I recently had the pleasure of talking to an incredibly ambitious and resilient entrepreneur. Zainab Mohammad is the owner of an online clothing shop, Daisy Boutique. She grew up in Baghdad till she was 10 years old. When safety became an issue in the area, she was forced to move to the Kurdish region of Iraq where she lives today. As an internally displaced person, Zainab had to start over with little and completed her schooling, eventually earning a degree in Business Administration and working for a Non-Governmental Organization. Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, she lost her job. Zainab seized the moment and began her journey as a female entrepreneur.
Women in Iraq do not have options when it comes to fashion. Shops carry conservative traditional apparel that lacks style. A majority of retailers are men who are merely stocking shelves without an understanding of comfort or design. As a woman, Zainab believes that she knows the difference when she puts on a cute top perfectly matched with flare pants and scarf. Women and men alike gain confidence and acquire a sense of identity when they are well dressed feeling empowered. Zainab felt compelled to provide an alternative for women in her community. She decided to open her own online store to curate designs that would attend to professionals and students alike. She said her ultimate goal was to provide “practical, beautiful clothing.”
Zainab admitted she lacked experience and knowhow to get started, but she discovered a business incubator program called the Female Founders Fellowship run by. It focuses on supporting women entrepreneurs and guiding them through specific methodology to design and develop innovative ideas. Zainab talked with me about her research-based approach to learn the fashion business and understanding the market. Through the Five One Labs program, Zainab spent time conducting user interviews, educating herself on the local market and transforming her concept into a fully operational online boutique. Zainab said initially she thought she would limit her operations to Northern Iraq. However, soon word spread and demand in the southern region pressed her to expand delivery throughout the country.
We discussed the challenge of being a woman in business and the history of women in the workplace in the region. Zainab told me the story of her grandmother who was a tailor. In the 1950s and 60s Iraqi women would start businesses from their homes or sell fabric door to door. While it was accepted, there remained a negative connotation around working women. Women were supposed to take care of their homes and families and allow their husbands to create wealth. By the 1970s women started to join universities and their level of education increased, which has led to a continued shift in mindset. However today, “The stigma is still there. Working alone some people judge you on your personality,” says Zainab.
She shared with me her experience going to the market in the morning to buy a new mannequin to display clothes to promote on her online platform. She does not have a male business partner and went unaccompanied, which is extremely rare for women in the majority male bazar. As she browses, she is aware of the looks she receives and feels judged for being alone. For Zainab being a woman entrepreneur means she must challenge herself despite these uncomfortable scenarios where she knows people around her are thinking, “what is she doing here as a girl?” Still, she proudly negotiates a decent price and is excited for what this mannequin enables her to do.
I asked Zainab how she has been changed personally launching Daisy Boutique. Zainab responded with much enthusiasm, “For me, I feel so passionate and alive doing this! I have more than one talent and I’m bringing out the best, especially my creativity.” She also shared that the skills, network and confidence she gained from Five One Labs was invaluable. As a female entrepreneur in Iraq, Zainab is a role model for all women business owners. She said, “I’m showing that you [women] can do it. Be successful. You have the right to do this.”