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Heidi El-Kholy

First published July 30, 2021

Today, our Founding Member, Heidi, shares her career journey; from event planning, to founding a badass creative studio – Salt and Sister – with Halah. She shares her experiences of toxic workplaces, how she stayed true to her authentic self through writing and sisterhood, and what it feels like finally having the autonomy to say ‘no’.

Heidi El-Kholy

Photo credit: Eliza Hatch

Heidi, what’s your creative occupation?

One half of Salt and Sister Studio, which I founded with my sister (duh). My background is in events, marketing and brand activation, from hospitality to corporate and creative agency bits. I guess, formally speaking, I cover the copywriting, social strategy, account management, launch events and pop-ups etc. but the great thing about working for yourself (with your sister!) is that everything we work on is collaborative (but I don’t claim to have any digital design skills, soz).

Clothing tag mockup

'Roses are red. I'm going to bed.' poster

Where have you been?

For the last ten-odd years, I’ve been in and out of the events, hospitality and marketing industries. From working in some boujie af venues in London, I watched the Wedding Planner with JLo (my biggest love) and blagged my first events job doing weddings for a venue in Kent. I also got my CELTA and taught English to foreign students in sunny Manchester for a bit before I went back to marketing, events and ‘business development’ (such a wanky term!) for restaurants. After that, I started to work for an international events agency in Oldham, and was suitably traumatised; then, my last formal ‘job-job’ was as Account Manager for a digital marketing agency, before I was made redundant in October 2020. While this is unfortunate, I won’t lie to you: my main client was a property developer and the content required was pretty dry, but great experience in process and procedure. I set up Salt and Sister with Halah after we trialled a few projects together during lockdown and found that we LOVE working with each other, unbothered and unhindered by the toxicity of rigid white-male-centred workplaces.

Food-based social media image

Image of a flatbread being dipped into soup

It’s probably important for me to note that throughout all of the moving around, job-hopping, and having to adapt and re-assimilate into quite problematic working environments (usually as the only POC in the workplace), one thing that remained consistent and vital to my mental wellbeing was my involvement in a feminist creative and activism group that I met while in Kent in 2014. With the support and safety provided by this community of women from all backgrounds and of all ages, I write and perform pieces about assimilation/rejection of the two cultures that I straddle, micro-aggressions, and the often overlooked but very sinister ‘polite racism’. Looking back, I’d say the sense of kinship, the many shared goals and invitations to discuss social issues openly and in-depth, really kept me anchored to my identity and truth as a brown woman – especially as it was often my only outlet and rebellion in response to the bulls**t that I would experience in my everyday ‘profesh’ life, and not be able to react authentically to.

My experiences have made me super protective of women, especially women of colour, in their twenties, who are starting out. HEIDI ON TOXIC WORKPLACES

Where are you now?

Sisterhood! Collaboration! Community! I’m pouring all my efforts into Salt and Sister, using mine and my sister’s combined skillset to do what we love the most: crafting, cultivating and elevating your brand identity to engage your following like fangirls at a(nother) Spice Girls reunion concert.

The idea that we have the autonomy to be able to say ‘no, we don’t want to work with you because your ethos is exploitative and perpetuates harmful things, like toxic diet culture/whitewashing ethnic practices etc.’ is wild to me; I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that we don’t have to (hopefully) ever work with arseholes in giant soulless corps again, and that is so liberating it makes the fear of going freelance worth it.

My experiences have made me super protective of women, especially women of colour, in their twenties, who are starting out as creatives in the minefield that is internships, exec roles and general exploitation (wahoo). The Creative Occupation, and Lorelle’s vision of a creative community, really resonated with me, so I’m thrilled to be a Founding Member and seeing where this goes!

Salt and Sister logo

Where are you going?

Growing and growing. Growing our network and community; growing our skillset together; personal growth and learning to navigate the fun things that come with going freelance, like imposter syndrome (a term I hate but is all too real). I’m taking a fundamentals class in Co-counselling or Re-evaluation Counselling and I look forward to having my life changed by that too!

Finally, what’s occupying your thoughts today?

As always, what I’ll be having for dinner tonight. I’m really feeling tomatoes and capers in this freak weather we’re having; imagine tanning in the puddle that is Manchester!

Thanks for sharing your journey, Heidi! Make sure you check out the Salt and Sister Studio website, and give them a follow – Also, have a read of the other salty sister’s journey.


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