International Women’s Day. A day of empowerment, unity and progress. A day that inspires us to celebrate the incredible achievements of women throughout history, to acknowledge the challenges women face, and to look towards a future where gender equality is a reality.
International Women’s Day is a day to honour the countless women who have broken barriers, shattered stereotypes, and paved the way for future generations. It is a day to acknowledge the progress we have made towards gender equality, while recognising that there is still much work to be done. This day reminds us that women’s rights are human rights, and that every person, regardless of gender, has the right to live a life free from discrimination, bias, and inequality.
Welcome Merchant takes great pride in supporting driven and accomplished female business owners who also identify as a refugee or as a person seeking asylum. We are excited to feature two inspiring women, Maryam Oria of Sakena the Label and Yarrie Bangura of Aunty’s Ginger Tonic, who have shared their remarkable journeys of entrepreneurship with us.
Maryam Oria, an Afghan-Australian fashion designer and founder of Sakena the Label, is an incredible woman who has achieved so much in a short amount of time. From being featured in Vogue to showcasing her designs at Melbourne Fashion Week, Maryam is making great strides in the fashion industry. But her success extends beyond these accolades and recognition.
As a young girl growing up in Afghanistan, Maryam was passionate about the traditional clothes, dresses, and jewellery of her culture. This deep appreciation for her heritage has been the driving force behind her work as a fashion designer. With Sakena the Label, Maryam incorporates her Afghan culture into her designs, paying homage to her roots and celebrating the beauty of her homeland.
Maryam’s mission goes beyond creating beautiful clothing. She is committed to having a positive impact on the lives of people in Afghanistan. Maryam reflects on the lack of opportunity there stating, “There is a lot of talent, but no opportunity in Afghanistan.”
By working with local artisans and turning waste into fashion, Maryam is creating sustainable and ethical practices that not only benefit the environment but provide employment opportunities for women.
Over recent years, Maryam has noticed a trend where renowned international fashion houses are drawing inspiration for their designs from tribal regions in places like Afghanistan. The problem with this is that instead of acknowledging the Afghan community and local artisans, these luxury fashion labels are categorising the designs generically as “boho chic”. Maryam’s observations have ignited a fire within her to bring attention and recognition to her culture and heritage. She is determined to ensure the beauty of her homeland is not exploited for profit, but rather celebrated and honoured with respect and authenticity.
Maryam’s passion and drive have served as a source of inspiration for countless girls and women in her native Afghanistan and in Australia. These aspiring entrepreneurs look up to her as a role model, eager to emulate her success and create their own businesses. When asked about what advice she has for them, Maryam’s response is simple yet powerful, “Just keep going. Never give up. Even making just a little progress each day helps you get closer to your goal.”
Maryam credits the women who work with her for her achievements, recognising that without them she would not have been able to accomplish all that she has. Looking towards the future of Sakena the Label, Maryam aspires to establish a women-only factory in Afghanistan. She envisions a safe and nurturing space, equipped with the necessary machinery and materials to foster the creative talents of her team. Despite the limited resources and opportunities available to them, Maryam is inspired by their creativity and hopes to empower them to reach their full potential.
Maryam’s story is one of resilience and determination. A story not just about her personal achievements but also about the power of empowering others and making a difference in their lives. Her work with local artisans and her dedication to sustainable and ethical practices has not only provided opportunities for those in Afghanistan, but also sets an example for the fashion industry to follow. Maryam’s passion for promoting Afghan culture and highlighting women’s rights serves as an inspiration to many, reminding us that no matter where we come from or what challenges we may face, we have the power to create positive change in the world.
Yarrie Bangura is a remarkable woman who embodies the spirit of resilience and strength. As founder of Aunty’s Ginger Tonic, Yarrie has not only created a successful business, but kept alive a tradition passed down from her ancestors. Her journey from a war-torn home in Sierra Leone to becoming a refugee in Australia has been filled with challenges, but Yarrie’s memories of her African heritage and the natural remedy her Aunty and Grandmother made for the community, inspired her to start her own beverage business.
When Yarrie first started her business, she did it to create job opportunities and contribute to the Australian economy. She wanted to prove that refugees don’t come to Australia to take, they want to give back what they can to their community.
Yarrie admits that starting and running a business in Australia is not easy. It takes hard work and perseverance to navigate the complex rules and regulations. When asked for advice on how other women can become successful business owners Yarrie emphasises the importance of not being afraid of failure. She encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to find the courage to try something new and learn from their mistakes, rather than living with the regret of not trying.
Yarrie also stresses the value of surrounding oneself with supportive and knowledgeable people. Learning from the successes and failures of others can be a valuable tool for growth and development. She believes that building a business is not a solo pursuit, but rather a collaborative effort that requires the support of a community. Yarrie likes to apply the African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” to her business.
Yarrie has been fortunate to have the support of amazing people in her journey, including her Advisory Board and members from community organisations like Welcome Merchant, Ignite and BrandKind. When asked about her own role models and the women she admires, Yarrie fondly recalls her first encounter with Oprah Winfrey on the television. “I just loved the way she talked,” says Yarrie. “I used to stand in front of the mirror and mimic her”.
Yarrie talks about her appointment as a UNHCR youth ambassador for Australia as one of her proudest achievements. Her inspiration for this role comes from childhood memories of seeing foreign aid workers bring joy to people’s lives with their food and supplies in the refugee camp where she lived. Yarrie had always wanted to follow in their footsteps, but she didn’t know who they were or what organisation they represented. Many years later, during an exhibition in Canberra, Yarrie recognised the UNHCR logo and burst into tears, knowing that she had finally found the organisation she had always wanted to connect with.
As a UNHCR youth ambassador, Yarrie visits schools, sharing her story and conducting workshops to inspire young people to pursue their dreams and believe in themselves. She believes that her role as an ambassador is an opportunity to bring joy to people’s lives, just as those foreign aid workers did in the refugee camp where she grew up.
On the business front, Aunty’s Ginger Tonic is set to grow from strength to strength this year with plans to introduce 3 new flavours – lemon, clove and pineapple. This expansion will open up new opportunities to sell in larger retailers, generating increased profits that will help support female refugees in Australia. If you’d like to support the growth of Aunty’s Ginger Tonic you can visit their GoFundMe page to contribute to the expansion.
International Women’s Day and Beyond
On this International Women’s Day, we take a moment to celebrate incredible women like Maryam Oria and Yarrie Bangura, who inspire us every day. They embody the spirit of determination, hard work, and passion, as they strive to have a positive impact in their communities and beyond.
Maryam and Yarrie’s success in business serves as a reminder that women have the power to create change and make a difference. As we continue to move forward, it’s important to come together to celebrate women’s achievements, to amplify their voices, and to work towards a future where everyone is treated with dignity, respect, and equality.