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These Egyptian entrepreneurs are empowering women through handicrafts
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These Egyptian entrepreneurs are empowering women through handicrafts

These Egyptian entrepreneurs are empowering women through handicrafts
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Disclaimer: A collage of the co-founders of Freeziana, Egypt: from left - Hadeer Shalaby and Amgad Moustafa. Photos courtesy of Freeziana

 

Egyptian entrepreneurs Hadeer Shalaby and Amgad Moustafa decided early on that they would leave the corporate world and start a business that empowers women. Through Freeziana, a platform that sells handmade goods, they connect directly with buyers to help women grow their handicraft business.

“Our goal is to help housewives and women who are in difficult situations, like divorced or widowed women, to support themselves and their families,” said Hadeer. “We also work with women who want to develop their skills and start a handicraft business. We teach them how to price, market and sell their handmade goods.”

Since launching the website and app in 2016, Freeziana has grown exponentially. Starting with only 50 women who make handicrafts, Freeziana now works with more than 200 women, who produce everything from jewellery to home accessories to leather bags and clothes.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Despite Freeziana’s success today, its beginnings were humble.

“I got the idea to work with women selling handicrafts as part of my graduation project for my university in Mansoura [a governorate outside of Cairo],” Hadeer explained.

She partnered with another university student to source handmade goods and sell them to fellow students and friends.

“We first started selling gift boxes that included mugs, cushions and scarves. It was very successful; many liked the idea and started buying for their fiances.”

The project, however, came to an end soon after graduation.

“My partner didn’t want to continue after we submitted the project. However, she told me that I could continue if I wanted to,” she said. “And I did. I wanted it to become a full-fledged business.”

With limited funds to continue the project, Hadeer moved to Cairo after her graduation to work for a telecommunications company. It was there that she learned of an incubation and accelerator programme that would ultimately change the course of her life.

“I applied to the programme and got accepted. I was so happy because only one out of five applicants got accepted. I received a quarter of a million Egyptian pounds [$14,000] to pursue my project.”

Hadeer attended the program after work and learned everything from business and financial planning to marketing and selecting the right team members. She also met her co-founder Amgad Mostafa.

“Amgad was working with mothers and children in Upper Egypt to produce handicrafts. He also worked in Dubai for a few years and seemed like a great fit for Freeziana.”

With the right people on the ground and with the right foundation in place, Freezania was able to grow and attract buyers. It now exports to galleries in France, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

CHANGING LIVES

Freeziana works with women who need to create sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families. “Many of the women we work with are divorced, widowed or simply housewives who need extra money. We also recently partnered with an NGO to teach refugees in Egypt how to make a living selling handicrafts.”

But not all women who sell their products on Freeziana are escaping poverty or misfortune. Some want to hone their skills and start their own business.

Marwa Hassan, a young housewife in Cairo, was always interested in jewellery-making. An educator by profession, she’s been making jewellery for more than a year now and selling it on the site. “I do this for me. I hope to have my own workshop one day and sell to companies in and outside Egypt,” she said. To improve her jewellery making skills, Marwa also attends many of the organization’s workshops, which range from product design to photography and sales and marketing.

Hadeer’s hopes to continue growing Freeziana and provide its women with more opportunities, whether it is connecting them with buyers or developing their handicraft skills. “I hope to grow Freeziana from a marketing platform to a community space for artisans. I want to provide them with all the resources they need.”

(Writing by May El Habachi; Editing by Seban Scaria seban.scaria@refinitiv.com)

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