Success Story: From rural Pakistan to Silicone Valley

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Umaimah Mendhro is the Founder & CEO of VIDA, an e-commerce company that brings mindful global citizenship and an impeccable sense of taste to style-seekers around the world through carefully selected artistic partnerships and responsibly sourced, beautiful products that connect designers, producers, and consumers. Umaimah is also the founder of The Dreamfly, a global initiative that connects communities in conflict around common causes through education, exposure, and empowerment.

She is a graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Business School. Umaimah grew up in rural Pakistan and is the daughter of a physician, the first in his family to go to college. Umaimah dreamt of being an artist and designer but knew that she had to be practical. After attending Cornell and Harvard and toiling many years in the tech and business industries, she finally took the leap to follow her passion. She set out to create a fashion company that also sought to break the chain of poverty often linked with textile companies established in Third World countries like Pakistan. She believes that fashion can be responsible, accessible and innovative.

While speaking to a local magazine, she shared her life experiences and following are some important pointers from her interview:

“I always knew I wanted to build something and make my life matter,” 

Her maternal grandfather believed in education for his daughters as well as his son, and was adamant they would have the same opportunities as boys.

“He was the anomaly,” said Umaimah, adding that rural Sindh was largely illiterate.

Because she was born into this forward-thinking environment, she had the ability to dream big about her future and know there was life beyond her immediate surroundings.

“I used to daydream about being either the Prime Minister of Pakistan or a CEO,” she recalls.

It would be a trip back to her home country that sparked the idea for VIDA, which is an impressive success story in and of itself. She wanted to create a platform that brought together designers and creators, and take out the “middle man”.

“These two worlds are generally so far apart in fashion and design, but they don’t have to be,” she said.

“The fashion industry is dictated by buyers and trend forecasters. I wanted to find out whether it was possible to use technology to turn that model on its head,” she said.

In Pakistan, she spent a lot of time in factories learning about how the work gets done and about the lives of those doing creating the product. It bothered her to see how the system where all the money went to those at the top meant cycles of poverty continued, and didn’t think that was fair. That became the crux of what VIDA would offer the market, while also being a tool to empower workers to make more money without it having to be a charity, as such.

“VIDA makes the whole eco-system more efficient as there are no huge markups, the factory workers earn more, and it becomes a sustainable model,” she said.

Along with her career success, Umaimah never lost sight of her desire to make a difference in the world. She founded an organization called Dreamfly which is a global initiative connecting communities in conflict around common causes with presence across four countries touching over 5,000 lives. Dreamfly kickstarts seed initiatives that are 100% financially sustainable within one year. Wanting to help people in Pakistan escape the cycle of poverty was also buoyed on by a major historical event.

“Post September 11 [2001], I wanted to re-frame people’s idea of Pakistan, by sharing the stories of kids’ lives,” she said.

If you are inspired by what you read, it’s important to know that each of us has the potential to do great things with what we are given. When we asked Umaimah how she would define “power”, (something we ask a lot of our interviewees), she said perseverance.

“It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you genuinely believe you will persevere, you will. There is strength and power in perseverance,” she said.

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Mediabites Editorial – Shoaib Naqvi

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