This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating entrepreneurs who are building international representation for their work by bringing it online — and, in the process, offering inspiration for other women around the world.
From a one-woman illustration and design studio, to a platform creating inclusive spaces around culture and identity, meet four women who have built global communities through their creative ideas and business goals:
Tara Zadeh and Zanaée
In just a few years, Iranian designer Tara Ghazanfar has built a successful international fashion brand, Tara Zadeh, around her unique handbags. Ghazanfar recalls, “I always knew I wanted to do something for myself, create my own world, and I felt there weren't a lot of brands out there that offered bags with a fine balance of clean yet bold designs.” Taking inspiration from her surroundings, and particularly from the landscapes and architecture of Iran, Ghazanfar’s designs are rooted in her lived experiences. Ghazanfar also draws motivation and support from friends and inspirational women around her, even building a lineage of support into her brand name: “Zadeh” comes from her mother’s maiden name, which means “born of.”
In addition to her fashion business, Ghazanfar is also the founder of Zanaée, a non-profit platform creating community for Iranian women. She was inspired to launch the platform because, “as Iranians, Iranian women, Iranian creatives, we need a community, to support and collaborate, a place to highlight each other's success and also inspire the new generations.” A new endeavor, Zanaée is still building community online, and will be expanding into events, pop ups, workshops, and mentorship opportunities.
Ghazanfar explains that, across both of her platforms, building an online presence has been key to establishing international representation for her work and the work of other Iranian women. “My family in Iran can view my most recent collection and see what I am up to in an instant. My mother who is based in New York on a weekly basis checks my Zanaée website to see who I will be interviewing next and what interviews I have posted on our blog.”
Claudia Osborn created her Australia-based business, Maus Haus Studio, after a friend suggested she start posting her illustrations online. When Osborn began sharing her work on social media, an international following started to naturally grow. Osborn’s colorful illustrations are strongly influenced by nature. “I love the way I feel after climbing a mountain and looking out into a valley or horizon, and I want to capture that feeling in my work,” she explains.
Osborn notes that community with other women has been foundational to her personal and professional growth: “My mother did her bachelor’s and honors degrees while we were young, so I definitely felt that we could do anything we put our minds to while being fully supported in that.” In navigating male-dominated environments in UX/UI work, she notes that “I’ve always felt a sense of community amongst other women, like we have all had similar battles and worked really hard to where we are now.”
Now, Osborn is focused on partnering with more international suppliers and expanding her portfolio to include mural painting in Australia. Looking to the future, Osborn says she “would love to eventually (pandemic pending), travel overseas and paint large scale murals of my work.”
Founded by Jameela Elfaki, Azeema is a UK-based print magazine, platform, and growing community “exploring womxn within the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, diasporas and beyond.” Elfaki was personally motivated to launch Azeema: “As a young woman who fits into multiple ethnic boxes, I’ve always found it difficult to find magazines or images that reflected my heritage. It made sense to create a magazine that my younger self would have loved to see when growing up.” As Azeema’s following and readership quickly grew, Elfaki has built a community that directly addresses this absence of representation.
In addition to offering free content through their website, Elfaki explains that the Azeema team releases occasional print editions that are “incredibly personal and curated with slow journalism and stunning photographic stories.” As the team behind Azeema grows, and as the constraints of the pandemic subside, Elfaki envisions facilitating more international events and projects, and establishing an office and community space — all geared towards building a diverse, international community.
Co-founded by Julia Jessen in 2012, Germany-based Schneid Studio has grown a following around its sustainably manufactured, unique lighting and furniture designs. From selection of materials, to plastic-free packaging, and collaboration with local craft businesses, Schneid Studio aims to communicate “that it is necessary to reflect on our own consumer behavior and to show a different, mindful way of consumerism.”
For Jessen, the launch of the studio was a natural progression that grew out of her studies in product design. As the business has scaled, she explains that “there are many great female designers and founders with whom I network, and with whom I exchange experiences about balancing family and career in the pandemic.” Drawing motivation from this network, Jessen also finds design inspiration organically in her surroundings — whether it’s an interesting color palette, or shapes and structures in nature.
Throughout the studio’s growth, Jessen says that an online presence has been critical to its success, enabling easy updates to inventory and a design-forward aesthetic that aligns with the studio’s work. Of their international following, Jessen notes that “it’s incredibly wonderful that we have managed to build up such a large community sharing the same values as we do.”
Build your own online community with Squarespace.