Eman Zabi looking at the horizon at Whytecliff Park in West Vancouver. Image credit Anita Lee Photography

Eman Zabi Marries Her Passion For Feminism And Outdoor Adventures

Eman Zabi takes a deep, steady breath. 

She lifts her rear leg and bends it back. The back of her calf touches her thigh and her bent leg raises. She leans her upper body in the opposite direction — the last thing she wants is to falter and fall on the snowy ground. Kapow! She delivers a swift, formidable kick. Look closely and you’ll notice a sprinkle of snow on the tip of her winter boots. 

I’m in awe. I’ve been watching Eman’s video for the umpteenth time and I find my fingers reaching for the replay button once more. This is the art behind Mawashi geri — better known as a roundhouse kick. It takes hours of training to master a strong kick like this one. In Eman’s case, it also brought on a powerful effect. It ignited her passion for bringing women of color in outdoor adventures into the front and center.

As a little girl growing up in the Middle East, Eman frequently met ignorance head-on. In college, when she introduced the idea of starting a karate club for young women, the head of sports and recreation responded with ignorance. “He told me, ‘Why don’t you start a painting club instead?'” It was one of the most infuriating moments of Emans life and “a little bit like an out-of-the-body experience”, the 23-year-old likened it to a scene from a movie. “That just made me 100% sure that I had to get the club started.”

In the end, Eman convinced him — but could only start the club with one condition: at least 10 women had to show up for one class. Eman reached out to her martial arts friends — Sania Gesudras and Mariam Diefallah — for help.

Their efforts paid off. 35 women turned up. “It was really, really gratifying,” Eman reminisced.

Eman practicing karate with her fellow martial artist members. Image credit: Eman Zabi.
Eman practicing karate with her fellow martial artist members. Image courtesy of Eman Zabi.

The best part, however, was what came out of the experience. The head of sports and recreation admitted his mistake — and listened and learned.He let me continue and gave me the support needed later. So a lot of the time, it’s not people trying to be jerks. It’s that they don’t know that there’s a market for these things, or there are people who are interested.”

The club, called Fight Like A Girl, was born out of Eman’s rolled-up-sleeves determination, a trait she had honed since she was a little girl. After watching an IMAX documentary of Mount Kilimanjaro, the then seven-year-old made a promise to herself — she would summit the highest mountain in Africa one day. No one believed she could do it. In a personal essay titled, “So You Want To Climb A Mountain” Eman writes, “Not my mum, not my dad, not my sister, not my friends. Heck, if my cat could talk, he sure as hell would’ve added his furry disapproval.”

She proved her well-meaning doubters wrong 13 years later.

Eman conquering Mount Kilimanjaro. Image credit Eman Zabi.
Eman conquering Mount Kilimanjaro. Image courtesy of Eman Zabi.

At 20, she summited Mount Kilimanjaro, an intimidating and legendary mountain at 19,341 feet above sea level. The climb was three years ago but the memory of the astounding experience is fresh in her mind — especially the night of the summit.

Eman felt whiffs of terror as the frightening and nauseating effects of altitude sickness crept in. She and her hiking group left the meal tent and stood outside, perched at the edge of the cliffs. As they looked down they saw clouds below forming a beautiful mirage.

“We were in awe of what we’d achieved so far and what we were about to do.”

The group retreated to bed without saying a word. A couple of hours later they woke up to climb through the night. On their sixth day on the mountain, the team reached the summit.

Eman hard at work on her laptop at Whytecliff Park in West Vancouver. Image by Anita Lee Photography.

Climbing Kilimanjaro would prove to be the crux of The Scribesmith, a one-woman copywriting business Eman founded in 2016. Known for its work with outdoor consumer brands, The Scribesmith specializes in effective copywriting with sparkling personality.

Eman works with an interesting mix of clients. Just recently, the writer-entrepreneur wrote for an organization that sells inclusive clothing and gear for women of all shapes and sizes.

Once, she paired up with a male-centric outdoor brand that needed help with appealing to the female market. Unbeknownst to them, their ads were sexist and offensive. “It was completely unintentional –  they didn’t realize they were alienating the market,” she sighed.

Eman isn’t surprised by the plethora of problems arising from these ill-judged messages. “They’ve never had women in the decision-making process. When you have a company run by men — where the marketing copy is created by men, where they’ve only been targeting male audiences —they don’t know how to go about reaching and bringing the female market into the fold.”

Inclusive marketing goes beyond engaging in a healthy conversation. Action matters. Rarely are there companies that practice what they preach. Eman, who spent her adolescent years in the Middle East, emphasizes on representing people of color (POCs). “At the end of the day, we can talk all we want about diversity but unless we have the women and POCs in decision-making positions, it’s not going to happen.”

There’s also the largely unspoken issue of frivolous marketing campaigns. In her blog post “Is Your Outdoor Brand Making These Mistakes?“, Eman writes, it takes more than a rainbow-colored backpack to represent the LGBTQ community with integrity. “The LGBTQ+ community deserves more than just token representation. That means incorporating them into marketing campaigns, speaking to their unique struggles, and to their specific pain points.”

Eman and her love for outdoors at Whytecliff Park in West Vancouver. Image credit Anita Lee Photography.
Whytecliff Park in West Vancouver. Image by Anita Lee Photography.

Including women and POCs in the decision-making process is the first step in remastering representation. With more diverse voices and socially conscious values, there’ll be more inclusive ad campaigns that will — in Eman’s words — not only increase the number of people who purchase from them but will also make people respect, prefer, and even love the brand more.

Your values are a great way of distinguishing yourself from the crowd, and attracting customers that resonate with you and your philosophy,” shared the outdoorist and entrepreneur.

Eman’s goal is to inspire as many women as possible to get into the great outdoors whether through being an example and inspiration or through her copywriting.

She reflects on her college years when she led a team of 15 women and ventured out into the desert. After discovering their GPS had stopped working and they couldn’t find the campsite, they decided to spend the night by the beach. Most of these women came from conservative backgrounds and had never camped before. The idea of a group of women going out into the wild with no male chaperone was foreign territory.

And yet, the experience felt natural, like walking into a dark room and turning on a light switch.


About the writer

Priscilla Tan is a PR profile feature writer for purpose-driven women entrepreneurs. She spends most of her days adding a human touch to their vision, strengthening their brand identity, and telling their stories to the world. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Some photos provided by Eman were taken by Anita Lee Photography. You can find her on the web and Instagram.

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