WuduMate: How a non-Muslim business is helping Muslims feel accepted in the workplace
WuduMate is sponsoring the Ihsan Award for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion at Islam Channel's Business Awards, which are taking place on 18th November.
Many Muslim professionals from the late noughties will be familiar with the name WuduMate.
The WuduMate foldable bottle had a cult status in the community — a discreet bottle that you could take to public toilets to perform istanja (clean oneself after using the toilet).
Muslims in the West used to be self-conscious about using public toilets to perform wudu or clean themselves — we all know the jeopardy of being caught with the foot in the sink and having to explain to perplexed non-Muslim colleagues what it's all about!
But these days, Muslims are a lot more confident about explaining their requirements, while companies are increasingly accommodating the bathroom needs of their Muslim employees.
And some of that credit goes to the awareness created by the products of WuduMate — a small business run by non-Muslims, spearheaded by its Managing Director, Nigel Bromilow.
The foldable bottle, now a bag known as WuduMate Personal, was invented by a Muslim but the brand name and product was sold to Nigel in 2009. The company continues to sell the humble product with the recognisable name, but it also supplies other appliances that help Muslims perform ablutions more easily.
"It's still one of our models [WuduMate Personal] and it goes all over the world… but we've now got a big beast on the back of that little product," says Nigel, who is aware of the brand's recognisable name amongst Muslims:
"I was speaking to someone in South Africa about being a distributor for us. And they said 'Oh, I know you. I've got one of your bags, I bought it in Dubai three years ago. And I love it. Are you the same company?'"
Although they provide various toilet and bathroom accessories, their marquee product is the WuduMate washing facility — a bespoke unit that helps Muslims perform wudu sitting down.
An Emirati engineer initially conceived the idea for this self-contained wudu facility but he passed away before he could develop the product. Nigel came across the idea via a friend and that’s how the business – and Nigel’s first interest in all things wudu `— first started.
"[It] landed on my desk when I was between projects, and I was fascinated. I knew very little about it and so I researched it."
A problem solver, Nigel worked in digital businesses in the past, where he would find technological solutions to problems businesses faced. And he looked at this issue the same way; he thought there must be an easier way for Muslims to perform wudu — there was no facility or product that allowed Muslims to wash their feet easily.
"It was an ethical problem more than anything," says Nigel. "And I thought there's got to be a better way. So, I started thinking about how to address that problem."
Nigel initially funded the project himself, going to mosques and speaking to Muslims to design and test the units before bringing it to market: "We had three or four years of loss making and soul searching."
But he persevered because he knew he was on to something. Now, he has taken the business international.
"One of the things in the early days that really struck me; I remember being at an exhibition stand in Dubai and a Saudi citizen was in tears on my stand because I, as a non-Muslim, developed this product. And that really made an impact on me," says Nigel.
Going viral on social
Despite being a British business, WuduMate is bigger in the US. It's not just masjids and Muslim businesses taking his products: "We have some big multinationals putting them in."
For example, Amazon has warehouses and offices dotted across the country with bespoke WuduMate facilities.
Recently, one of their products in an Amazon office in London went viral on social media. A new recruit wrote about her glee in finding prayer and wash facilities, posting a picture of the WuduMate basin.
The sentiment in these posts is about how these facilities make Muslims feel included and accepted, allowing them to bring their whole self to the workplace.
"We're delighted that our products are enriching people's lives and making them happy and comfortable in their workplace and in other public spaces," says Nigel.
"You can see from the comments that follow posts like these, more people become educated about what Muslims need, and maybe more Muslim employees will feel empowered to ask their own place of employment for such facilities. Often companies are willing to help, they just don’t know what is required."
Nigel feels it’s important to educate employers about the needs and benefits of providing prayer and wash facilities for Muslims. That desire led him to create the Diversity Matters brochure
The booklet is a comprehensive guide for those responsible for designing and managing public or commercial properties on what to consider when building a multi-faith or prayer room.
"It's all about how important diversity is in the workplace and how and why we need to respect everyone's requirements," says Nigel. "Would you rather good employees stay with you, or go across the road to your competitor because they have far better working conditions with prayer & ablution facilities? That was the big message."
It isn't just a morally correct thing to do, says Nigel, there are also legal requirements that need to be considered — points he's included in the guide.
"If you are going to provide a multifaith facility — all the good reasons to do that are in the booklet; it helps get the right staff, keeps them happy, and makes them better workers," adds Nigel.
Given their history and the business they're in, it's apt that WuduMate is sponsoring the Ihsan Award for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion at Islam Channel's Business Awards, which will take place on November 18th.
The special award recognises non-Muslim businesses that make Muslims feel genuinely welcome in the workplace. Nominations for the award are open until Friday 21st October.
"We feel very proud to sponsor this award," says Nigel.
"We feel that we have done our little bit to improve the lives of Muslims at work and in the community over the last 15 years, and we salute and honour all the other companies who are on the same journey with us."
The much-anticipated Islam Channel Business Awards is back on Friday 18th November 2022 to celebrate the entrepreneurial talents and outstanding successes of Muslims in business.
Mohamed Harrath, CEO of Islam Channel explained why this award is so significant to the channel: “We are delighted that WuduMate has come on board to sponsor the Ihsan Award. Too often diversity is just seen as a tick box exercise and a product such as this, makes companies think about the practical considerations which will make a real improvement to the lives of their employees.
“This award is very close to my heart, as I know from my personal experience and that of my friends and family that businesses don’t always do a great job of ensuring that Muslims can play a full role in business life. I hope that this award will play a part in encouraging and recognising those that do.
“If you are reading this and thinking that your employer is doing a really great job at making Muslims feel welcome, then I would urge you to nominate them.”
Nominations for the Ihsan Award for Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion are open until 21st October and can be made here