#SWAAYthenarrative

Pakistan's Youngest Female Entrepreneur Teaches Us How to Overcome the Odds

Culture

She was born in Pakistan, a place where girls and women receive little to no support or resources to become successful, strong women in life either personally or professionally. Somehow though, Shama Zehra beat those odds, becoming one of the youngest female entrepreneurs in Pakistan.

She started her first company, one focussed on clothing design that she started in her family's apartment when she was only sixteen-years-old. She then earned two MBA's before joining the largest private sector bank in Pakistan as a Senior Officer and serving as the product head for the Pakistan International Airline (PIA) co-branded card. It was the first frequent flyer credit card in Pakistan. She soon moved on to a position at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. She's a whirlwind. And that was just the beginning. She is now busy at work on an app called Jetzy “that taps into the emerging market of 'flashpacker' millennials who are lifestyle travelers that prefer to travel on their own terms, connect with locals and discover hidden gems all while making friends globally." The app already boasts users from 137 countries and almost half a million social media followers.

How does a Pakistani woman do all of that in spite of it all? Well, for one thing, she follows her own advice when it comes to challenging the negative messaging so many women still experience today in nearly every one of life's arenas is simple - she allows the things that don't serve her to simply go in one ear and come out the other.

Here's more on just how Zehra has managed to accomplish the remarkable work she has done.

What gave you the confidence as a child to think you would ever be more than "someone's wife"?

When I was growing up in Pakistan, women were generally considered inferior human beings to men. Although it's gotten better today, it's still expected for a woman to be an extension of her husband, and her own dreams and ambitions are not encouraged or taken seriously. I was blessed with parents who were both entrepreneurs, with a ton of ambition, especially my mother, who was fearless, resilient, and supportive. She always encouraged me in my career all along the line

What inspired you to start working in fashion as a teenager?

I have loved fashion, lifestyle, and travel since I was a kid. When I found an opportunity to build something in the fashion space, I jumped on it.

How did that apparel company succeed despite you being a woman growing up in Pakistan?

From the beginning, we knew it wasn't going to be easy. Pakistan is a hard place to run a small business, let alone a business run by women. Women were not treated with the same level of respect and importance as men in Pakistan. Between not being taken seriously in business negotiations and dealing with thefts, the setbacks we faced only encouraged us to work harder to overcome adversity. I heard all the time “you can't do it" from multiple men and some women too. The negativity only gave me the fuel to prove even more people wrong.

Shama Zehra.

What were you parents' reactions when you started the apparel company?

Well, my mother, sister, and I started the company together. So they were all for it. My mother was no stranger to entrepreneurship. So she encouraged me and was my biggest supporter every step of the way.

How did you come to sell that first company?

We started the company in my family apartment, and it grew rapidly. We soon moved on to a facility where we could build a small factory with six staff members and a flagship store. We were doing business to customer from the store to women and business to business to the Pakistani equivalents of Macy's. We also had pop-up stores at five-star hotels. Despite our success, the infrastructure problems (thefts, security issues, bomb blasts, curfew in the city, lack of electricity etc.) made it very challenging for small business owners to succeed in Pakistan, especially for women, that's why I decided to sell the business when I was twenty.

When you were a little girl, did you ever imagine you would be where you are today?

Yes and no. I knew I could do a lot for some reason. I'm not sure where my drive was coming from. But I was very driven even as a child and used to think about creating another McDonalds. I didn't know that I would be so fortunate as to pursue my passion of travel. Jetzy has made it all possible for me.

If you could speak to every little girl and young woman growing up today under the current administration, what words of advice would you give them?

I would strongly encourage them to ignore those who look down on them and use their discouragement as fuel to prove them wrong. No matter what you do, you aren't going to please everyone, and that's life. For young people who think they may not have what it takes to run their own business or make it in a certain industry; just follow your dreams. By surrounding yourself with the right positive people and pushing the limits, you truly can do anything.

What would you say is the greatest challenge/obstacle you ever encountered?

I would say the biggest challenge I faced was the security issue in Pakistan. Let alone all other issues, we had to work hard to stay alive and stay safe. Gender equality issue was another area. Not only was it extremely relevant in Pakistan, but on Wall Street as well. The finance sector is obviously a very male-dominated industry. Proving myself in several markets, I put in the time, discipline, and work ethic that was required for me to succeed in these male-centered environments. The female role models we have in business today are incredible. Women are now given a lot more equal opportunity that they were given in years past.

