Continuing our series on this year’s Pond’s Miracle Women, we introduce the miracle women chosen by Pond’s Miracle Mentor Shehla Chatoor. Shehla established her own designer label nearly 20 years ago and is today considered a powerhouse of fashion. Shehla’s aesthetic has come to be seen as unique and timeless, with designs that strike the perfect balance between silhouette, print and embellishment, while retaining a strong glamour quotient. Her signature style often graces the Red Carpet and runways of our industry’s most glamorous events.
Shehla has chosen a set of extraordinary women for this year’s Pond’s Mircacle Journey including journalists, entrepreneurs and designers. These are their stories…
Aamna Haider Isani
Fashion Journalist & Editor of Instep
As a young mother, Aamna Haider Isani wanted to be a stay-at-home mother for her children but also wanted to pursue her passion for writing. She accomplished this goal by building up a successful reputation as a freelance fashion writer, gradually building up her career trajectory to full time editorship by the time her children were older. Now she’s free to live life on her own terms and be with her family while she manages a leading fashion weekly, setting a great example for other professionals to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Aamna chose fashion journalism to express her creativity because back in the 90’s, when she first started writing, fashion was still very small. ‘Fashion was just starting out and I was just starting out. It was a hunch and it paid off.’ Clear that she wanted to have a family, Aamna thought that a small self-contained arena would be manageable for her to pursue professionally. Over the years, fashion journalism has grown in Pakistan and so has Aamna’s credibility. But journeys are rarely easy and Aamna too battled her demons on the way.
‘Nothing is easy because we are restless people. Once we achieve one thing we want to move on to the next level and then the next. And that’s a good sign because it is the sign of a successful person. I enjoy each challenge more than the other, so it is never easy but not difficult either.’
Just as behind every successful man there is a woman, behind every successful woman there is a supportive family. Aamna credits her family as her enabler. ‘I’m fortunate that I have incredible support at home. My parents are like rocks for emotional support and that is what you need most to grow.’
Aamna’s biggest sacrifice was, perhaps, not taking up a career full time while she tended to her young family. ‘I didn’t take up a full time job when they were growing up because I don’t believe in leaving children at home. If I had to go out they would come with me. They would even come to work with me and they learnt not to disturb me especially when I would be writing.’ But this decision, she feels, has paid off.
‘I wanted them to have that connection with me always and I think that has paid off because we have a fantastic channel of communication. Now that they are grown up, it’s they who take care of me.’ Eventually, as her priorities in life changed, Aamna took on more work. ‘Convincing myself that writing wasn’t a hobby; to make that mental jump from freelance writer to full time career, was another tough challenge.’
A role model for other working mothers who transition from hobby to career, Aamna’s advice is not to restrict yourself. ‘Work for a woman should be as natural as for a man. Many a times the things women sacrifice their career for are things that can usually be managed or delegated. We restrict ourselves all too easily.’
Aamna believes in nurturing the body as well as the soul. ‘I believe in the connection between mind, body and soul. Skincare is so important as well. I spend a good 20 minutes on it before I go to sleep.’ A balanced person inside out, Aamna leads by example.
CEO of First Capital Group of Companies
Woman of substance, full of grace, Aamna Taseer’s miracle story is proof that it is not the destination that matters but the journey. Wife of the gregarious and lively governor of Lahore, Salmaan Taseer, Aamna found herself at a catastrophic crossroads when her husband was brutally murdered. Somehow she found the strength to carry on his work. ‘I didn’t choose this profession,’ she says, ‘it chose me. The Board of Directors asked me to step in after the assassination of my husband. It was a very dark time. My children were very bereaved. I missed my husband dearly but his last words to me were to lead from the front so I did just that.’
Since then, Aamna has gone from strength to strength in the face of the darkest of adversities. Barely had she emerged from the tragic loss of her husband that her son was kidnapped. ‘When I think of my son, when I think of his suffering, how he faces each day… I think I derive my strength from him.’
What is unique about her is the lightness with which she carries her loss. ‘You’ve got to look at life in the eye,’ she says, ‘good and bad things happen, you just have to face it and have a sense of humour. I used to get very overwhelmed at first because my safety net was gone. I used to think how would I live without my husband? But then I learnt that you can run away and pull the cover over but that doesn’t solve anything.’
As far as personal inspiration goes, Aamna admires the American political icon Hilary Clinton, but it is her own mother to whom she credits her own strong character. ‘My mother was an amazing women who began working at a time when very few women worked. We were always her priority but she taught us that you can go out there and do what you want. She gave us an amazing value system and taught us from an early age, that if you work hard, you reap the rewards.’
