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Lisseth Villalobos-Azab: Connection, Empowerment, Mentoring

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It’s hard to keep track of Lisseth Villalobos-Azab’s body clock. With successful businesses around the globe, she has a full schedule of jetting from L.A. to Kansas City and then on to the Middle East. But she’s attuned to her inner workings and can reset with a good rest or a great cup of coffee, which is the way she starts her days. Then she heads for her lengthy email inbox offerings that come in at all hours of the night and day.

“We’re either in Kansas City with my parents, or L.A. with my business or in Saudi or Dubai with my family,” shared Lisseth. “I function either early morning or late at night and in between I’m on L.A. or Kansas City time. And I just sleep when I can.”

Right now, Lisseth calls Parkville, Missouri, her landing spot. She’s enjoyed 20 years with her husband, Rayan, who is Saudi with extensive business connections in the Middle East. She takes great pride in her daughters, Yasmine, 13, and Sara, 9.

“Personally and morally, I’m driven, obviously, by my family, and the diversity I have in my family is something I put into the forefront. We are two different cultures, religions and countries. It’s interesting that we have been able to combine those two. That’s important to me,” Lisseth stated. “I tell my daughters that being normal is boring, and our story is different and that’s what will set you apart from everyone else. In the Midwest, with all of these cultures together, there’s no one else like us here. So I empower them to tell their story.”

No matter where she is in the world, Lisseth is keenly focused on how to empower women and assist them in networking. With her impressive outcomes, Lisseth discovers paths to success for others by identifying openings ripe for opportunity. “Professionally, what drives me is finding markets and what they’re missing and how I can help to fill these voids. That’s something that comes very naturally to me,” she said. “From K.C. to L.A. with my consultancy to the Middle East when we do events, I always try to make them diverse and to fill in the gaps of what’s missing in each market.”

For nearly a decade, Lisseth has run Create Twenty Two, a company that specializes in fashion and beauty collaboration among brands in the U.S. and the Middle East. “That’s my baby, my fashion and beauty consultancy company in West Hollywood in L.A. I have a showroom and I predominantly bring Middle Eastern designers to Hollywood,” she commented. “I do some sales for them but it’s mostly public relations. Red carpet events. Editorials. Music videos. TV. That kind of exposure. I am starting to use some K.C. designers and that’s really exciting. This company is my baby; I’ve nurtured it for a while. The result is that all of these strong Middle Eastern women and entrepreneurs receive exposure and connect to other women in L.A. who can help them grow their business.”

Not only is she working hard to connect and empower these Middle Eastern clients, Lisseth is fighting to break down preconceived notions that women from this part of the world are greatly limited by their patriarchal culture. “This is a misconception that women aren’t in business in the Middle East,” she remarked. “Most of my clients are women—I have very few men—because they are in the fashion space. But there are many entrepreneurial Middle Eastern women.”

Along with her husband, Lisseth runs AZDEF, a global entertainment company founded in 2009, handling events and event-related services. “Azab Productions is our event production management company in the Gulf of the Middle East. We work with United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia,” she shared. “Clients are primarily shopping centers and malls and we do all types of events, which range from children’s events to fashion events or whatever they’re hosting.”

A huge project that she presented with Harper’s Bazaar Arabia and Mall of the Emirates was an event that brought together different cultures, united under the umbrella of fashion and beauty. “Mall of the Emirates was looking for a new fashion event but not a fashion show. So I brought a fashion and beauty conference from L.A. to the Mall of the Emirates, and we did that for four consecutive years,” remembered Lisseth. “It built a platform for Middle Eastern and U.S. women who could talk about the differences and similarities in their fashion and beauty careers. That first conference in Dubai was really satisfying because I was able to bring together two different cultures, viewpoints, markets and regions. It’s great to see people working together and allowing each other to describe their experiences and differences. That was inspiring and from that, I created my consultancy company because I wanted to further that connection and network
for women.”

When she’s not empowering women and helping them connect in the Middle East or Hollywood, Lisseth is deeply engaged with The Fashion Group International, or FGI, a global, non-profit, professional organization founded in 1930 in New York City to benefit the fashion industry. FGI currently has over 5,000 members in the fashion industry including apparel, accessories, beauty and home. In Kansas City, Lisseth is helping mold the organization to be more inclusive and accessible so that younger members receive counsel and guidance to further their careers from those with more experience.

“The Fashion Group International consists of a diverse group of women, and we’re building out committees that will have people volunteer and voice opinions to the board. It’s about creating a strong network for all women and giving them a voice and open communications and not hoarding information. It gives them great exposure,” noted Lisseth, the regional director for the Kansas City chapter. “We’re going to be the Chamber of Commerce for fashion. If you’re a fashion designer, stylist, merchandiser, photographer, if you’re trying to build up your business, you’re going to seek us out so we can help you.” She adds that the Kansas City creative community boasts incredible talent in art, design, interior design, photography and more. Yet, she’s concerned that the platform or resources for this group are limited. Her work with FGI is helping to close that gap by constructing a network for those creatives.

With several successful companies blossoming across the globe, Lisseth offers these learnings to other entrepreneurs no matter the country they call home. “Partners and associates are important for your business to succeed and they must share your commitment. It’s like a marriage; you have to have the same vision, mission and goals. You can go about it differently, but the end result is to be aligned,” she shared. “When that doesn’t happen, it’s not a solid foundation. Having business partners and associations that check all your boxes are important.”

And for females, she fine-tunes her plan by encouraging that they seek help that’s specifically for them. “As a woman, use your resources. There are many out there especially for women because we’re considered a minority. There are many things you can apply for and find mentorship opportunities that can help you grow in your business,” Lisseth commented. “Networking is so important when you start your business. You can learn from other women entrepreneurs about the difficulties or struggles they’ve been through and how to avoid them.”

Lisseth’s networking and connections are enabling females across the world to see things in a different light, learn from others and push ahead to attain multiple victories. She refers to it as a personal journey that should be devotedly embraced by the person working for those dreams.

“Don’t force things. If it’s forced, it probably won’t last very long. Let things happen authentically. You still work hard, but if it’s too much effort or it’s not aligned with your goals, it’s probably not meant for you,” reflected Lisseth. “Focus on your own journey. With social media and many other platforms, they can be too focused on perception and not reality. If you’re constantly comparing yourself or looking at the achievements of others, you’re taking energy from your focus and journey. Sure, there’s no problem with looking over the fence every once in a while. Remember, stay focused on your own journey. If you spend all of your time in perception, you’ll never get the reality you want.”

When you imagine finally achieving a successful business, you will experience that networking and then empowering others are fundamental pieces of that accomplishment. Lisseth lives that philosophy night and day because she’s running companies around the world. While a hot cup of coffee is critical to her morning start, she shares that your work should bring you happiness as well.

“Enjoy the process. I think of my fashion designers at this point because many want to dream of Hollywood and that’s fine. But some want to move from not ever being heard of to the red carpet for the Oscars. That’s not reality,” advised Lisseth. “You have to develop your name and get those smaller placements to build yourself up and achieve the goal. But you should enjoy the journey of your accomplishments and how you’re getting there. It’s part of the process. And if you’re not enjoying it, maybe that’s not the journey you should be on.”