Zainab AlEbrahim is the founder of Bahrain's progressive and recently turned digital movement in retail: Cactus District. "The goal is to support designers and help them express and share their work in the most innovative ways," she says. AlEbrahim collaborates with Se7en Concept in KSA and BAH to bring users a digital experience to replace Cactus District's seasonal pop up activation pre pandemic.
1. Describe yourself as Founder of Cactus District.
I am Zainab AlEbrahim, I have been in the events industry for 8 years. I am passionate about art, design, fashion and love creating unique shopping experiences that bring people together and engage with and support unique talent.
2. Describe the emerging artist scene in BAH for us. How do you think it is unique to others in GCC?
Bahrain is small compared to other GCC countries but with a high number of unique talents. An increase in talents has emerged in the last couple of years as Bahrain was being promoted as a tourist and cultural destination.
3. You have been acclaimed for your seasonal pop ups that combine a variety of designers to showcase aesthetically pleasing yet commercial concepts. How do you hope to continue during COVID-19 when operating in physical spaces is restricted?
We all agree that the current times are hard, the future of fashion and retail is uncertain and each new day comes with its own challenges, all while life is trying to crawl back to normal. This is when I decided to collaborate with Se7en Concept - an online platform based in Bahrain and KSA - the goal is to support designers and help them express and share their work in the most innovative ways! The concept of this collaboration is curating my favorite selection of brands that will be available to shop on Se7en Concept’s website.
Again like many event planners, I was somehow forced to go virtual. This concept is not just another “collaboration.” Everything is carefully thought of making sure we make the most out of it while also creating an online experience through our themed weekly edits, brand stories, Instagram takeovers and much more!
4. Congratulations on create a virtual shop. What are both the opportunities and challenges to launching a multi-brand store online in general?
Creating a virtual shop is exciting! E-commerce is relatively new to Cactus District but the challenge was accepted. The opportunities are endless with online everything can be done with a click. The challenge is mainly that online shopping is much slower than a brick-and-mortar experience.
5. Many customers claim that they still prefer shopping in-person in order to feel the clothes, ask for help, try them on etc. How do you suggest brands can combat these challenges when shifting online?
People are more comfortable with online shopping now as the coronavirus lockdowns accelerated the shift to e-commerce. Spending habits have also changed drastically. Shopping in person would always be a better option but because we are not traveling and have limited options to shop from especially in Bahrain, so we are somehow forced to shop online.
6. How have Bahraini customers responded to the shift online in terms of which product categories they are buying? Are some more popular when shopping in a physical space versus online?
Spending more time at home only meant more sweats (new uniform), new skincare routines and comfy loungewear. People are now spending more on wellness products, comfortable footwear and activewear. Quarantine also made us realize that we can live with less, which is why many are investing in timeless pieces rather than trend-driven or seasonal items.
7. Now that you have experienced selling both offline and online, and if COVID-19 subsides, which structure will you embrace for the future and why?
Definitely offline! To me nothing replaces face-to-face interactions, socializing, and live experiences.
8. What is your top advice for entrepreneurs looking to make it in BAH?
Be authentic! Bahrain’s consumers are very style-conscious and culturally aware, they are also smart spenders.
Meet global nomad, Tania Lodi, also founder of one of world's most instagrammable cafés located in Dubai, Tania's Teahouse. Recognized for its unique tea concept and quirky, fun aesthetic, the are recently opened space has quickly become one of the locals' favorites. Below, Read Tania's inspirational and personal journey in sharing 'positivi-tea' with those around her.
1. Describe yourself as Founder of Tania’s Teahouse.
My blood type is tea-positive! (And clearly puns run in my blood, haha). I’m quirky and a bit off-beat- I’ve always loved thinking outside the box, and I’ve had a whimsical heart of a dreamer. As a business owner with a soft-heart, I’ve had to learn to harness my kindness and balance it with firmness; its a very delicate balance to have, which is why I’ve loved using the motto of “killing with kindness”. I love being one of the team at TTH, and I’ve never asked them to do anything I haven’t done myself (even as menial as cleaning toilet, waiting tables)- and this is my personal philosophy of leading.
