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From Girl Geek to Prefect to Shoe.E.O

  • By Shaherazad Umbreen

From Girl Geek to Prefect to Shoe.E.O

I had a wonderful time last weekend visiting the senior school which I left in 1993 having completed my GCSEs.  I've been back to the school a number of times since I left but nothing quite compares with wandering the corridors on a weekend and making time to reminisce at old desks and form rooms.  Even though I left Turves Green Girls School 26 years ago I even had the luck and privilege of bumping into two of my teachers who were also exploring the buildings prior to them being demolished later this summer.  

This is a post about the Turves Green Girls School I remember, the girl I once was, and the woman the school helped me to grow in to becoming.  I had no idea what I would grow up to be during my teenage years, and I certainly never imaged being a shoe designer and Shoe.E.O of my own purposeful company.

Shaherazad at Turves Green Girls School

Image: Me on my visit to TGGS in the school field outside East Block

The night before my school visit I took a look at my reports, my certificates and my personal diaries from the early 90's.  It surprised me that every single page of my reports, from every single teacher described me as, "quiet, sensible and hardworking".  I have never ever been "cool" or "sociable" or "cheeky" no  matter how much I wanted to be.  That's one thing that hasn't changed over the years! The only misdemeanour in my school reports was, "an amount of disinterest shown in my cereals study" for Home Economics.

Going to a girls school was definitely a plus for me.  I enjoyed the girls only atmosphere and that anyone who wanted to giggle over boys had no choice but to do that after school hours.  For me, school was about throwing myself into my studies, unless that was Sports (which I did not enjoy) or Woodwork (which I hated with a passion).  

I flirted with many career options whilst at school.  My favourites which I kept coming back to were:

  • An author: I desperately wanted my Jo March from Little Women moment when I would one day fling down my pen, my fingertips soaked in pen ink, and jump up with glee on finishing the last sentence of my novel. 
  • A poet: I spent many an hour imagining living in a snug little cottage with books lined across every wall and a roaring fire which would keep me company whilst I penned soul searching poems I imagined would beckon to people the world over.
  • A journalist: As I grew a little older I realised that making it as an author or poet would mean it could be tough paying a mortgage so I decided that my writing skills might work well in a journalism career.  And yes, I admit, Lois Lane did have some influence in this new professional dream.
  • A lawyer: my favourite drama whilst at school was Perry Mason.  The version where Perry is played by Raymond Burr.  To have that razor sharp insight and get criminals to trip up on themselves was a passionate dream I held for years.  To spend my career fighting (and winning) for justice would be so worthwhile, I thought.

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As I grew up, one thing was clear, I either wanted to write about justice and equality or fight for justice and equality.  The passion came from being on the receiving end of bullying both at school and on the little estate where I grew up as well as seeing so much injustice in the world.  "Paki, go home" and "Big Rat" were routinely shouted out at me when I was at junior school and so perhaps it was inevitable that I would grow up as a quiet girl who threw herself into schoolwork.  It's not much fun being sociable with people who throw insults or pull your hair. 

So that's what I did; I grew up as a quiet, sensible and hardworking girl.  Now when I look back, I realise that my resilience and ability to manage risk, which have been so useful in my career, come from my school years.  

 

TGGS Teachers

Image: My sister Irrum with Miss Martucci and Ms Veale on the visit last week 

Today, it is clear that I am not a journalist or a poet or a lawyer.  I do however, have a portfolio career with justice and equality at its heart - but not in a conventional way - in my own resilient and innovative way. 

I'm the Shoe Empowerment Officer of Shoes by Shaherazad - a business which gives away 100% of its profits to women's good causes; I'm a Head of Marketing for a £billion UK brand which also has people and community good causes at its heart and I've just published my first book on women's empowerment.  I am achieving justice and equality by designing feminist shoes and designing community campaigns; that's a career I hadn't even imagined when I was at school.  In fact, I remember when I was in my teens my mum trained me how to walk in heels ahead of a wedding we were due to attend - at that time I needed a very long training session - I waddled like a duck in heels as a teenager!

Each Other by Shaherazad Umbreen

Image: my book which came out earlier this year available from Amazon and Waterstones

Some memories from school I must confess:

  • I was the girl who wrote a lovely letter to her local bookies (Ladbrokes) telling them that I loved books and so please could I come and get some work experience with them.  I was very serious as I assumed bookies must surely sell books.  Sadly, I never heard back from the team at Ladbrokes.  If this doesn't make me a geek I don't know what does!
  • I was the one who made a one-legged stool in woodwork which, much to my teacher Mr Charlton's delight, actually stood upright.  I don't remember being fascinated by design when I was at school, but I guess some of the lessons must have sunk in as the maths and crafting lessons came in handy.
  • By my third year at senior school I started to get braver and bolder.  I discovered this on the day of the tuberculosis jab at school.  There was a timetable on the wall which highlighted when each girl had to go and see the school nurse.  Where my name should have been were the words "Shangra Umbug".  Imagine that: Shangra Umbug.  I refused to get my jab as my name wasn't on the list.  My teacher, Mr Odedra urged me to go as it was obvious "Shangra" was meant to be "Shaherazad" but I wouldn't budge until my name was accurately spelled on the list.  I feel like this could well have been my own Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables moment.  Over the years I have been called: Shazarazazad, Shezerazad, Shazzad, Sherry, Shaheerazad, Sharherazad and more.  But Shangra! Shangra was way too much for my proud teenage head to bear.
  • Then when I was in my final 2 years at school I was appointed as a Prefect.  I totally loved that and took advantage of my new found position of responsibility by sporting white ankle trainers with my uniform - a big "no no" as part of school uniform even now.  Patrolling those corridors in my trainers made me feel super grown up, as well as a tad cool, and perhaps has a little to do with my designing comfortable and stylish shoes now.  It was the beginning of me becoming a challenger of the status quo!

Shoes by Shaherazad

Image: a pair of my shoes from Shoes by Shaherazad

  • I was also the one (the only one) who took two scientific calculators into her GCSE trigonometry exam.  Just in case the battery ran out of the first calculator.  This, I believe, qualifies me as a geek and a worrier.  I still use that calculator now for checking my accounts which means the battery has been going for 26 years now.

I want to say a big thank you to everyone who helped me to learn and grow at TGGS.  My teachers: Miss Meacham, Ms Veale, Miss Martucci, Mrs Francis, Mrs Yandle, Mrs Bevan, Mr Odedra, Mr Green and Mr Owen to name a favourite few.  And my closest friends: Tabasam, Samantha, Jill, Elizabeth, Sharon and Melanie.  You made school fun, enjoyable and memorable.

And as for me, I went from being a goody two shoes at school to now making my own brand of good deed heels, thanks in some part to the five happy years I spent at Turves Green.  

If there's one thing I would say to the girls at school today it would be to not worry about being cool, or popular or trendy - if you are any or all of these things then great - enjoy it!  But if you're not then don't worry - it's much better just being comfortable with being you - integrity will take you further than you can imagine.

The school is about to go through a £23 million rebuild.  I wish every girl who walks its new corridors and studies in its new class rooms a happy and fulfilling future.  Turves Green girls of today will be the empowered women of the future.

Much Love,

Shaz

Shoe Empowerment Officer

Shoes by Shaherazad

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