As a child in Lahore, Pakistan, sexism defined entrepreneur Miriam Farhan’s life. “Growing up there is different for a girl, because they’re brought up with the concept that they’re lesser than boys,” she says. “My whole life was influenced by that.”
Today, 38-year-old Farhan is the owner of The Market Find, a business that collaborates directly with Pakistani textile factory workers and artisans — all of them, women — to make small batches of clutches, quilts and other goods and bring them to market.
Since launching in 2012, her venture has made use of time-honored methodologies and colorful fabrics in vivid patterns that grab the attention — and open the wallets — of fashion-forward customers in the United States.
The Montville, N.J., firm is a small but growing operation. In its first year, it pulled in only about $10,000 in sales. But Farhan says it continues to expand “exponentially,” though she declined to provide more recent revenue figures.
Beyond building a business, Farhan is invested in helping the women of Bahawalpur, Lahore, Hala and other remote villages in her homeland. In addition to providing employment opportunities, she donates a percentage of her earnings to women’s educational charities and works with organizations on the ground to provide vocational training to female workers.
“The concept [of women’s worth] needs to be challenged,” she says. “They can move mountains, change lives, change the world.”
Finding Her Calling
Farhan describes herself as an artistic person, but fashion, accessories and entrepreneurship seemed an unlikely career path earlier on. She earned a B.S. in math and physics from Lahore Women’s University and a B.S. in computer science from the National University of Computer & Emerging Sciences, both in Pakistan.
Her career choices have always been driven by pragmatism. “I wanted to get a job,” she says. “I figured out at a very early age that if you’re earning something, people respect you more. As a girl, that was really important to me.”
However, while she was working toward her degrees, the attacks of September 11, 2001, happened and many of the IT opportunities she’d hoped to tap into disappeared. In need of a job, she began working at a textile facility. There, she faced many of the same gender-related barriers that plagued her school years. Nevertheless, she rose up through the ranks, eventually becoming a sourcing manager at one of the nation’s most prestigious factories.
“That’s when I went onto the factory floor and connected with the women workers. I saw the conditions they were working in,” she says. “They were skilled, but not respected as equal by the men. They were always given lesser jobs — and for less pay — because they are women.”
Economic downturn and a prolonged dearth of employment opportunities pushed her and her husband, Farhan Mir, to immigrate to the United States in 2006. But distance did not diminish her concern for the women back home. “I saw how the economy was declining, and wanted to do something about it — I just didn’t know what.”
It was in the fashion industry that she found a real opportunity to make a difference, especially when she noticed a growing appreciation for fashions from of other countries. “I started to see these beautiful, ethnic-inspired and tribal-inspired textiles,” she says. “I started to see a pattern — to see a market.”
Farhan reconnected with former colleagues at those Pakistani textile factories, and forged new relationships with local artisans as well. Not long after starting up, she began expanding her team, bringing on a manager to coordinate and collaborate with different groups of artisans specialized in different products.
She also began to take courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, which helped her establish a larger professional network in America. And her IT background has come in handy; online sales and social media promotion have become important to her success.
While her life is now solidly anchored in the U.S., where she and her husband are raising their 9-year-old son, her focus continues to be on improving women’s lives back in Pakistan.
“Often times, women there are treated like baby-making machines — they are so much more than that,” she says. “More people should take the initiative to do something from the bottom up. Change isn’t going to come from the top down.”
Why do you deserve to be featured?
The small impact we are making in a tiny corner of the world will one day grow and become a tidal wave of change. The idea of a Pakistani artisan online collective where artisans can directly sell their wares in a boutique setting to international buyers is in the works. Pakistan is dealing with a corrupt government, a lack of online payment system, cultural barriers and other social hurdles. Once these women are better educated and are financially empowered, we will see a real change. We do not hesitate to do our part in this direction.