Creativity, dynamism and willingness: These are the keywords to identify the new generation of self-made Egyptian women. Zeinab Khashab, jewelry designer, make up artist, and young entrepreneur, is one such woman.
When you enter Khashab’s almost empty studio, which has a full-length window facing a reassuring garden, you suddenly forget about crowded and polluted Cairo, and start relaxing. For some people, creativity needs external chaos, but for others, it requires organization. Khashab seems to prefer quiet spaces where her ideas can take shape.
The designer graduated in engineering at the American University in Cairo and decided to fully dedicate her time to her first love: design. “I love the whole idea of design. It doesn’t matter what design, of what, it is,” she explains. After working for a few years for an oil company, she says, “I decided that it was enough, and I wanted to pursue what I liked.” Until that moment, she had accepted working in a field she didn’t enjoy because “It was very challenging and I like challenges; I think this is what really drives me when I take decisions. Whether it’s positive or negative, I need to prove that I can do it.”
Khashab's determination successfully guided her through the often unfriendly world of entrepreneurship. She started producing jewelry pieces during a leave of absence from her first job, with no intention of making money or creating a business out of it at first. However, once she found the courage to quit her job, everything came spontaneously–proof that creativity can’t be bridled, no matter how much you try.
“During the leave of absence, I rented an apartment. There, I had the time, the atmosphere, and the mood [to start creating]. It was lovely." After quitting her job, Khashab also enrolled at a makeup school, becoming a certified makeup artist–a career she is currently pursuing along with jewelry design.
Khashab creates necklaces, earrings, and anklets, using all kinds of materials, depending on the model she has in mind. Each piece is unique. “I prefer creating my jewelry rather than making it to order. This is why I don’t realize the same piece twice. I can produce similar items, but not an exact copy, because it’s not fun for me anymore,” she explains.
Being your own boss sounds undoubtedly attractive–you can manage your time (particularly good if you are not a morning person), and work without someone else exerting pressure on you. However, you need business, marketing, and psychological skills, as well as sales techniques to manage all aspects of your activity. When business skills fail you, or you want external support, there are companies that assist small ventures.
This is the tip the young jewelry designer would suggest to women who’d like to start their own business. “I’m currently collaborating with Boost Incubator, which gives the chance to small businesses to be connected to bigger companies, and to receive support in outlining their business plans.”
“I started with a few bazaars at the beginning of 2010. After that, I decided it was time to take a further step. So I partnered with another jewelry designer, and we got a booth and sold our products in Porto Marina [on the North Coast]. We had good sales and feedback, so I understood there was potential for something bigger.”
Internet literacy and computer skills are other essential factors to succeed. “Without them you are definitely limited. The Internet, especially Facebook, is an amazing tool that helps you in developing and starting a new business with zero marketing cost.”
Khashab's sales definitely increased thanks to Zozouba, the Facebook page she created with pictures of her jewelry. She deliberately chose a name that would be identifiable in both Egypt and abroad.
“Starting your own business is difficult for any woman, whether Egyptian or not. However, I haven’t faced consistent problems during these years,” Khashab explains. “There are so many bazaars out there and you can just enroll in one of them, try and see people’s feedback.”
She adds that you can be creative and have business and marketing skills, and a family who might support you, but the only way to be your own boss is through trying, “because you can’t know what you can achieve until you try.”