THE DATE SULTAN
Global purveyor of ethical and artisanal dates on a mission to tackle modern slavery.
Hey everyone! Or shall I say, Asalamu Alaikum, which in Arabic means 'Peace Be Upon You'. I'm Syed Usman Shah, or you can just call me by my given moniker,
the Date Sultan.
I absolutely love dates – disclaimer, I'm not talking about the romantic type, I mean the edible fruit. Dates just pack so much flavour, taste, nutrients, minerals and most of all, they are a supreme natural delight. I eat dates every day, and I cannot get enough of them.
However, I love innovation too. Therefore, I merged my passion for dates and innovation and began to fill dates with a variety of flavours, creating some really fantastic taste sensations to make the taste buds go insane. New creations such as the Medjool date with salted caramel or peanut butter… Or honey roasted nuts - the list goes on and on...
It was when I was awarded a travelling fellowship by the Churchill Memorial Trust
(for my services to Diversity & Inclusion) that things became serious.
As part of my fellowship travels, I decided to visit many date farms across the Middle East to further my passion and explore the vast date farms for research and development.
I found some of the most mesmerising and sumptuous dates the world has ever known on my travels. I firmly believed that such heavenly dates had never crossed over to British Shores to delight our taste buds, and I wanted to be the first to purvey them.
But what I also discovered was the gut-wrenching and heart-breaking reality of modern slavery. It was rife across various many date palm farms in the region. Labourers on these farms would tell me that they hadn't been paid for months; they looked malnourished and without hope. It was clear that they were being exploited.
I arrived back in the UK with my heart filled with dread and my thoughts still with the labourers I met at the date farms. It was at this juncture that I realised that this was my calling. I decided I wanted to tackle modern slavery on date palms head-on. I approached these farmers and landowners who had luscious dates but immoral practices with a different proposal which they agreed to:
'Pay your workers on time, offer them a fair living wage, and agree to be audited randomly – and I will buy from you – and for that, I'll happily pay more for the dates if this is the cost'.
It was these very labourers I helped on a farm in Madinah, Saudi Arabia, who started to call me the 'Date Sultan,' which in English translates to Sovereign of Dates or the Emperor of Dates. I liked this name so much that it has since become my brand name.
So in 2021, I founded a social enterprise by the name of, you guessed it, Date Sultan. A premium dates brand, where ethics is at the heart of everything we do. I purvey the finest dates from Madinah, Jordan, Egypt and Palestine. I ensure that everyone in our supply chain is paid fairly and isn't a victim of modern slavery.
Working in a little shed in Forest Gate, Newham wasn't the easiest way to begin our production – the local public had no visibility of my dates or my mission.
However, I kept persisting with my values and regularly posted on social media until, one-day last year, a TikTok video of Date Sultan went viral and really helped put us on the map.
The demand was sudden, and we quickly ran out of our stock. I needed funds asap to scale up (buy more dates!), so I decided to create a reward-based Crowdfunder.
I asked my local community in Forest Gate, friends and family to help me raise £8000 so I can buy dates in bulk – and as a thank you, I'd send them a selection of dates. I had doubters who thought I'd struggle to raise £1000, but I was blown away by the response and somehow ended up overfunding and raised £19,999. Since then, I've invested every penny into the Date Sultan.
The blessings of God continued to rain on me as I was selected by the United Arab Emirates' Khalifa International Award For Date Palm & Agricultural Innovation' to speak at the International Date Palm Conference on 'Ethical Trading within the Date Industry' – and they have since flown me to Jordan and Egypt to find, and inspire the premium ethical date ethos.
The mission is to fight modern slavery head-on; the dream is to become the biggest and most beloved Date company globally – where every household gets to taste premium ethical dates and contribute to the mission purveyed by Usman, the Date Sultan – all from the beautiful realms of Forest Gate, East London.