By: Rida Arif
From budding freshmen to alumni, many female entrepreneurs have decided to make use of the pandemic to take the plunge into food-related start-ups. This seems to be an anomaly considering the industry of both home-businesses and commercial restaurants are dominated by men; in 2018, Food & Wine magazine reported that only 6 percent of women owned restaurants or ran kitchens. Similarly, a 2015 report by the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland showed that the majority of home-based business owners are male (66 percent). These gendered statistics show that the following women are defying the norm to establish their eateries and are using social media and even the lockdown to their advantage.
Aleeha Shah ‘24, started her baking venture, Aleeha’s Pantry, during quarantine as a result of having nothing to do but bake cakes and crave food from The Pantry. A passionate baker since the age of eight, Aleeha specializes in working with buttercream to create aesthetically pleasing delectable desserts. However, keeping work stress from bleeding into such a deep passion has proven difficult. She says, “This is something that is therapeutic for me. Why should I turn it into something that would be the reason I need therapy?”
Aleeha admits that turning a hobby into a career inevitably results in not loving it the same way, but she says, “If you love it enough, you’ll find a balance.” With 2200 followers on Instagram and counting, she is managing to do just that.
Like Aleeha, Maryam Malik’s ‘23 venture, Madbatter by Maryam, is rooted in the magical realization at age nine, that baking was a fantasy-land. Malik says, “[It’s a place] where you put ingredients together and something new comes out.”
Currently a sophomore, Malik concocts everything from brownies to lasagna, with no compromise on quality. The pandemic helped increase business exponentially, with at least four orders a day from what started as a blog with 500 followers. Upon asking if the saturated market of home-bakers is demotivating, Maryam echoed the view of the group in all, saying, “You don’t have to fight to make your place…everyone has their own niche.”
Few have created a venture more niche than Fatima Binte Afzal ‘22 and founder of Fraiche by Fatima, almost at a thousand followers within the quarantine alone. A nutritious-based food start-up inspired by her own struggles with hyperthyroidism and PCOS, Fatima wanted healthy and affordable options in Karachi, while not restricting her clients to bland greens.
Fatima also brought up the difficulties she has faced as a woman in the business, saying, “I was always a huge feminist, but even I never realized how bad things are for women, because I was always so sheltered”. She compared how riders speak to her versus her brother or father, and noted how women have to put in “five times the effort as a man in the same field” to be taken seriously.
Bismah Azhar ‘19, better known for Bismah’s Bakeshop, an alumna of the MGSHSS, can more than confirm Fatima’s experiences. Boasting an impressive 3,400 followers, Bismah has one of the better-known bakeries in Lahore. However, even months into her commercially pursuing this, older men would patronize her. “They’ve said, ‘you’re kind of good at this, why don’t you start doing this as a business?’ and when introducing me, they say kitchen mein mama ki help karati hain,” Bismah says.
Her business was severely affected by the pandemic, with a loss of money, time and queries, with growing pressure from other food ventures starting around the same time leaving Bismah wondering how she could compete. However, she takes comfort in her business being different from the rest as she decorates cakes according to the personalities of the recipient, and what she would like to see in their place. Bismah emphasised on the importance of making something with love, thought and intention, advising other budding entrepreneurs to simply take the leap because the market is extensive.
The stories of Aleeha, Maryam, Fatima and Bismah show how in times of adversity, these women are able to not only work effectively in the male-dominated industries of home businesses and food, but thrive.