2. In a nutshell, describe a day in the life running Tania’s Teahouse.
Each day, is truly unique, which is the double-edged sword of hospitality; from good days where we have amazingly sweet customers, to others where we are firefighting key-board warriors or navigating through unreasonable requests for discounts.
I start each day with mediating & of course, my morning cuppa tea. I go through emails in the morning, that never seem to end, and I check in with our managers on the operations of the day. There’s always things to do as an entrepreneur, especially in an industry that never sleeps! I make sure that my team as support and I never stop planning things (I have a whole note-book dedicated to future ideas/concepts/themes) and I’m always taste-testing teas and coming up with new concoctions. Before sleeping, I try to answer every email in my inbox, as I await for a new flood in the morning!
3. Your sophisticated and pink aesthetic is naturally more attractive to women (in general); was there a specific reason you chose a more feminine theme, knowing that your audience will be primarily females over males?
Growing up in the West & spending a lot of time in Toronto, which is a very progressive & all-inclusive community, I genuinely started to disassociate the color pink from any gender. The psychology of the color pink is as followed: warm, inviting, happy, love, and kindness. In the West, pink is no longer linked with lack of masculinity; major athletic brands have pink kits, and a “pink” cafe won’t necessarily only attract women.
I was a bit surprised to see that in the Middle East, when we first opened most men were a bit hesitant to come, in fear of seeming less-masculine. I was even more determined to break this stereotype of pink = girl, blue = boy. I actually got a nasty, long complaint in the form of an email from a man who was so angry that the cafe was pink, saying he felt “very uncomfortable” sitting around pink and flowers. Imagine- he was angry all because of the color pink! Why must be still be so archaic about what is feminine, and what is masculine? I’m so happy to see over the last 2 years of operations, this barrier has indeed broken. There’s such a difference between the lack of men who used to wander in with their wives/girlfriends, to now groups of men who come in.
4. Tania’s Teahouse is listed as the 7th most Instagrammable café in the world (congrats!); was this your strategy and goal when developing the décor? What went on in your head at the time?
Thank you so much! I was genuinely so surprised, humbled and honored! It really blew up all over social media, and has made me determined to go from 7th, to 1st! As the Founder and since the beginning of opening, I’ve been super involved with branding, marketing, social media and content creation. From our website, to our socials, to all of our collateral I’ve really enjoyed doing myself, and then as our budgets increased, working on things with our talented, in-house marketing team. In terms of our cafe decor, we didn’t hire a designer, I did everything myself- every floor board, art piece, speck of paint, and it was a blast! It’s so nice to see hard work paying off, and I’ve always strived to be instagrammable, but impactful. Not just a pretty space. Wholesome, delicious food with a de-stressing & aesthetic ambience.
5. As we know, Dubai is saturated with cafes, what makes Tania’s different? (can touch on anything from food, service, ambiance, offerings, etc).
Tania’s Teahouse utilizes instagram in an impactful way- we believe in creating an aesthetic place that isn’t just pretty to take pictures of- but a place where the food has wholesome ingredients, creative concoctions, teas with profound health benefits in fun flavours, a space for celebrating occasions- whether its corporate or private events, workshops and classes, and weeks dedicated to mental health.
We pride ourselves on being a safe space with zero toxic-tea, and we really work hard to be all-encompassing; dedicating attention towards dietary restrictions and allergies.
We also do themed months or days such as: Alice in Wonderland, Disney Villains, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones etc- which is fun and exciting!
6. What are customers looking for when they step foot in Tania’s Teahouse?
They want a safe space where they can feel happy and light- away from the perils of their daily lives, with exciting tea flavours and a place they can come alone with their laptop or with their friends, families, or tinder dates!
7. How have you dealt with the effects of COVID-19? How have you shifted Tania’s Teahouse offerings to accommodate new consumption behaviors?
