Enterprising Women Vol 10, No 2, 2009

Creating Change One Stitch at a Time Hassina Sherjan enterprising Women 55 B Y J E S S I CA DEN I SON W oven tightly like the threads of her company’s plush textiles, Hassina Sherjan has combined her vision for a better future and passion for beauty into an entrepreneurial endeavor. Hassina is the President of Boumi Company, a design and manufacturing firm in Kabul, Afghanistan. Following her return to Afghanistan in 2005 after 23 years of exile in the United States, Hassina fulfilled her dream of contributing to the rebuilding of her country by establishing the Boumi Company. Boumi produces beautiful tex- tile products with raw materi- als from Afghanistan (instead of importing) and sells themworld- wide. Hence the word Boumi, which means ‘indigenous’. It started with a vision to introduce quality products to the international market from Afghanistan, a country which had previously been known for producing beautiful cotton used by the Afghans for their everyday wear. Her hope was to revive this textile industry to create thousands of jobs and limit imports. Boumi’s initial workforce consisted of 15 women and three men. Today, the com- pany employs over 300 Afghans. “Boumi is more than just a company trying to turn a profit,” Hassina says. “Our objective is to encourage manufacturing of Afghan-made products with raw materials produced locally in Afghanistan. Boumi is pioneer- ing the design and manufactur- ing of high quality ‘made in Afghanistan’ products to cater to the discriminating needs of our global clients.” Hassina has targeted the international community as her client base because she believes there is nothing comparable to the level of craftsmanship or quality being sold in or exported from Afghanistan. Hotels buy the products and use them, ex-patriots purchase them and take them to other countries as Christmas gifts, and so on. Boumi’s textile designs are unique; a blend of tradition- al and modern. Hassina’s focus remains on quality — quality products, qual- ity design, quality materi- als. Everything from her printed brochures down to the labels on the clothing conveys that quality image. To Hassina, everything is in the details. Even the Boumi label is important because it travels internationally with the products, people remember it, and it’s a marketing tool that helps with the branding of Boumi. Hassina does not think establishing a business would have been any different if she were a man. “I am rather serious and dictatorial in my approach so I get things done. At times, Afghan men have problems working for me because they can’t take orders from a woman. But, that is their problem and I can easily let them go if they are not happy or suffering from having a woman as a boss.” Issues facing her business include an unrealible source of electicity at the factory and lack of security. For the past eight years, Boumi has used a generator as its main energy source. Another issue is secu- rity; a worry that many Afghanistan citizens face both personally and professionally. There are no incentives or support for the business community from the gov- ernment. “The govern- ment and its bureau- cracy is an obstacle for entrepreneurs,”Hassina said. “Filing taxes takes months.” Hassina acknowledg- es the main challenge in Afghanistan is finding qualified people to work. Most of the time, they can’t commit themselves and move from job to job if they are offered better pay. This is found more commonly in upper management and administrative jobs. Boumi’s tailors have stayed with the company for over four years; they believe in the Boumi phi- losophy and are committed. “My goals include making an impact on our society and bringing positive changes, otherwise I can’t do any kind of work,” she adds. “That is why Boumi is a social entre- preneurship.” As of December 2008, Boumi is trade- marked internationally. The company is moving forward and is sourcing other raw material such as Afghan silk to produce a luxury line for homes as well as hotels. Spotlight Hassina will soon launch the “Boumi Movement” to create jobs for thousands of Afghans in villages and provide them with literacy and basic business skills.