What is your dream for the future both for yourself and for all women across the globe?

I want to grow Jetzy so that it can help people in all walks of life. For women across the world, I want to be a resource of advice and connections.

Come join my Jetzy girl on the app. I will be building a channel of career connections for women globally who join Jetzy girl on the app.

How do you stay inspired?

Meditation, prayers, yoga, my little nephew, and, of course, my Jetzy family all keep me inspired.

All Photos Courtesy of Shama Zehra
3 Min Read
Lifestyle

Tempted To Dial Your Ex: 5 Ways To Know Whether Or Not You Should Contact An Old Flame

Thinking of ringing up your ex during these uncertain times? Maybe you want an excuse to contact your ex, or maybe you genuinely feel the need to connect with someone on an emotional level. As a matchmaker and relationship expert, I was surprised at the start of the coronavirus quarantine when friends were telling me that they were contacting their exes! But as social distancing has grown to be more than a short-term situation, we must avoid seeking short-term solutions—and resist the urge to dial an ex.

It stands to reason that you would contact an ex for support. After all, who knows you and your fears better than an ex? This all translates into someone who you think can provide comfort and support. As a matchmaker, I already know that people can spark and ignite relationships virtually that can lead to offline love, but lonely singles didn't necessarily believe this or understand this initially, which drives them straight back to a familiar ex. You only need to tune into Love Is Blind to test this theory or look to Dina Lohan and her virtual boyfriend.

At the start of lockdown, singles were already feeling lonely. There were studies that said as much as 3 out of 4 people were lonely, and that was before lockdown. Singles were worried that dating someone was going to be off limits for a very long time. Now when you factor in a widespread pandemic and the psychological impact that hits when you have to be in isolation and can't see anyone but your takeout delivery person, we end up understanding this urge to contact an ex.

So, what should you do if you are tempted to ring up an old flame? How do you know if it's the wrong thing or the right thing to do in a time like this? Check out a few of my points before deciding on picking up that phone to text, much less call an ex.

Before You Dial The Ex...

First, you need to phone a friend! It's the person that got you through this breakup to begin with. Let them remind you of the good, the bad and the ugly before taking this first step and risk getting sucked back in.

What was the reason for your breakup? As I mentioned before, you could get sucked back in… but that might not be a bad thing. It depends; when you phoned that friend to remind you, did she remind you of good or bad things during the breakup? It's possible that you both just had to take jobs in different cities, and the breakup wasn't due to a problem in the relationship. Have these problems resolved if there were issues?

You want to come from a good place of reflection and not let bad habits make the choice for you.

Depending on the reason for the breakup, set your boundaries for how much contact beforehand. If there was abuse or toxic behaviors in the relationship, don't even go there. You can't afford to repeat this relationship again.

If you know you shouldn't be contacting this ex but feel lonely, set up a support system ahead of time. Set up activities or things to fall back on to resist the urge. Maybe you phone a different friend, join a virtual happy hour for singles, or binge watch Netflix. Anything else is acceptable, but don't phone that ex.

Write down your reasons for wanting to contact the ex. Ask yourself if this is worth the pain. Are you flea-bagging again, or is there a friendship to be had, which will provide you with genuine comfort? If it's the latter, it's okay to go there. If it's an excuse to go back together and make contact, don't.

Decide how far you are willing to take the relationship this time, without it being a rinse and repeat. If you broke up for reasons beyond your control, it's okay. If your ex was a serial cheater, phone a friend instead.

If there was abuse or toxic behaviors in the relationship, don't even go there. You can't afford to repeat this relationship again.

As life returns to a more normal state and you adjust to the new normal, we will slowly begin to notice more balance in our lives. You want to come from a good place of reflection and not let bad habits make the choice for you. Some do's and don'ts for this time would be:

  • Do: exercise ⁠— taking care of you is important during this time. It's self-care and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • Do: shower, brush your teeth, and get out of your sweats.
  • Don't: be a couch potato.
  • Don't: drink or eat excessively during this time. Again, remember to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  • Do: think positive thoughts everyday and write down the 3 things you are grateful for. Look at the impact of John Krasinksi's SGN. It's uplifting and when you feel good, you won't want to slide backwards.
  • Don't: contact a toxic ex. It's a backward move in a moment of uncertainty that could have a long term impact. Why continue flea bagging yourself?