Understanding the power of local communities and the power of giving back, came early to Shahd Alshehail. Born in Al-Hassa, a beautiful oasis in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, Shahd knew from an early age that she wanted to combine her love for fashion, her desire to preserve the heritage of the Kingdom and help of others into one job. Now she has, becoming one of the leading female entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia.
Speaking to Arabia Now she said, ““From early on I saw business as a source for good. My grandfather, an entrepreneur himself, has created strong community impact as a result of his business. Business brought people together, it improved lives, and it financially rewarded everyone. Thats why the concept of Social Entrepreneurship resonated so well with me and I went on to make it my career focus.”
After completing an MBA at Johns Hopkins University, it wasn’t long before Shahd became a global fellow at Acumen, a non profit impacting investing fund. It was her experience there which gave way to her first foray into fashion, when she and a fellow graduate of Acumen founded “Project Just,” a website dedicated to providing transparency to the consumer about how their clothes were made, and the quality of life for those who made them.
Explaining her decision to begin her career this way, Shahd told Arabia Now, “The fashion industry is one that is associated with a lot of glamour and beauty, but its also one of the largest industries in the world, employing over 40 million people – that’s 1 in every 6 people – and it has one of the most complicated supply chains. These supply chains, in their complexity unfortunately hide a lot of human right abuses and destructive environmental practices from child labor, to terrible working conditions, to pollution. In fact, the fashion industry is the second largest polluter of water globally after oil.”
It was back in 2013 when 1129 workers were killed in a building collapse in Bangladesh that she decided, “Real change can happen through the accumulation of the thoughtful choices you make everyday. Informed and empowered consumers have the power to transform the fashion industry to an ethical and sustainable one with each purchase.”
Shahd’s vision doesn’t stop there. She’s currently working on a contemporary Saudi luxury ready to wear line with a mission of supporting artisans and celebrating Saudi heritage and craftsmanship. Known as Herfah by Naeema, they are working with about 40 female artisans in Al-Qassim, Saudi Arabia. The women there are practicing weaving and embroidery techniques that have been passed on for generations.
During her interview with Arabia Now, Shahd said her latest project about combing Saudi heritage and fashion made sense, “Because we have an incredible local talent of both designers and craftsmen, but there is an inherent misconception about artisans and craftsmen as primitive or not as something that can fit in a modern context. We disagree, and want to break that misconception, you can in fact balance heritage and modernity.”
It’s also a great way to provide jobs, and generate the local economy. Launched in 2015, the brand is committed to preserving the craftsmanship “herfah” of regional artisans by giving them a sustainable source of income, and combining their work with modern aesthetics and designs that transcend time and culture. The expansion of the brand comes as Saudi Vision 2030 embraces philanthropy, and entrepreneurship and diversification of new businesses.
With fashion such an important part of a woman’s life, Shahd told Arabia Now, “We as a Saudi brand have a unique point of view that we can export to the world, one that is rooted in our heritage and history but made for a global woman.” Now the world is waiting.