One Arab woman is hoping her journey will help pave the way for other young girls and women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to break stereotypes and forge their own path to success.
Today, Chaymae Samir, a 28-year-old entrepreneur originally from Casablanca in Morocco, has exited two businesses and has rapidly grown her current venture, Made By Sunday, named by NatWest as one of the “fastest-growing businesses in the United Kingdom”. Earlier this year, she made it onto Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list for Europe alongside co-founder Morgan Hellen.
“When I found out I was [in the] Forbes 30 Under 30, I was really pleased as it is a milestone I wanted to get to in my journey,” Samir said. “I looked up the list every year when I was a teenager and was inspired by the work of people in it. To be [on the list] in Europe means that other kids too can see some diversity in this ecosystem, [that] immigrants or children of immigrants can see that they can make it in a space and a continent that wasn’t always welcoming us with open arms.”
Samir recounts how she left Morocco at the age of 17 to study in Paris on scholarships for both her undergraduate degree in economics and Middle Eastern studies and her first master’s in finance at Sciences Po.
“My career started earlier than I had planned; [I] was always embedded in that entrepreneurial spirit,” she says. “I convinced a professor to take me as an intern for her consultancy business. The internship turned into an associate position, and I ended up embarking on my first journey as a location-independent professional while studying, and way before remote work was as common as now.”
Samir then moved to Asia, where she worked as the liaison between the Ministry of Finance and an organisation helping startups in the region. This gave her experience in organising leading events, such as former US president Barack Obama’s 4th Global Entrepreneurship Summit.
Her next steppingstone involved moving to New York, where she worked at a hedge fund in emerging markets, an experience she describes as the “most enriching by far”. A brief stint at the United Nations in Geneva then made her reconsider her path and decide to create her very own.
“By the time I graduated from my second master’s, I had more experience than most of my peers, and it just didn’t make sense to look for a job,” Samir says. “So, I started freelancing on the side to get the startup capital to launch my first business, then my second, both of which I exited.”
Between selling her first businesses and starting Made By Sunday, she had noticed that much of the marketing attention was directed towards western millennials, while millennials in the MENA region as consumers and employees were side-lined. This led her to conduct research, publish articles and get involved in policy making around the topic.
“This also led me to work with some of the biggest brands in marketing to the MENA region,” she adds. “I learned a lot about building and scaling businesses, which then led me to Made By Sunday.”
The company kicked off with skincare, but Samir’s goal was to ensure that both men and women had access to effective, evidence-based treatment options for conditions and issues that impacted their day-to-day lives. Today, they are stocked in over 800 stores around the world and have offices in both London and Dubai. In under four years, the brand has reportedly raked in $3.5 million in revenue with no outside investment.
“Often when entrepreneurs start a company, they realise there’s depth to it they might not have known,” she says. “It starts simple, but there’s more underneath the surface of what customers want, and it’s abundantly clear. Made By Sunday was exactly like that; we knew the potential was there from the beginning.”
Samir’s mission today as CEO is to continue expanding globally while remaining as local as possible in customer-facing, hiring and managing people, among others.
“I’m obsessed with building businesses that serve the needs of our customers and act as a vehicle for the personal and professional growth of myself and our team, while being the creative outlet that all great businesses are,” she adds.
Her hope is that women – and everyone – in the Middle East will stop measuring themselves based on western stereotypes and their depictions in the media. She believes that the focus on racism and to the hyper-sexualisation and victimisation of women in the region detracts from the achievements so many women have accomplished and are still accomplishing across the region.
“We’re guilty of sometimes buying into these stereotypes, like the women opting to be housewives over a working life, or submissive women crumbling to the demands of the oppressive men in their lives,” Samir explains. “The issue is these generalisations negate the trailblazing work women have accomplished in the region.”
She gives the example of Iraq’s first female mayor of a capital city in the Middle East, a feat yet to be achieved in London. She also points to “what is considered day-to-day work that keeps countries and economies moving, and that is also supported by men. This isn’t negating the obvious hurdles that women in the Middle East are facing.”
For the entrepreneur, women have much more to offer beyond their means.
“We have a lot of powerful women in the Middle East, but we need a lot more who know who they are so they can stop falling into these internalised misogynistic traps,” she says. “I’d encourage people to step back a little bit and find environments where they’re able to take real bets on themselves and be in a room with brilliant minds and struggle with the amount of work it takes to be in those rooms.
“If they can put themselves in those situations, in industries that their parents might not even understand or give value to, then it really is a phenomenal career move.”
(Reporting by Caline Malek; editing by Seban Scaria)