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Back my business

Meet Fariba: a refugee designer-maker taking business into her own hands

Photo: Elena Heatherwick/IRC

“I feel like my hands are full of power,” Fariba says.

She looks up from her sewing machine as the needle waits, poised above the fabric, ready to start stitching two rubbery pieces of fabric together.

Around her, in a studio she shares with other designer-makers in Athens, her creations adorn the walls: bags, tasseled earrings, fabric watch straps and intricate threaded bracelets.

“With these hands, I can make anything,” she says.

And it’s true: Fariba creates beautiful, robust bags out of materials that other people might throw away. They're made out of the rubber of boats that have transported refugees to Greece and the life jackets they wore to help keep them safe. She creates them for a small German organisation that supports refugee women in Greece. 

Fariba creates bags out of the rubber of boats that have transported refugees to Greece and the life jackets they wore to help keep them safe.

Photo: Elena Heatherwick/IRC

A refugee herself, having fled Afghanistan and Iran, these materials are particularly meaningful to Fariba. “I love to make something worthwhile out of things that people have discarded,” she explains.

Fariba was forced to leave Afghanistan when she was a child. Her family made it to Iran, but life was difficult there, too. “I cannot talk about my past or I will cry,” she says. During this challenging time, creating jewellery brought her happiness.  She can still recall the day her sister first taught her to make earrings as a child in Iran: “I was so happy that first time I made something.”

Two years ago, Fariba arrived in Greece. She had no job, no identity documents and no home. Her future looked uncertain as she spent many nights sleeping in a camp: “If it rained, we got wet; if it was hot, we would burn. The heat was very bad and we didn’t have enough money to rent a house.”

Fariba now has a passport and ID card, and is making Greece home: “I have the same rights as Greek people, and the people of Greece are very kind. It makes me very happy.”

“Then I decided to start my jewellery business. People thought I was weak, but it's not true.”

Through our Back my Business programme, supported by Citi through the Citi Foundation, Fariba took part in a training course, where she learned how to run a business, gaining digital and entrepreneurship skills and practicing pitching and public speaking.

She’s already turned that training into action with her jewellery business, her latest designs proudly displayed on her Instagram page. Through the programme, she developed and pitched a business plan, and is now working with mentors to refine it. She’ll also receive a grant to support her on the road to starting her own business.

“The teacher told me I could be a good businesswoman. I used to think I couldn’t make these things,” she says, pointing to her creations. “But the teacher encouraged me a lot. They really listened to my idea. Now, I feel so different, I want to be an inspiration for other women so that they will also have ideas.”

“Some people think women can't do everything – but there is no difference between men and women. I want to show people that women can do anything they want.”

Fariba’s life has been transformed by her business: “I feel proud every time I make something. Now when I wake up, I feel like I have a new life and it is going to be a beautiful day.”

“Refugees are strong, stronger than anything you can imagine,” she says. “Women can be so powerful – and it’s very important that their ideas are appreciated. You have to have an idea, motivation and power to achieve your goals as a businesswoman.”

“My work makes me feel good. I cannot describe how good it feels.” 

Find out more

Our Back My Business programme, in partnership with Citi through the Citi Foundation, offers young entrepreneurs living in Greece, Nigeria and Jordan the chance to kick-start their businesses and reach their full potential. The programme is implemented in Greece by Solidarity Now, in collaboration with Knowl Social Enterprise.