Another thing she inherited from her mother and grandmother was using Pond’s! ‘Pond’s is a family secret handed down generations. My grandmother used Pond’s every day of her life till she was about 90, so my cousins and I all use Pond’s. She used to swear by it.’
With her soft voice and steely determination, Aamna Taseer is a role model for all Pakistani women. She dreams of a resolute Pakistan where men and women stand shoulder to shoulder to build a strong nation. ‘I think that we all have it in ourselves. You think it can’t get any tougher but every day brings its own challenge. We can do whatever we want if we give it our best.’
Her words are sheer motivation.
Event Planner & Partner at Grandeur Wedding and Event Planner
Miracle woman Aayesha Valika took her background in fine arts and used it to create artful events, the kind that had never been seen in the city. Her foray into event planning happened through sheer chance. ‘After schooling, I went abroad to study art in London. When I came back I pursued it professionally till I got married and had children. After that there was little time left to paint.’
The lack of tasteful event planners let Aayesha and her friends dabble into event management. ‘At the time when I started event planning there was hardly anyone else doing it and me and my two partners just plunged into it. Mainly because there was a dire need for it.’
As glamorous as it seems, Ayesha’s profession brings with it, it’s own set of difficulties. ‘It’s challenging working in an unpredictable city like Karachi,’ she says. ‘On the night of Benazir Bhutto’s murder, we were in the middle of setting up an event when news broke out. We had to pack up with shots going on, we were stranded amidst chaos; the wedding had to called off. It was shocking but after that we got used to it.’ Aayesha used it as a learning experience to prepare for contingencies in the future.
But apart from the unpredictability, Aayesha is passionate about her work for it offers a perfect mix for exploring her creative side yet maintaining a balanced family life. ‘The work is seasonal so I get months off like Moharram and Ramzaan and that’s where I get to make up and spend time with my kids.’ In the busy season though, Aayesha has to juggle constantly.
‘Sometimes you have to make a choice between parenting and profession but if you have a supportive spouse it works out. My in-laws are very progressive, fully in favour of working mothers, and that helps a great deal.’ She finds work fulfilling and encourages others to take it up. ‘It gives you confidence, which helps you deal with situations.’
A charming mix of grace and elegance Aayesha is all for maintaining an anti-ageing beauty regime to help age gracefully. Her calm demeanour and quiet confidence gives out an aura of success and is sure to inspire others around her to embark on their own miracle journeys.
Designer & Founder of L’Edit
Faiza Rangoonwala turned her love for design into a business that provides a platform for Pakistani fashion to flourish internationally. Motivated by her innate sense of style, and an almost intuitive knack for putting together the right combination of couture, Faiza quickly grew in repute even though she started out late in the professional world.
‘When I first moved to Dubai I was pictured in a lot of international publications for my dress sense. Being a fashion icon, I thought why not use it to represent Pakistani fashion. I wanted to project it on an international level. I basically represent Pakistani designers, under a label I created, which edits creations of designers whose work I choose to promote. I’m involved in curating the collection for what I consider would be perfect for that market.’
Her work is intense and it is for this reason that Faiza chose to pursue it full time only when her children were older. ‘I only started when they were in higher education. In fact it filled up that emptiness that came with them moving on with their lives. Luckily I never had to choose between parenting and profession, however if I did, I’m clear that family would come first, before business.’
Though Faiza was a stay-at-home mom till her kids needed her, she feels times are now changing and a new world order demands different sentiments. ‘In my time girls got married young but with my daughter I encourage her to pursue a career after completing her education because I feel financial independence gives you confidence and stability that is very important in life.’
Growing up, Faiza was inspired by her mother who she feels shaped her the most in becoming the person she is today. ‘My role model is my mother. She was a successful interior designer doing big projects, and at the same time running a house with three kids. I saw her being the perfect wife, mother and businesswoman and she juggled all three roles to perfection.’
A go-getter, Faiza’s youthful looks add to her elegance. This she credits to, ‘Simple things like adequate sleep, plenty of water and the right diet are essential. Good to have a skincare regime but it’s what you put inside that goes a lot further.’ She adds that the key to age management is to remember that ‘ less is more.’
Faiza has covered a lot of ground in a short span of time and her success is a motivation for others to follow suit. ‘Business is still in a growing stage for me. I’m trying to take it to the next level and that requires a lot of courage. In such a short time I’ve received so much acclaim from the fashion fraternity, and it feels wonderful to be acknowledged especially as I have no formal training or background.’
Her advice to other entrepreneurs is to, ‘do what you love. If you have a dream go for it. It is bound to be successful if you are passionate about it.’
Director of CHEM CO, NASRA Public School and Fancy Industrial Management Services
Miracle woman Naaz Fancy left her corporate career of 25 years to join her husband’s business. With her corporate background and his entrepreneurial flair, the husband-wife duo make a fearsome team. But just as a family run business has its perks, it also has its limitations. ‘Husband and wife working together always has a question mark on it,’ she says, ‘but as long as your domains are clear, and you know who’s the boss, it works!’
