Hanouf Aljuhail is not your typical Kuwaiti woman. In fact, she defies the stereotype of a well-to-do woman who can live a life of luxury and leisure because she has chosen to fill her every waking moment with her passion ... simultaneously working full-time in the Writing Center at the American University of Kuwait, being a loving, doting wife to her husband and exemplary mother to her two young children, as well as starting her own business, House of Butterflies, in order to encourage cottage industries in Asia and raise money for a cancer charity in Kuwait.
People who know Aljuhail assume that her hectic life stems from her response to the tragic early death of her younger sister, Heba, who passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 18 in 2010. However, Aljuhail's journey actually began over 15 years ago when she decided to leave the cocoon of her life in Kuwait and set out to study at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her exposure to a life of independence coupled with her strong sense of social justice and global interests planted the seed of inspiration in her -- the inspiration which enabled her to transform her family's tragedy into a thriving self-run business which is already promising to reach international markets after the first year.
House of Butterflies (HOB) is a growing business which combines elements of eco-living, social entrepreneurship, and social justice. It all started one summer day in July '11 when Aljuhail was window-shopping in the south of France. She spotted a unique, colorful, one-of-a-kind bag and she felt compelled to buy it. She met the owner and agreed to become the sole Middle East franchiser of the environmentally friendly 'Le Cerise Sur Le Gateau' (the 'Cherry/Icing on the Cake'). Her first shipment to Kuwait sold out in a matter of weeks; her second shipment included her own designs for handbags, nesting storage boxes, and lunchboxes. 10% of all sales are donated to local charities in Heba's memory. HOB aspires to be "the place where color, joy, and inspiration reside." Aljuhail's vision brightens up the GCC fashion scene while simultaneously empowering artisans in Thailand where the products are 100% handmade from recycled materials. Over 30 women are gainfully employed in this co-op community which is poised to expand exponentially as the House of Butterflies flits onto the scene.
The stereotype of a Kuwaiti woman as oppressed, bored, and obsessed with designer brands is shattered upon meeting Hanouf Aljuhail ... and there are many more women like her in Kuwait. Instead of highlighting the few instances of intolerance or corruption in this country, let's celebrate the achievements of the women who have the drive, the initiative, and the vision to transform Kuwait into a regional success story with a solid entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to professionalism. I for one am proudly sporting my HOB bag this summer!