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‘Dream to be free’: Utah refugees and immigrants pitch their businesses at local competition



SALT LAKE CITY — Unlike her brother and male peers, Hanifa Javadi never had the opportunity to go to school while growing up and living in Afghanistan. But she always had “the dream to be free.”

Eventually, she immigrated to the U.S. where, while free, she still faced language barriers and cultural differences that might stop most people from realizing their dreams.

But that wasn’t enough to quell Javadi’s entrepreneurial spirit.

She successfully launched her business — Free Women Company — and on Wednesday night, she was awarded $4,000 and a first-place finish at the International Rescue Committee of Salt Lake’s annual immigrant and refugee pitch competition.

Javadi’s daughter, Asifa Javadi, explained that many refugee and immigrant women often have a skill set needed by the community but are restricted in what they can do by language barriers. Free Women Company aims to address this issue, currently employing 26 women refugees from Afghanistan to help sew the various goods produced by the company.

“At Free Women, we stitch a dream together,” Hanifa Javadi said, adding that the money from Wednesday’s competition will be put toward bringing on a full-time employee for their shop and purchasing a sewing machine.

Free Women Company offers alterations, custom sewing projects, clothing repairs and brings designers’ ideas to life.

Additionally, the company is eco-focused and repurposes fabric found in hospitals into bags then sold in hospitals through a partnership with Intermountain Health.

“We just want to help the planet and these women,” Asifa Javadi said.

While Hanifa and Asifa Javadi and Free Women Company took home the grand prize, two other entrepreneurs also pitched their businesses and won some money in the process.

Elizabeth Pantoja owns Woopeas, a 100% plant-based protein spread and dip, and was awarded $2,000 to continue expanding her business and bringing it to more farmer’s markets and stores throughout Utah.

Woopeas products contain vitamins A, C and K and all B vitamins along with being rich in minerals that are essential for a healthy life.

So far, Pantoja and Woopeas have sold 12,500 tubs and are currently in three stores in Utah.

Princess Bombyck and Juah Apparel — whose mission is to empower women around the world through inclusive, quality gym wear — won third place, along with the audience vote, earning $1,500.

“Our vision extends far beyond clothing. Our mission is to educate, empower and build communities,” Bombyck said. “Let’s bring minority women voices to the table, empowering them to overcome their fears and embrace their strengths.”





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