It started as an idea – a solution to a problem but now Solana is poised to be Yasmine Idriss’ vision for the future.
Starting at a young age, Yasmine traveled the world with her family. She visited just under 40 countries by the time she was 20 years old. From those travels, a seed was planted. She always enjoyed meeting people from different parts of the world and going to boarding school in Switzerland, where she lived with people from over 50 countries helped her interest in learning about other cultures continue to grow. Originally from the Middle East herself, Yasmine said she made friends from “every corner of the world.” During breaks, she would step out of her natural environment to travel through Europe with her friends exploring new places and world cultures.
“When I was a kid, I went to many summer camps where I’d meet people from many different countries. Interacting with kids from different places was amazing at that age. Though we had lots of things in common (largely because of pop culture), it was our differences that were the most interesting to learn and discuss. We made jokes and poked fun at each other's cultures, and teasingly tried to compete at whose culture was better - trust me, I’ve heard my fair share of ‘so you go to school on a camel?’ questions. But even though these jokes sound naive at first, they were catalysts to larger conversations about our cultures and customs. Of course, these weren’t complicated conversations but they planted a seed in each of us: that we’re not so different, that we have things to learn from each other, that where you grow up is a huge factor in how you’re educated and shaped,” she said.
Europe was just the start, though. Yasmine eventually traveled to the United States where she attended Loyola Marymount University in southern California. During the summer when the other students were taking internships, Yasmine and her friends were still touring the world and soaking up all it had to offer by taking off the beaten path adventures. “My mentality was more if I ended up working a corporate job, I wanted to have had that time free to travel,” she said.
Yasmine was a seasoned traveler but only in a familial sense. For Yasmine, these college trips were much different than her family vacations. “[We] traveled in a way that I had never done before,” she said.
For Yasmine and her friends, it was a way to understand the world, its people, and various aspects of their culture. “The way I traveled with family was safe and to some extent predictable. These were trips to relax and see the world,” she said. “It wasn’t traveling to learn or travel to grow.”
In her college trips, they traveled with hefty backpacks and made spontaneous plans to trek into towns and cities that weren’t tourist destinations but rather someone else’s hometown in countries not often featured in mainstream news. “It was spur of the moment. Spontaneous. Every day was different. That was exciting but of course, it came with its own challenges,” she said. “It was the first ‘out in the world’ kind of travel without much of a safety net, a sort of rite of passage.”
During one of their experiences, Yasmine and her friends traveled to southeast Asia. Yasmine arrived at the airport in Vietnam after a 16-hour flight unaware of the excitement that awaited her. With her friends waiting at the hostel, Yasmine was hungry, tired, and unsure of where to go in a country where she didn’t speak the language. An hour later, she was on the back of a scooter hoping that the driver was indeed the person her friends sent to pick her up. Her hesitations soon melted away.
“I was upset at first,” she recalled. “But when the driver arrived, and we got stuck in the sea of motorcycles that you often see in Vietnam, all of a sudden I was in a new place. I came alive. That feeling of excitement and adventure reached me again – the unknown. Something new.”
The group of women went all around Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. “One morning we woke up very early to see the monks come in with their alms bowls, waiting to receive food from the townspeople. It was misty and cold as we waited. But soon, a row of orange robes emerged from the thick fog, proceeding ceremoniously towards their awaited meal.” she said. “It was so poetic and beautiful to witness.”
Taking with her all the experiences of her travels, she returned to the hustle and bustle of America ready to focus on her future but keeping those memories along the way. She transferred to Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to become an entrepreneur with one focus in mind: start a business. “When you go to entrepreneurship school, it’s because you want to create something.”
So, she got to thinking – what solution could she offer? First, she thought it was to create slippers that could be folded into a small space to wear during a night out when your less comfortable shoes started to irritate your feet. It was something simple but a solution all the same. For Yasmine, though, there was still a missing element. So, she kept at it. “They say ‘Find your passion. What’s your passion?’” she said. “But the answer to that question never seemed obvious to me, at least not in a career sense.”
That’s when it clicked. Travel and culture. Those are areas she felt she was especially well-positioned to speak about. Taking her own experiences, she started to think of a brand that wouldn’t just be retail oriented, it would reach out to people and teach them something they couldn’t get at home. “What if we could tell a different story about these misrepresented and underrepresented places,” she said. “Put a spotlight on them and tell their story in the most authentic way possible.”
Then she started to think of a name. Something that would represent this new chapter in her life – one that spoke to her adventurous spirit and love of travel. “The name took forever to find,” she recalled. “Every August my family goes to San Diego for a month, as a family vacation. There’s a place called ‘Solana Beach’ there and it’s sort of my happy place. My family’s too. We all love it there. My brother said, ‘Why don’t you try Solana?’ Sol means ‘sun and Ana means ‘peace.’ Apparently, Solana means ‘Eastern Wind.’ I come from the East. It just made sense.”
Once the name was in place, the rest started to fall into line. According to Yasmine, it took time but, “it was meant to be.”
For Yasmine, finding her true passion is about more than just making a living. “I hope that [Solana] succeeds in what it was intended to do: To encourage people to be open and curious about the other, the foreign, the strange, the new. We want to show people how similar we all are in the end, and that whatever differences we do have, are to be celebrated not feared.