A mother of two, Naaz has had an interesting journey full of high and lows. Being a woman in the corporate sector in the Lahore of 90’s brought with it its own set of challenges. ‘There was a lot of resistance to women in management positions in the corporate sector when I started working. I had to stand my ground and say take me for what I can deliver — not what you see physically.’
Naaz persevered undaunted and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it was her generation of women who brought about acceptance and change in attitudes towards female leadership in the corporate world today. A workaholic herself, Naaz worked throughout her marriage, pregnancies, and motherhood. However, she feels that working mothers often suffer from guilt when it comes to taking out time for themselves. This she negates. ‘The only way to mitigate this self-imposed guilt is to take out time for yourself. Always do that otherwise you will lose touch with yourself.’
Naaz’s miracle journey shows that one can never lose out with hard work and creativity. For as they say both sweat and tears are salty, but they produce different results!
Hairstylist & CEO of Nina Lotia
Hair guru Nina Lotia changed the concept of hair-maintenance when she stepped into the business. She started from home to be near her children, but the phenomenal rate of success at which her work grew soon had her managing multiple salons. Today she owns a five-story salon in Karachi and is a respected name in the hairstyling industry with a stellar reputation of over a quarter century.
Choosing the entrepreneurial path has allowed Nina to explore her talents and design a life of freedom in which her family can be her priority. By staying flexible and tenacious, she has built a business that helps her clients feel satisfied by keeping things simple yet stylish, while staying true to her principle of ‘family first’.
‘I started my career at a very young age with a small set-up at home, building clients by word of mouth,’ she says. ‘Without doing work commercially or using form of media or marketing, my work has grown. I think it speaks for itself.’ Nina feels the secret of her success is that she loves what she does. ‘Every job requires hard work but if you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.’
She is passionate about hair and beauty, and has always known it to be her calling. ‘As clichéd as it sounds ,I loved hair and makeup from childhood. My father saw it in me and encouraged me to pursue it professionally. I went to England for training and after that there has been no looking back.’ Such is her labour of love that she has worked through every ailment, every hardship, even through labour!
‘Both times I went into labour while cutting hair. I never stopped till the end. Even after childbirth I was back at work within five days.’ Though her business has expanded phenomenally, Nina is clear that it is not business expansion that is her target but personal growth. ‘I don’t set targets. I take everyday as a new day, every task as a new challenge, every new chance as an opportunity. Since I’m my own boss, one advantage I have is the flexibility to work around my family life. But still it would be impossible to achieve anything without my family support. You can’t do it unless your family is behind you hundred per cent.’
Looking good and feeling good is equally important on Nina’s list, for she says, ‘It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, you should be able to look in the mirror and say I’m doing something. It gives you the power to think. Every woman is beautiful but it will only show if you feel beautiful inside. In that sense, hairstylists work like therapists. A good blow dry can lift your mood.’
Nina’s miracle journey is proof that sky is the limit for female entrepreneurs when they have their goals set out. For as Nina puts it, ‘all you need is passion, dedication and determination!’
Rabiya Javeria Agha
Secretary, Trade Development Authority of Pakistan
Secretary for Trade Development, Rabiya Javeri’s miracle journey shows that if you have the drive to reach the top gender is no bar. Life is all about facing up to the challenges it throws at you. A bureaucrat for the last 30 years and a mother of four boys, Rabiya started her professional life as a journalist. However she soon realised that she needed to change course if she wanted to bring about change.
‘One of the things I realised working as a journalist was that I could identify many of the problems that Pakistan faced but I was unable to rectify them. I had no authority to implement change. Bureaucracy gave me that power.’
A visionary and an achiever, Rabiya’s professional journey has been full of ups and downs, and as she says, ‘Any innings that is 30 years long has to be a mixed plate.’ It is important she feels for people to share a common vision and goal for bureaucracy to prosper in our country. The good times she feels is when she has been involved with likeminded people for whom the bigger picture is what matters. ‘That is when bureaucracy works. However if you are, unfortunately, stuck with people who think of personal gains then bureaucracy fails and those are the moments when one feels disheartened.’
Rabiya feels it is very necessary for more women to work in order to set a positive example for our youth. ‘When I entered the civil services there weren’t too many women there so I didn’t have any role models but I learnt from the people I met along the way. Today we have 21 female parliamentarians who are strong role models for us all.’
It is important for women to set examples for others because that is what progression is all about. ‘Forty-nine percent of our population is women but only 15% are in the documented work force. However, the women labour force is growing at a fast rate of 7%. Today Pakistani women are entering fields which were previously never part of their gender stereotype.
