“Women’s lives matter. No-one should be denied the opportunity to receive an education and to dream of developing a career that leads to financial independence because of their gender.”
No. It’s not an inspirational quote pulled from the pages of Twitter, but the words of Shaherazad Umbreen, business woman, philanthropist and “Shoe E.O”, as she describes it, of a new small enterprise in Britain – Shoes by Shaherazad™.
“What’s a Shoe E.O?”, I ask? Umbreen explains, smiling at the question. “It’s a creative way of describing my role, as Shoe Empowerment Officer for my business – Shoes by Shaherazad™. It’s not the only job that I have, as I am a senior manager within an English retail business – a co-operative actually – and I look after a customer and marketing team. My experience has been gained in a number of different companies and fields since graduating,” she adds, “it’s been an amazing journey, although my desire for helping others is what really ignites my passion.”
As a senior manager in a midlands-based co-operative society, you would be forgiven for thinking that a full-time managerial role would be all-consuming, leaving little time to run a small but developing luxury shoe business. “I love my ‘proper’ job and my career success, which I’ve worked incredibly hard for,” says Shaherazad, “but there’s always been this need throughout my working life that has seen me – an empowered business woman – want to empower other women and girls. For many females, receiving an education is simply seen as unnecessary, either through cultural and societal limitations, or because these women are living in poverty. I knew I had the power to help.”
Shaherazad was privileged to be raised in a family home where her mother passed on a very important blueprint for life. “So often, girls and women are raised with the notion that they shouldn’t aim for a great career or that the board room is out of their reach. My sisters and I were taught that our education wasn’t something that every girl could take for granted,” the entrepreneur adds, “we were encouraged to study hard and that it was a means of opening doors to great careers. Mum also shared a valuable piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten – that you must champion your fellow women and act like a cheerleader for each other.”
Shaherazad has created a luxury shoe brand for women – the 18-hour heel – which is a range of luxury, handmade, patent leather heels for women who work long days and are looking for comfort from the board room to the bar. “Most women know that heels are incredibly uncomfortable to wear after a few hours,” Shaherazad shares, “and as the majority of high-end shoes are designed by men, they simply don’t have to endure the pain and therefore continue to design in an uncomfortable way. I decided to design a heel which was kind to women in more ways than one.”
Umbreen spent two years learning her trade of creating great-looking shoes that are kind to feet. She learned that flamingos manage to distribute their weight evenly, so copied the principle. The shoe designer found the perfect heel design that would allow women who need to spend all day on their feet to do so comfortably for up to 18 hours. “I loved the fact that flamingos share the duties of raising young equally, both males and females and that they both blush. I believe in equality, therefore it’s perfect to align my shoe architecture with these amazing birds,” she enthuses.
Before Shaherazad learned the craft of designing and hand-making shoes for other women to enjoy, she always wanted to create a business that could actively generate profits that could be used to empower and support girls and women living in poverty. The shoe business enterprise is Ms. Umbreen’s way of helping to empower females who haven’t had the same educational opportunities that she and her sisters have benefited from. The inspiring young woman then neatly summarises her vision by telling me “when empowered women empower other women, the world becomes a better place.” Inspiring stuff, indeed.
Shaherazad wants to ensure that the cycle of poverty is broken and her heels are certainly helping to do this, little by little. To date, in partnership with Global Giving, Shoes by Shaherazad has helped with 5 projects in 4 countries, all focused on giving women access to education. This year, 500 girls have been helped already, in Kenya, Palestine, Pakistan and Peru, with the aim to invest in every country in the world over the coming years, where there are females in need of educational support. “I want to help address the imbalance of opportunities for females. What if females were able to find their own happy ending? What if we could have ‘equally ever after’ instead of ‘happily ever after’?”, says the entrepreneur.
Shaherazad is also encouraging women to invest more discerningly on fashion and accessories that only see the light of day a few times, before moving to the back of the wardrobe. She’s made her heels incredibly durable, as well as beautiful and just as a new accessory can transform an existing item of clothing, Shaherazad has created a range of jewellery for her shoe-range – known as ‘shoellery’ – such as additional embellished straps that allow the wearer to change the simple suitable-for-work strap into a more glamorous bejewelled or embellished version, particularly if heading straight from the board room to the bar.
“You don’t have to buy endless pairs of shoes or carry another pair to the workplace for when you head out after a busy day,” says Umbreen, “my shoellery is a sustainable way of giving these heels a new lease of life and it means that you just need to invest in a single pair of heels, with the option to collect shoellery for those extra looks.”
To date, sales have been extremely positive and earlier in 2016 the young businesswoman experienced a total sell-out situation, following a great article in a national British newspaper, whose journalist gave the heels a huge thumb-up for their long-term comfort benefits.
Shaherazad Umbreen closes by telling me “It’s been very hard work developing these shoes, but it’s been the most rewarding work I’ve ever done, particularly as these are good deed shoes – good for the heels, good for the head and good for the heart.”
I think you’ll fall head over heels for these amazing shoes. Shoespirational!
Author: Andrew Fouracre, Communications Partner for Shoes by Shaherazad.
Shaherazad Umbreen is the Shoe.E.O. for Shoes by Shaherazad, the world’s first 18 hour heels. Some of the profits from every pair make a difference for girls and women, through a partnership with Global Giving. Further details are available at www.18hourheels.com
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