time, she was an Olympic candidate and she was just being open and honest in her interview about her struggles of being a woman of colour in the swimming industry. We felt she was super aligned with our mission and vision, so we just reached out to her. We wanted to support her journey as she tried to qualify for the Olympics.

We told Alice why we wanted to support her and have her as our ambassador, and crazily enough she responded. She put us in touch with her manager and we started the conversation. What was funny was that we actually ended up knowing her manager through a mutual friend! Despite having loads of large brands (who I’m sure were making a lot more money than us) contacting her for an ambassador role, her manager said SOUL CAP was a brand she bought into immediately, because of the way we looked and what we represented.

Looking back at it now, that was ballsy of us: for us as a small brand to reach out to an Olympic candidate and secure an ambassadorship.

How did your Adidas collaboration come about?

Adidas came across the brand organically through social media. We got a message from someone on the team saying they loved the brand and wondered whether we would be open to working together. We were blown away — how were we getting approached by Adidas? We spoke to their licensing and communcations teams and started looking at all the different ways we could work together.

We ended up coming up with a wholesale arrangement whereby the product was co-branded, we would pay for the production of the stock and then sell it to Adidas at wholesale price. They stocked them on their webaite and we sold them through ours too. It worked really well because it really felt like it was a partnership as opposed to us just licensing the Adidas brand.

It was really positive and we’ve sold quite a few caps. We’re excited for the next season.

How did SOUL CAP get featured on Peacock’s most streamed original TV series, Bel-Air?

[Bel-Air creators] Westbrook Studios reached out to us and told us they loved our product. They might have come across us organically through social media, as this is how Adidas had previously found us. They said they were recording the show and that there were swimming scenes where they wanted to use our caps. Initially, they wanted to see if we could make a custom cap with the crest of the school [that features in the show], but timelines were tight and we didn’t have time to do it; instead we sent a bunch of caps and thought we’d just see what happened.

Later down the line, they got back and said they had used them. We saw the scene ourselves later on.

How have you managed to keep SOUL CAP profitable year on year, despite your significant growth?

In the initial stages, we had to look at the costs of making the product, what the packaging looks like, how much it costs to get it shipped to us (or to fulfilment centres or to Amazon) and how much we can sell it for. Realistically, we wanted to charge a price that was fair, accessible and affordable. When you start out with lower quantities and you haven’t got a prior relationship with the factory [that manufactures your product], costs are higher. But as you develop over time and as you can show the factory you’re reliable and you pay on time, you can negotiate with them and try to push the price down.

But even from the beginning before we had those relationships, when were shipping orders out ourselves and we didn’t have preferential rates with couriers, we knew there was enough [profit] margin on our product. If you’re a business owner or looking to get into e-commerce, you need to start from the beginning and work out much your product costs to make, to ship and to package; you have to look at other products in the space and decide if you can justify it.

For example, if it costs you £5 to make a product, but all other comparable products on the market are on sale for £5.50, there’s not enough margin for you. You need to go back and ask if it’s possible to bring the cost down to £2, for example. If not, you may decide the product isn’t viable for you at that stage.

We looked at the the cost we were able to build the product for, and the price of other comparable products on the market, and we knew there was enough margin for us.

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