‘Today we have female pilots, mountaineers, and sportswomen. Gender diversification of professions is a great sign. We will see a very strong positive change soon.’ Rabiya’s optimism, her uncompromising patriotism and sheer passion for change is infectious. With more women leading the way, Pakistan is sure to become a more tolerant and progressive society, sooner rather than later.
Furniture Designer & Partner at Grandeur Wedding and Event Planner
Furniture designer Yumna Imtiaz has built a successful business that offers innovation which is a mix of passion and pure pleasure. She started by chance, knowing very little about the world of furniture making, but that didn’t stop this go-getter. ‘I started five years back when a friend approached me,’ she says. ‘I got involved in that,’ and then there was no looking back.
A disciplined individual, often called a perfectionist by friends and family, Yumna’s miracle journey took many twists and turns to get to the point she is at now in her professional life. ‘It was not really easy, in the sense that for me to step out of my house, it took a lot of strength because I was very particular as a mother. I wanted to be around my children, to be involved in everything yet I knew I also needed to do something for myself. Stepping out was not easy for me but somehow it all worked out.’ Her secret is having the support of her family.
‘I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband and even more supportive children,’ she says. ‘Balancing both home and profession is not easy but I keep myself in check by reminding myself that I am a wife and a mother first, and then a professional. That keeps the balance there for me.’
Creative, artistic, self-motivated and organised, Yumna’s miracle journey is a great inspiration to many other aspiring female entrepreneurs with children, who want to break the mould yet keep the family balance.
Editor of Hello! Pakistan
Zahraa Saifullah came upon the idea of a lifestyle magazine after she noticed many high achievers around her working hard on their careers, but struggling in the recognition department. Three years ago Zahraa bought the franchise for Hello! to Pakistan.
Primarily a lifestyle magazine, Hello! gave her the opportunity to focus on personalities, philanthropists, sportspeople, highfliers and not just the fashion world as many other glossies seemed to be doing. ‘It includes anyone who is doing well as well as the diaspora,’ Zahraa stresses. ‘For me it is a good platform to showcase Pakistani talent.’
Also a mother, Zahraa has her hands full especially in the weeks the magazine is about to go into print. A good support system is the key element of success for her. ‘I have two kids,’ she says, ‘and my work involves a lot of talent. There is always that element of guilt and that is the biggest difficulty. But apart from that I have a very good support system.’
For Zahraa, the journey has been an interesting one if not necessarily an easy one. But she feel, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Glamorous, ambitious and determined, Zahraa is sure to inspire many others to follow her blazing trail.
CEO of Ensemble Stores and Salon
Miracle woman Zeba Hussain started her entrepreneurial journey late in life but excelled faster than most. The CEO of multi-brand store Ensemble, Zeba started with one store and now has six stores all over Pakistan and two internationally.
Six stores in seven years is no easy feat for the biggest of chains, and Zeba is modest and casual as she acknowledges this little miracle. ‘On the launch of our recent store in Islamabad, I heard someone wonder aloud, “Six stores in seven years!” and that is when it hit me.’ Zeba credits this phenomenal growth of her business to her two daughters. ‘Ensemble was the brain child of my younger daughter who is the creative force behind it and my eldest daughter is the business mind who pushed us to expand.’
The idea came to the mother and daughter trio when Zeba, an avid charity worker, was planning events that liaised with Indian designers showcasing their talents in Pakistan and vice versa. ‘We used to do shows with Indian designers and one of them, Tarun, pointed out that there was no multi-brand store here. He suggested that something like Ensemble India in Pakistan would be a good idea. We took it from there and today that is the only multi-brand store that stocks Indian and Pakistani designers.’
Zeba is grateful for her miracle journey and feels that self-believe has a lot to do with how women fare in business. ‘God has been kind to us. It’s been 7 years and we have come a long way in a short time. I didn’t expect it to grow so quickly but my two daughters had great faith. I was happy with one store tucked away in the corner but the girls believed in taking it to its maximum potential.’
Not just professionally but personally too Zeba feels she has grown miraculously. ‘The financial independence it brought changed my whole personality. I don’t have to ask anyone about how I spend and that has given me a confidence and self assuredness I didn’t have before.’
Zeba’s advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs is to be confident. ‘I don’t believe women have to be victims in the workplace. It’s a frame of mind. I believe in being self-assured and confident, and have instilled the same values in my daughters. The ‘mein bechari aurat’ attitude won’t get you in anywhere. If you want something, believe that you deserve it. We are all miracle women. We are all achievers. We just have to prove it to the world!’
A force to reckon with, Zeba’s resilience and charm is sure to inspire many others to find their inner confidence and launch forth in the world.