For Queens-based hot sauce entrepreneur Sufia Hossain, this most recent project is personal on many levels.
Not only does the venture hold deep significance for Hossain as a coronavirus survivor, but it also brings together her passion for art, service and fashion - not to mention chili peppers.
Nearly four years ago, Hossain left her career in the fashion industry as a Gap executive to start up her own hot sauce business.
“I was quite unhappy in corporate, and I felt like I wasn’t doing anything meaningful with my life,” she recalls. “I would go to local farmers markets and talk to the vendors. I felt a lot of compassion toward the people who grow food for us, and I found myself through that.”
She also became “obsessed” with all the unique colors, shapes and sizes of the peppers she would buy from them. After experimenting with homemade hot sauce as gifts for loved ones, Hossain says she began to truly enjoy her “pepper life” and decided to officially launch Silly Chilly as a brand.
Now, Silly Chilly Hot Sauce is stocked in more than 100 stores across the TriState area, as well as in Los Angeles. In support of their operations, Hossain works directly with farmers in New York and New Jersey, and is currently connecting with growers in California.
Hossain’s idea to sell face masks came from that same interest in service and collaboration. Back in July, she learned about Artisan Sewing & Fashion NY, a co-op founded by Bangladeshi former garment workers in her neighborhood of Jamaica that has been employing people to make items like masks, hats and tote bags from home.
An immigrant from Bangladesh herself, Hossain felt drawn to the co-op’s efforts and activism. At first, she just ordered a few masks for herself, using her skills as an artist to hand-paint them with chili peppers.
Hossain received so many compliments on her masks from people she encountered on the street that she forged a partnership with Artisan Sewing & Fashion NY. She continues to buy their two-ply cotton masks in bulk, decorating them with one-of-a-kind pepper art.
“I’m very excited to work with them because they are not just any other source,” explains Hossain. “They prove a lot of value to the community, especially during COVID. There’s so much distress going on worldwide and I’m just happy to contribute.”
Each of the pepper colors on her masks correspond to a Silly Chilly sauce: red for Habanero Super Duper Hot and Serrano and Chipotle; yellow for Fresh Mango and Sweet Peppers; and green for Bangla City, a new creation that will be released this winter.
Masks are available for purchase at sillychillyhotsauce.com. Adult products retail for $30, and the children’s version goes for $25. Customers can enter the promo code “MASK” at checkout for free shipping on their orders.