How did such a meaningful venture begin for you…tell me everything!
I attended a conference called ‘future health leaders conference’ and I was meeting a lot of young allied health professionals. I am a trained nurse and have a background in health yet I had recently sold my soul to the devil and was working for Macquarie Bank (laughs). So here I was surrounded by all these young, bright eyed and bushy tailed people who had dreams of saving the world. I was listening to a speaker who has an NGO one girl and she was talking about the girl effect. I’d sort of heard of it before but basically, she explained it in that if you get to a girl before she turns twelve and make sure she has a good education it causes a ripple effect, and not necessarily in her life but throughout her community. Through this education they are able to make better choices and hence give back to the community. They were focusing on sending girls to school in areas of Sierra Leonne and Uganda and I was so inspired by this ‘girl effect’ as it seemed so simple and the reason I worked in health, wanted to be a doctor was because I always wanted to help people and I was wondering what was next for me and I knew I wanted to start an NGO and it just began from there.
Questions of how do I become sustainable whilst you’re relying on people funding you and fundraisers cam not mind and how awful it would be if you started doing good things but then ran out of money so I then started looking into social business models. So, Toms was the first brand I came across that made me realise ok I can do this. I initially looked into sanitary tampons and pads as I thought this is connected to health which has always been a passion of mine but then it’s such a big industry with huge pharmaceutical companies that I thought ok maybe this is too big for me. I was in India at the time and I was walking around thinking what is something that women need and I thought back to my colleagues at Macquarie Bank and how we were always whinging about not being able to find well-made ballet flats that don’t just fall to pieces for a reasonable price. don’t get me wrong I love Ferragamos but they’re at a high price point and then your high street like Nine West don’t actually last long. So, I thought well my target market is like us, we’re at a stage in our lives where we’re willing to spend money but we want quality as well and I found that a lot of these boutique brands were not offering that level as you also want to be responsible with your money. So yeah, I was like Ballet Flats! (laughs) as especially in the corporate space you’re always running between meetings and you have your flats in your bag for the whole heel flat swap.
Take us through the design process…
So, I was really lucky that the factory that I found had a program that would guide new designers or not necessarily designers but people who have an idea of what they want to manufacture. It’s like a launchpad of their business and that came about through with the whole fast fashion era that it was really hard for them to compete in terms of producing their own brand.
I have a very clear definite idea of what I want to be produced and I worked closely with them to produce the prototype. I have no design background, I can’t even really draw (laughs) it was just taking all the shoes that I liked and making like a Frankenstein type portrait (laughs) and they just sort of got me and were really excited about the social business side aspect of it.
There’s actually a funny story…I had been emailing this guy…Gabdio and he’s the main designer and I wanted to know that it was ethical and needed to know a bit more about the structure. It’s a third-generation family business, that’s all they’ve ever done…making shoes in this particular region that’s well known for shoes. So, we’d been emailing for about a year and had the prototype then I went to visit my sister in Italy and to see the factory. And anyway, we’re there and he’s speaking to my sister and her partner in Italian and I’m just standing there waiting for him to speak English to me as we had via emails and he seemed almost quite standoffish and I thought oh no I’ve made a mistake (laughs) this isn’t the vibe I wanted! Anyway, we go in and there’s this lovely woman Eleanora and she starts speaking to me in English and she’s kind of leading the show and I sit down and I’m like hang on who have I been emailing for the past 12 months and they both looked at each other kind of sheepishly and she’s like…me! (laughs) So she’s kind of like the business brains behind it and he’s the artist, they’re husband and wife and they’ve been sending me these emails from him. So, here’s this woman, the business brains, y’know running the whole thing and I thought I was dealing with a guy and I thought for my brand and what I’m trying to achieve it was a nice twist in that of course it’s a woman! (laughs)
I love it! You mentioned earlier a partnership in the pipeline with ‘one girl’ and aiding in the sending of girls to school in the areas of Sierra Leonne and Uganda, where are you directing the funds of your sales at the moment?
Yeah so you know that I’m half Palestinian so I have a connection with the country and the people and it’s actually quite fortuitous in that even though I’m about to partner with the NGO ‘one girl’ in sending girls to school it didn’t feel right that I wasn’t doing something for my own people and community. My cousin went to volunteer in a particular refugee camp in Nablus and I asked her to keep her eyes and ears open as she knew I was looking for partners and schools I could connect with. Basically, she connected me with this man who was running an after school cultural centre where the kids can go to get extra lessons and help because the schools are so overcrowded that they’re getting less than 5 minutes a day with their teacher and that’s even if the teacher can make it to school as there are a lot of geographical restrictions in terms of check points etc. as there is for any Palestinian in daily life. It’s really difficult to attract teachers to even come and work in these camps and with a lack of funding and resources so I walked away after speaking to this guy with ok which issue am I going to solve, where do I start? But then I thought well if they had a library that was stocked with iPads and educational apps on them you don’t necessarily need a teacher, maybe we could organise Skype sessions with teachers so that’s what I’m currently looking into with my sister as she’s teaching English in Italy and maybe that’s a subject we could organise or something.