During Covid-19, Tania's Teahouse changed their business model overnight to include deliveries. In particular, TTH was the first cafe in the region to launch cookie boxes with tongue-in-cheek phrases such as "Wash yo face!" "Quarantine & Chill", and other COVID-relevant phrases. They also gained lots of attention for their "immuni-tea tea kits", "self care kits" and "quarantine kits"- where people could gift their friends or family with gift boxes such as: "Miss you, Bes-tea", and "Party Pooper" (a party-box fit to celebrate a special occasion, virtually. They even promoted other small businesses in Dubai in the hopes to #supportlocal. I was quoted for saying " This isn’t a Titanic-like Rose and Jack scenario,” says one cafe owner, “we can all fit on the raft and stay afloat if we support one another.”
8. What is next in the Tania’s Teahouse future?
After COVID-19 settles down, we will go back to pursuing franchise inquiries. Before COVID-19 we were planning to open more branches, both locally and internationally, which is so exciting! And new branches will be ‘sister-concepts’ where the theme is slightly altered- stay tuned!
9. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs in the region?
You don’t need to be a shark to survive the treacherous oceans of hospitality. Customer service isn’t easy and the biggest change I had to make in my personality is to not take things to heart, and to accept you can’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Have confidence and be kind. Not everyone will be kind back, but be strong and brave.
My favourite quote is by Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!”
Introducing Founder of AQUIS, Britta Cox, whose passion lies in alleviating the pain points of women around the world who care about the quality of their hair. Cox inspires us with her story of how she developed the idea for AQUIS and what she believes sets successful entrepreneurs apart. "Coming from a long line of self-made entrepreneurs, I knew that if hair could be dried faster and with less damage, friction, or heat, the haircare routine would be forever changed."
1. Describe yourself as Founder of AQUIS one sentence.
As both a founder and a person, I’d describe myself as very curious, appreciative of the value of observation, a problem-solver, passionate, lover of life and people, most often going against the norm and am a calculated risk-taker by nature. These are common traits of an entrepreneur.
2. Why focus on hair specifically within the beauty industry?
My entry to the hair and beauty industry happened because I wanted to solve a problem that I, and most women I knew, had: the hassle of drying hair. My journey in hair has been full of learning, which never stops. This is what holds my interest and excitement in the hair & beauty industry.
When I started AQUIS in 1990 there was no such thing as a “hair towel.” Everyone used big, bulky bath towels that left hair dripping wet, didn’t stay on your head, pulled on your hair and made hair frizzy. I wanted a towel that would dry my hair quickly, be easy to use and would give me my best hair with less effort. I also recognized that most women had the same problem, and this was a common and universal need. In 1998, I patented the turban shape so you could easily multi-task while your hair was drying.
We wanted to take a deep dive into the physics and biology of hair to understand its innermost workings. Think about this: hair is made of keratin the same as our fingernails. Your nails are strong when they are dry and get weak when they are wet. The same thing happens to your hair. Hair gets weak when it’s wet and regains strength when dry. So, we want to dry it quickly and gently and avoid damage breakage when it’s in its most vulnerable state. So after creating AQUIS and our AQUITEX fabric, we started getting feedback from consumers that their hair was remarkably better simply by using the AQUIS towel.
3. Tell us more about your unique connection to skiwear and the Aquis hair towel.
I was working in the ski industry when I saw the first wicking fibers and performance fabrics being used in base-layer clothing to draw sweat away from the body during ski and outdoor activities. I had my “aha” moment and realized there was indeed a better solution to drying hair, so I researched and found the company in Japan who invented the first wicking fibers. I worked with them to create our signature Aquitex fabric, designed to wick water from hair at the point of contact in order to dry hair quickly and gently.
4. We are seeing Gen Z care more about working on their natural beauty when compared to Millennials and Baby Boomers at their age. What is the most effective method to market to this young, conscious audience?
Now more than ever people are making more informed decisions about the products they use and the companies they choose to buy from, to ensure they are aligned with their personal core values.
At AQUIS, we have always been very transparent and we make a point of making all our information easily accessible to our community. Learning and understanding is core to our own brand values and we are very appreciative that the community is also interested to learn and make informed decisions.
