For Shapol, much of her work stems from her motivation to uplift other women and inspire sisterhood. Her participation in the 2021 VV GROW Fellowship has reinforced these ideas by introducing her to an active network of global changemakers, who, like her, are also intimately familiar with the challenges of balancing the roles of being an entrepreneur, with being a mother, sister, daughter, caregiver, or spouse. “The safety that has been created and the willingness that everyone has to help each other regardless of everyone’s busy schedules, gives certain sisterhood.” This sisterhood mirrors the mission of Shapol’s enterprise, Khanem, a brand dedicated to “providing women throughout the Middle East with comfortable, sustainably produced lingerie sold in a safe, inviting environment.”
Shapol’s story begins in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq against the backdrop of the Iraq-Iran war. As she grew up, violence in her community began to escalate, leading to her family making the arduous journey to refuge. Settling in the Netherlands, Shapol suddenly found herself having to adapt to a new language, environment, and customs; an experience that has fueled her with resilience and instilled in her a commitment to “making the world a better place”.
Returning to Sulaymaniyah fifteen years later, Shapol discovered that while much of the city had changed, the lingerie shops, traditionally owned by men, had remained intact. These stores offered few sizes, no fitting rooms, and offered women little comfort. Chatting with workers in many of these shops, she soon discovered that male employees made almost twice that of female employees- many of whom come from economically disadvantaged families or are internally displaced persons. Shapol had come to understand the economic disadvantages faced by women in Iraq from a young age after being told “Girls can’t sell sunflower seeds,” after setting up her own business at just six years old. Realizing the inequity women faced in lingerie shops, Shapol decided, “what if we could not only introduce high-quality lingerie to the Iraqi market, but also provide women with a safe workplace and fair wages?”
Launched in 2014, Shapol’s lingerie brand and shop are run entirely by women. Today, they also train local women to become professional designers, patternmakers, seamstresses and cutters, enabling them to earn their own money, support their families, and serve as role models for their daughters and other women.
“Our goal is to create a community of talented women from across the region who can inspire and support one another, ultimately changing Kurdistan and Iraq”. Shapol believes that, “women have a critical role to play in reducing poverty, building peace, and facilitating the development of Iraq”.
Beyond bolstering her passion for sustaining and promoting sisterhood, VV GROW has given Shapol the opportunity to reflect on her journey as a female entrepreneur and her intentions in founding Khanem. Sparked by discussions during the fellowship, Shapol is now developing an app that will deliver quality, practical trainings in fashion design and business development to vulnerable women and youth in Iraq. The platform aims to empower women to build their own businesses and contribute to the greater economic development of the Middle East and North Africa region. Looking to the future, Shapol continues to find new ways to invest in and develop her community, and is “extremely proud to be able to play a part in this process.”
To learn more about Shapol and her business, follow her on social media, or check out her website, visit these links: