Ready to meet the winner of our International Women’s Week competition? PLUS your chance to win some pretty incredible prizes too…

We hear a lot about how women are taught not to take up space. And so, instead of just having one token day dedicated to women, we’re having an ENTIRE WEEK, International Women’s Day is fine, but no thanks – we’re having International Women’s Week. So this week, we’re hosting a series of interviews and competitions, each celebrating women and featuring one amazing female entrepreneur.

And for the final day of International Women’s Week, we invited YOU to get in touch. “We rise together,” goes the phrase, and we wanted to give a female entrepreneur the opportunity to be featured right here on our blog. A LOT of you got in touch, and there were SO MANY interesting, exciting ideas that it was challenging to choose just one entrepreneur. But we do have a winner! And that’s Nefeli Nine Luxury Fitness Retreats, which is run by Stephanie Contomichalos. Located an hour’s drive from Athens, Nefeli Nine runs week-long retreats focusing on fitness, wellbeing and relaxation in the most glorious surroundings. Just LOOK at those views.

Forget boring bootcamp classes for gym obsessives; Nefeli Nine’s retreats are open to everyone, regardless of your fitness level – with yoga and hiking on offer in the spectacular countryside, along with functional fitness training too. And forget bland detox diet plans, the gourmet meals you can expect at the retreat are made from fresh, local ingredients. With views over the deep blue expanse of the Mediterranean, wild olive groves and hills bright with crimson bougainvilleas, Nefeli Nine’s retreats are designed to refresh, energise and reinvigorate – far from the daily commute and your regular routine.

What does feminism mean to you?

Feminism to me is about being perceived as equal to men; creating networks that help to support each other – breaking through barriers imposed by the way society has developed – or not. Personally, I have used sport as a tool to break down these gender imposed obstacles.

Sports for me creates a safe space where there are no limits imposed by gender, age, or even ability. The only critical success factor is to try your best and to support those around you.

A woman who inspires you and why?

My grandmother, who came from the Lebanon, one of the more progressive countries in the Middle East. She was a confident and strong woman, the leader of the family, a brilliant story teller, and someone who was proud of who she was. We learnt a lot from her and how to live one’s life not bound by some of the more backward conventions.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Taking the risk to start Nefeli Nine – many people thought I was crazy moving to Greece in the middle of a serious financial crisis, and starting a business in a country known for its crippling bureaucracy. It has been slow but the reward of seeing the business grow will justify the sacrifices, especially as I am following my passion.

Tell us about your favourite female-authored book?

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. This is a graphic novel (cartoon format) which I loved as it addressed a very serious issue in ways that made it inviting to read for all, irrespective of persuasion. It tells the story of Satrapi’s upbringing in Tehran during the Iranian revolution at a time when women’s rights were suddenly mostly suspended. She was a teenager at the time and the frustrations, anger and resolve are extraordinary. She uses the medium of cartoon to tell a difficult story in a very approachable manner.

How do you feel about the future of feminism?

I hope that the word ‘feminist’ will become obsolete for my grandchildren. Major strides have been made in the last 50 years, but a lot of work remains unfinished. My current concern is that the level of hatred and antagonism is rising globally, a situation that tends to stifle progress.

Three female-founded brands you’re a fan of?

Outdoor Voices: Sportswear is a tough world, and Tyler Haney launched her brand when she was in her twenties. It’s now one of the largest providers of active wear across many sports.

Lynda.com: This was founded by Linda Weinman when she was in her 40s. Using the web design class she used to run as a guinea pig, she pioneered online learning in many a male-dominated discipline such as coding and web building. The company became an instant success and she sold it to Linkedin 20 years later for $1.5 billion.

And finally, two women who did not start brands but who managed two of the biggest corporations in the world and did so with huge success and developed the brands in what was an overwhelmingly male-dominated world. Their success should motivate all women seeking to make a difference. General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra, and Indra Nooyi, who was CEO of Pepsico from 2001 to 2018.

How can we make gender equality a reality?

Through evolution rather than revolution. Changing hearts and minds which have developed over generations cannot be achieved overnight. Huge strides have been made in narrowing pay gaps and the subject itself is now a major discussion topic whereas merely a decade ago it was barely mentioned. Both in sport (Wimbledon) and in the corporate world there are now firms clearly recognizing that work itself rather than gender should define the pay scale. The political world is also full of women including many Prime Ministers and Presidents. This in itself shows us how capable women really are, and drives change over time.

Why are women so amazing?

Inevitably a somewhat subjective opinion. Many women I know and have worked with tend to be more patient, analytical and pragmatic. They also typically (not all!) treat people with less judgement, are less bigoted, and more open to new ideas.

Favourite women in the arts?

Shirin Neshat – an Iranian artist who challenges deep held opinions on Islam and the West, and feminism in the Arab world, modern vs ancient traditions, and does so through contemporary art and film. Her painting entitled ‘Speechless’ had a profound impact on me as a teenager. And I have always loved Nina Simone’s music and her voice too. Her life was also a picture of struggles against her colour and her sex; she used music as a medium to fight against discrimination.

What’s next for your business?

Nefeli Nine is a relative newcomer in a crowded market. Our main focus is on our one week hiking, fitness and yoga retreat. We are now also doing one day workshops, collaborations with other like-minded brands in differing sectors such as health foods, ecotourism, adventure holidays and growing our brand identity. We hope to become the go-to company in Greece for everything wellness-related. On a personal level, I want to spring out of bed in the morning and fall into it exhausted at night feeling I have done some good for others – and for myself.

If women ruled the world…

It would be a more tolerant and kinder place.

Nefeli Nine are kindly offering you the chance to win an incredible prize – a place on their luxury fitness retreat running May 5-11th. FULL DETAILS HERE. And even better, we’ll throw in copies of the entire Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist PLUS a curated selection of holiday beauty must-haves. How to enter? Follow Reading in Heels on FacebookInstagram or Twitter – like the photo post and tag a friend in the comments – AND don’t forget to retweet/share the post hashtagged with #internationalwomensweek. That’s it! The competition closes Friday 22nd March at MIDNIGHT.*

*Flights and transfers NOT included.