The impact of women's history might seem abstract to some and less pressing than the immediate struggles of working women today in the era of Covid-19. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, women have been juggling working from home, home-schooling, and caring for vulnerable family members. But to ignore the vital role that women's dreams and accomplishments play in our own lives would be a great mistake. We draw strength and inspiration from those who came before us - and those remarkable women working among us today. They are a part of our success story, and a truly inclusive history recognizes how important women have always been for any society.
We will be highlighting our amazing Fuchsia women throughout March. To begin, I’ll start with my own story of becoming Fuchsia.
I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, in a middle-class family. I wanted to pursue a Master’s degree in a technology discipline. My parents wanted me to pursue a career that was “female-friendly.”. Many times, achieving this felt like an uphill battle. However, my constant rebellion led me to secure an undergraduate degree in Computer Science.
I became the first female engineer in my family, landing my dream job with Microsoft, and ultimately, relocated to the USA. When I first moved, it was a complete culture shock. Adapting to an independent life in the USA, was a major learning experience that I’m forever grateful for.
While working at Microsoft, I still had ambitions to pursue my Master’s. I learned that Microsoft would financially contribute to the educational program. I enrolled in an evening Master’s of Management program at the University of Washington and completed my graduate degree within two years. I am incredibly grateful that Microsoft supported me.
In 2016, I felt ready to embark on an unknown journey after coming across several artisan groups from potterers, to painters to shoe artisans in Pakistan. It would be an understatement to say I was blown away to see the skills and talents these artisans displayed.They struggled to practice their craft in the local markets in addition to competing with mass production.
It was heartbreaking to see how many of them have been stuck in this cycle for generations, especially women working hard and still not having freedom of choice. It dramatically heightened my awareness. I wanted to do something about it. But what?
I ended up buying several pairs of locally made colorful shoes that I brought back to Seattle with me as souvenirs. When I returned to Seattle, I was stunned by the overwhelmingly positive reaction I received on the shoes, not just from friends but strangers. The shoes were eclectic and eye-catching. So many people asked me where to get them, that an idea began to emerge.
This triggered me to look for a solution in the world that I already knew. Especially in the traditional footwear industry being revolutionized with a new army of mission-driven brands driving innovation and growth. Why not create a new kind of shoe brand that unlocks a new opportunity market for Pakistani artisans? It could be life-transforming and elevate the value of their craft such that it is no less than Italian craftsmanship.
Afshan visting Haripur Artisans in 2019
Something about this idea felt so right, even though I had no experience, or connections in the shoe business. I did have a name that came to me almost immediately. I called it Fuchsia. Bold eye-catching hues of Pink representing kindness, authenticity, and compassion. It is a symbol of change and a color that inspires us to overcome struggles that have been hampering our growth.
I had already set fire to the idea, quit my job at Microsoft and started building Fuchsia step by step. When the pandemic hit in 2020, we were still a very young company to deal with the repercussions. But our simplistic supply chain and zero reliance on exported raw material saved us. On a personal side, my mother was diagnosed with end stage kidney disease and I ended becoming her primary caregiver.
With the help of my supporting husband and my rockstar team, we took things one day at a time. At the end of the day what kept me moving forward is a positive attitude. We grew our operations right here in Seattle, WA. We hired more artisans in Pakistan to scale our production to 5,000 Fuchsias per month. All of it while building a community of forward thinkers and brand ambassadors—-our customers who put their best foot forward. I cannot wait to share more stories of our amazing Fuchsia women over the next coming days—-Women who are making history.