E-commerce platform connects young Afghan female entrepreneurs with the world

KABUL (Reuters) - A locally grown e-commerce platform in Afghanistan is connecting vendors with customers around the world, providing an important opportunity for the war-torn economy and inspiring a new trend of young women starting up their own small businesses.

E-commerce site Click.af started in 2016 to give Afghans access to a domestic online market, and last year began shipping globally, according to its founder Masiullah Stanikzai. The idea behind the expansion was to connect local designers and artisans to a larger base of consumers, he said, mainly Afghans living in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia.

Twenty-five-year-old Maryam Yousufi jumped at the chance to connect with consumers around the world. She launched a fashion line called Machum on the site a few weeks ago and has received more than a dozen orders for the clothes she designs.

"I wanted my company's products to reach global markets ... It's a big achievement for us," she said.

Her clothes fuse Western style with traditional Afghan design, with her page on the e-commerce site showcasing an array of women's clothing, from beaded and embroidered jewel-tone dresses to a sleek balloon-sleeved mustard top. Prices vary from $12 to more than $100.

Economists said that despite poverty, corruption and poor infrastructure creating setbacks, Afghan e-commerce gives women greater opportunities to break into the world of business in the conservative society.

"E-commerce can be a powerful tool for bringing in greater gains to women entrepreneurs since it addresses the outmoded barriers of geographic isolation and limited access to information and financing," said Lutfi Rahimi, a research fellow at the Biruni Institute, a Kabul-based economic think-tank.

Yousufi, who works on her business at night after her day job in media is done, said she believes online platforms can give others like her a chance to try entrepreneurship.

The platforms can help women in Afghanistan, where the majority of citizens live below the poverty line, overcome hurdles such as violence and instability, conservative attitudes towards women, and the difficulty in getting credit, Yousufi and experts said.

"I believe that young people should not always be employees of a company or office," she said.

"They should use their talents and have their own businesses."

(Reporting by Orooj Hakimi and Sayed Hassib in Kabul; Additional reporting and writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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