5. Aquis works with influencers; do you rely on them to help prove to your audience that your product works? How so?
We are deeply appreciative and rely on influencers and our whole community who generously share their learnings about their hair experiences, so they help teach each other. We support these conversations as it is much more meaningful to hear learnings from people with specific hair types and concerns and how they find ways to get their best hair and feel great about themselves. People have such amazingly positive experiences with AQUIS, so our goal is simply to get people to try AQUIS for themselves and see how it saves them time and improves the health of their hair.
6. Your hair towels are sold globally. Do you find that because generally, middle eastern customers have ‘curlier’ hair than other ethnicities, this region is a prime market for you? How about Europeans or Asians who are more often known to have naturally sleek, straight, soft hair?
Around the world, people care about their hair. All people, all ages. The world truly is our market as all hair is made of keratin. All hair types will benefit from using AQUIS hair towels and turbans and will get their healthiest hair possible and with less effort. Our customers in the Middle East tend to have curlier and thicker hair that takes a longer time to dry, so they particularly appreciate that AQUIS dries hair 50% faster. They also experience that AQUIS gives hair a more defined curl pattern and helps reduce frizz. We are very excited to be able to share AQUIS with the people of the Middle East.
European hair tends to be finer and more fragile, for them AQUIS helps by removing water quickly so they can dry hair with less heat and the gentleness of the AQUITEX material helps them avoid hair breakage. Fine hair also tends to tangle easily quickly when wet, so removing excess water helps cuticles close back down after being wet to reduce tangling, frizz and breakage.
Asian hair tends to be the strongest hair with the most layers of protective cuticles (think like tiles on a roof). However, there is a huge trend in Asia to perm and color hair to colors which require removing melanin with harsh chemicals which severely damages hair. This causes hair to become very porous and fragile, putting it at risk of damage and breakage. So, again, using AQUIS is important for drying hair quickly and gently to help hair regain strength and not cause friction so you can get your best hair no matter how you choose to express it.
Also, as people age, hair also gets more dry which causes hair to get weaker when wet. AQUIS helps protect aging hair from damage.
7. External factors can play a role in people’s willingness to try new things or in how to they manage their free time. How did the quarantine period influence customer acquisition and/or sales?
Since COVID, started people have been severely limited in their ability to leave their home or access their usual hair and beauty services. People have more free time at home and have been keen to try to maintain their hair as best as possible during quarantine. The first two weeks of COVID were especially scary and we did what entrepreneurs do best, we dug deep, got resourceful and went into triage mode pivoting to be able to engage with people where they were. Our full team embraced the challenge and together we managed to turn things around and have had the most successful two quarters in our history.
This continues to be a very stressful time for people with so many unknowns and many people are struggling with financial security, so we must all take time for self-care and time to be reflective and empathic to those around us to so how we can support each other through this challenging time. If we unite, we can all thrive.
8. How can someone order from Aquis if based in GCC? Please list channels and social media information.
9. What’s the most important tip you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs who want to master a gap in the beauty market?
To build a viable business, it is crucial that you are solving a real problem for a sizable group of people and have a solid and meaningful point of differentiation. If you can protect that point of differentiation, that is ideal. Otherwise it becomes ever the more time sensitive to secure your distribution and place in the market at the leader before someone takes your idea and you get left behind. It is not easy to get your product introduced to people and for the word-of-mouth to take hold, this is only possible if you have something that is unique, solves a real problem and people re-purchase it and share it with others. To master a gap in the industry with a product, stay true to yourself and the product you create and never waiver on your core values to give people the best product you possibly can that will make their life better.
Introducing Managing Director and Owner of Worood, Maryam Al Noori, whose early and innate admiration of flowers or 'worood', drove her to start her venture with a mission to positively contribute to her clients' every day lives. "It’s not just about a bunch of flowers, but rather the techniques that go into designing them, the understanding of the trends and truly understanding the market and what it needs," expresses Al Noori below.
1. In a nutshell, describe yourself as the Owner of Worood.
I was one of the first Emirati ladies to set up my own floristry business when I was just 18 years old. I started the business with Intraflora, which is a floral service. Worood was incepted after. Inspired by the Arabic word for flowers, through Worood I aimed to bring to Dubai some of the world’s finest flowers. I was inspired by the city’s rich cultural heritage and how it developed into this new and modern city. This urged me to create my own floristry brand.
