Meet The Heel Maker With A Higher Purpose

This entrepreneur’s shoes support women in Kenya, Peru, Palestine, and Pakistan. Learn more in our Q+A with Shaherazad Umbreen.


The shoes that Shaherazad Umbreen creates have names, and each one reveals a little about the philosophy that underpins her company: Dream Then Do, Take My Lead, Equally Ever After.

Umbreen is the founder of Shoes by Shaherazad, a startup in Birmingham, England with a two-fold mission to make comfortable high heels and advance women’s equality. A portion of sales are donated to women and girls’ empowerment projects. Umbreen and her customers are currently supporting projects in Kenya, Peru, Palestine, and Pakistan.

“The heels which I have worn to work throughout my career so far have been beautiful pieces, but towards the end of the work day they have all had the ‘ouch’ factor. So, I set myself the challenge of creating a pair of heels which would be pain free,” Umbreen wrote.

The entrepreneur spent two years developing her staple: a sturdy, leather shoe, manufactured according to a mathematical formula, which she says distributes the weight of the wearer evenly across a 3-inch heel, making the shoe comfortable to wear for 18 hours. Umbreen also designs and sells shoe accessories to make the heels versatile enough for day and night.

The shoe design is ambitious in itself. I asked Umbreen why it was also important to her to align her shoes with a social cause.

“There is not a single country in the world where women have gender parity with men. Not one. I think it’s about time humankind does something to address this imbalance,” Umbreen told me.

Here’s what else Umbreen told me about her shoes and their higher purpose:

Q: Tell me about the moment you determined, ‘Yes, I’m going start my own shoe line.’

A: I was driving to a concert to see Beyoncé perform along with a host of other female singers in aid of raising money for women’s empowerment in association with Gucci. I had an idea for innovative shoes in my mind for awhile, but whilst driving to the concert, I thought, ‘I can do this, too.’ I can design and sell shoes and use the profits to empower women to build a happier world.

Q: What was the hardest part about launching your own company alongside your day job as a marketing leader at a co-op?

A: Oh gosh! There are so many hard elements. But if I have to pick just one it’s product development. It’s been really difficult to design, create, and produce a fresh new product which is completely new to the market. And to do it all in my spare time on weekends added to the challenge!

Q: Tell me about the one shoe feature that makes you the proudest.

A: It has to be the ethical production of the shoes. So many products on the market take advantage of vulnerable people to produce fashion at a low cost for the consumer, but at a high cost to the actual people who produce them. My shoes are completely ethical. Everyone in the supply chain is paid a fair price for their work and contribution. So, I guess the feature which makes me proudest is that these are “happy shoes” for those who make them and those who wear them!

Q: Why are you passionate about women’s empowerment?

A: There is not a single country in the world where women have gender parity with men. Not one. I think it’s about time humankind does something to address this imbalance.

Q: How do you select the projects featured on Heels with Purpose?

A: It was really tough to pick just a few projects to start off with as there are so hundreds of good causes to choose from. My criteria was:

  • A focus on girls and women
  • A focus on education
  • A focus on sustainable skills

I’m a big believer in giving women and girls the skills to lift themselves out of poverty to ensure sustainability. I also wanted to be working with a range of projects across the globe.

Q: What advice would you give to fellow founders who would like to weave social responsibility into sales and operations?

A: I would say that it’s important to build strong, long-term relationships. Take your time in selecting the right partners, projects, and causes and then put all your energy in to those. That way, you’ll make a tangible difference. Focus on something that matters to you and your team, and you will find that you never run out of motivation.

Q: What role do you believe entrepreneurs like you should play in solving social issues?

A: There are so many roles we MUST play. We must be vocal advocates, visible advocates, change makers, risk takers and steadfast leaders. I strongly believe that we do not need miracles to change the world, we only need each other.

Q: How do you measure the success of Heels with Purpose?

A: By the number of women my company helps and the quality of help it provides. In effect, it’s measuring the social return of the investment.

Q: Why did you decide to partner with GlobalGiving to reach your social responsibility goals?

A: When I met with the GlobalGiving team in London, I knew that this was the right organisation to work with. GlobalGiving provides choice, transparency, and amazing leadership. It’s been a real pleasure, and I have total trust in everyone who works in the organisation. GlobalGiving makes the world a happier place so it was the perfect partner for my happier heels!


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Featured Photo: Meet Shaherazad Umbreen, founder of Shoes by Shaherazad by Shoes by Shaherazad

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