So, I though ok if they have a space…as they don’t have any parks, any libraries and there’s no space where they can just be kids and I thought well libraries for me were always so exciting, there was always pictures on the walls, books and toys…
Yeah it was a place that you could escape literally and figuratively…
Yeah so, the pop up sale that we are having at the moment, 100 percent of the proceeds are going towards building this space.
Amazing! I’m getting quite emotional listening to this…you’re obviously planning on visiting this place…?
Yes, I’ve actually just booked the ticket. I was initially just going to visit my sister in Italy for a whole month but it just didn’t feel quite right and I’m in favour of trusting my gut instincts so I’m now going to Palestine for 10 days. The frustrating thing about Arabs though is that they never make plans (laughs) so I’m like ok I want to go here, I’ll be here and I talk to my dad about the logistics and he’s like darling you just have to wait and see (laughs) see what the mood is like (laughs) and I’m like what do you mean!!? (laughs) But look everything recently has been fairly stable so touch wood I just get to go and hang out and get to know the children and the people and hopefully I’ll have some funds that I can start handing over.
So, you’re essentially making a bowery for these children and it’s close to your heart which to me is just the ultimate…
Aw, thank you!
Do you have a target, money wise for what you need to make this all come to fruition?
So, at the moment it’s $2000 but obviously I’m hoping that I can surpass that…if I hit $2000 I can get it started. We’re nearly there and it’s such a weird thing when you’re selling something…like I’m coming from nowhere y’know, no one knows who I am so to have made sales is so awesome. In saying this it’s so labour intense like it’s so up and down y’know like oh I haven’t made a sale oh someone liked something on Facebook and I have had to come to terms with that’s just how it’s going to be and if I’m going to play in this space I have to come to terms with that. This is why I also thing having a space away from that all is so important because you need to get back to yourself and who you are and what you’re trying to achieve not just being always on social media.
Although in saying that it can be such an amazing thing, I’ve got all these medical supplies that I’d like to donate and it’s been so difficult, I’ve sent over a hundred emails and it’s just so slow and then last night I put something up on this group about volunteering in Lebanon and within 10 minutes I had all these people wanting them. So, from a community aspect social media can be amazing and I’d never really seen it in that light until now.
Definitely, it’s about finding the right way to filter it appropriately and meaningfully.
You identify with being Arab, you’re half Palestinian…there is a lot of how should I say this shifting notion of what it’s like to be a woman in an Islamic community and how they are treated etc.…could you shed some light on this via your experiences?
There’s a very strong history of sister hood in Arab women, it’s within the family construct but its goes beyond that…even when you’re in a hop you call someone sister. When I was in Dubai recently I had women come up to me and compliment me on what I was wearing and this wouldn’t happen in Sydney…Australia. It’s almost like we’re taught in western culture as seeing another woman as competition. From my experiences, it’s funny it’s almost like women are made to feel ashamed for wanting normal natural things whereas in the middle east there’s women who know they want to get married and have kids and then there’s ones who no I want to study and work and then have kids and everyone is ok to just be themselves and no one blinks. I mean even as an Arab living here I had my own opinions and views on women and I mean its evolved over time obviously and it seems that whatever you want there’s no shame whether you want to have children or stay home or study or change the world whereas my experience here in Sydney is that you should be ashamed or you kind of have to hide those aspects.
Yeah definitely, especially being in your thirties…
Have you got a husband yet? (laughs) or… anyone…?
Yeah totally (laughs)
I think that the space that you are trying to create for women is so important as it can allow women to come together and know they’re not alone and will allow women to understand that there are all stages of being and that there is that ‘sisterhood’ irrespective of what it is that you want or what it is that you don’t want.
Being here in Everglades has such a psychological effect on me…the air…the plants and the memories that are conjured through my childhood. We discussed earlier about this great community in the blue mountains and the people we grew up with, how do feel this environment we have been so lucky to call home has brought you to where you are today?
The mountains are inescapable in a really beautiful way…and it’s something that people can’t really understand unless they did grow up here…it’s like no you’re not having the same experience as me (laughs) when you get that first breath of air. it’s the clam, it’s the greenery and everything else that goes with it and its also funny in that I moved to Woollier from Newtown as I needed trees and nature yet not realising at the time that it most probably had something to do with my upbringing here.
In terms of taking that part of me to wherever I am I always carry eucalyptus and lavender oil, I have a diffuser on my desk. It’s just incorporating nature into your space…whether it’s a plant or flowers…
In terms of Ballare, where do you see it in 5, 10 years…?
I’m very much in the start-up phase so it’s difficult to vocalise it and I also don’t want to sound arrogant (laughs). ok so it’s that Ballare is a recognised brand and as recognised as TOMS is today and that the vision that Ballare has of in terms of sending girls to school is known and identifiable straight away and that I am continuing to do that work under a sustainable social business model.
If you would like to help send a girl to school please donate any amount or why not buy some of the best ballet flats I’ve worn…super comfortable, chic and great if you have a ‘difficult’ narrow pair of feet like myself