'Women come up with real solutions for real problems'

'Women come up with real solutions for real problems'

Pictured: Alexandra Tohme

03 March 2013

FOR the commencement of Women’s Week here on cashy we wanted a story that would inspire, provoke and yes, celebrate every aspect of women and what they have to offer in business and finance. Enter Alexandra Tohme, whose independent venture Amourah.com seeks to empower women in the Middle East with that most intimate and feminine of tasks – shopping for lingerie. After hearing about the state of the market for women buying underwear in Saudi Arabia, Alexandra saw not an obstacle but an opportunity, and the rest unfolds into her inspiring start-up story. We hope you enjoy as we sit down to pick her brain a little…

Where did you start out, career wise? I started working summer jobs when I was 16. I've done everything from cleaning, bottling, packing to debt recovery, telesales and advertising!

When did you first get the idea to branch out on your own and pursue your own ventures? Around 2010, but I didn't do anything, really, until 2012.

How did Amourah.com first take shape? What sparked the idea? I couldn't find any bras in my size, and I realised whilst doing research at an ad agency that the situation for women buying underwear in Saudi was terrible.

Amourah really empowers women - was that at the forefront of your mind when it was created? Of course - but really it's empowerment through education and empowerment through not having to suffer with inferior products anymore. People are happy to sell, sell, sell - but few care about the user. You can see that in the lack of options in underwear - why is everyone focusing on "sexy lingerie"? Why do we have to wear underwear just to be a sex object? You can also see it in the lack of staff training. Saudi is a clear example!

Do you have a mentor? Do you think mentors are important for those starting out in their career?  I am lucky in that I have a network of people who are advanced in their fields and in various industries that I can talk to about different things, but the main "mentorship" and role model characters really come from my peers. Other women who have started their own businesses such as Loulou and Rima behind Nabbesh.com, Ambareen and Paula from souqalmal.com, Serene from Purple PR, Kellie Whitehead from Mamavents, Yasmine el Mehairy from Supermama.me, Fida Taher from Zaytouneh - these are really the best mentors and great people to look up to, because they are doing the day to day stuff and the advice they can give is much more valuable. Also a few of them are married/have children so to really understand how to manage time and juggle multiple tasks, the insight from them is key.  I think it is a truism that women tend to interact with people they consider "like" themselves and these people are much more similar to me than, say, an older male investor or senior executive in any industry.

What are your goals for the future? I'd like to run more than one successful business. 

Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years? On a farm in Uruguay looking after a flock of goats. 

Do you think being a woman has helped or hindered you along your career path? Is sexism present in your industry? Women tend to come up with real solutions to real problems, as opposed to thinking what might be commercially viable first, and rationalizing it later by overspending on advertising. The latter is what I call the ‘Cheesy Puffs’ business model. Obviously it would be fairly difficult for men to sell women bras, since both sides would be uncomfortable and a man would lack credibility. Sexism is everywhere, but there seems to be an appetite in the media to highlight and promote women entrepreneurs in the Middle East at the moment, so I'm definitely trying to use that to my advantage.

Have an inspiring week, community members! We hope this kick-started it off in great fashion!

ARE YOU excited for Women's Week on cashy.me? Do you have an inspiring female role model/mentor in your life? Tell us below!

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