2. Why did you decide to work specifically in the flower industry? What is your personal connection to it?
When I was younger, I used to travel to Europe with my parents. Seeing the greenery and the fresh flowers was always wonderful. I always wanted to bring that to Dubai, to our desert landscape through my own floral shop. Today, it is great to see Dubai so fully of flowers and with beautiful landscaping.
3. In your opinion, what are the top 3 most important aspects to master, in order to be a successful flower service provider in UAE?
Flowers are something you have to know inside out. You need to know about their seasons, where they grow, how to take care of them and how to position them in the best place.
4. On your website under OUR PROMISE, Worood states that if offers “exclusive designs by the best artists,” tell us more about this?
We hire young artists who bring creativity, are interested in taking their craft further and truly want to excel in this niche of floristry. They are then trained with master florists from around the world, who are experts in this field. At Worood, we bring new varieties of novelty flowers and believe in creating unique designs.
It’s not just about a bunch of flowers, but rather the techniques that go into designing them, the understanding of the trends (we follow everything from fashion and lifestyle to art and product design) and truly understanding the market and what it needs. Each customer has their own style and their own home and we understand how our flowers will become a piece of art in their space.
5. How do you find purchase behavior has shifted during COVID-19 when it comes to online shopping for bouquets?
There has definitely been a lot of changes. Not only for flowers, but as for everything, transactions are taking place online. Even though there have been these changes, with flowers you still need to see them in person for that temptation.
6. What is Worood’s point of difference, compared to its competition?
We are a boutique that sells flowers. We also do personalized events. Our events comprise everything from design and manufacturing of the details on the ceilings to the floors and the furniture and crockery. We are also involved in designing the lighting and hold big consultations on the decor and flowers.
Our events are distinct in that we can achieve large scales. We only organize events with 800 or more guests - 2000, 4000 guests and more are doable for us. In a short amount of time, we create something unique for our clients.
7. Is the flower business a volatile market, easily effected by external circumstances or do you think flowers will forever be in demand? Why or why not?
I think flowers will always be in demand. Flowers have been there from the beginning and they are a part of our happy moments and our natural space; they are at the heart of creation. Flowers will stay, however the look and the way they are demanded may change.
8. What is next in Worood’s future?
At Worood, we want to always reinvent based on market needs and changes. We are also aware of how the young generation’s trends are changing and how they would like their floral products to look.
In the future, we would like to see Worood in different countries and perhaps also have a Worood school, where we can teach floral art to the new generation.
9. Any advice for upcoming artists looking to start their own flower ventures in UAE?
Usually a lot of people think floristry is easy. Flowers are a very delicate business. You have to have a lot of love and knowledge, know about what surrounds you, the different types of growers and what they produce. Flowers also have a short life span, thus you need to have a strategy of how to work with your product, where to sell it and what price to sell it at.
Build a brand identity and create something different and creative. People who work with flowers need to be artistic.
Meet forward-thinking owner of virtual e-shop, The Local Concept in Amman, Zainnab Al Kurdi. Zainnab explains her purpose behind supporting her Jordanian community and her opinion on the adoption of virtual shopping amongst Jordanian consumers.
1. Describe yourself as owner of THE LOCAL CONCEPT in one sentence.
I am a curious individual who always had the interest in meeting new people, discovering new places, and supporting local businesses.
2. You describe the platform as “A curated e-commerce platform and lifestyle brand founded in 2020 to join all local Jordanian brands in a one-stop-shop;” why specifically did you choose to only focus on Jordanian designers only for the time being? Do you foresee this changing in the future?
I chose the Jordanian market for the time being because we have so many emerging, talented designers that need more exposure. We are living in challenging times and need to support one another. I realized there is potential for e-commerce and that we needed a curated e-commerce platform in Jordan that joins unique designs in one place.
I am not sure how this will unfold in the future as I have many ideas floating around and so much energy to grow the platform and expand. Our local community needs exposure and I hope that one day I would be able to introduce our local talents to the region and to bring in talented designers from the region to Amman.
3. Tell us more about why, how and when you decided to launch the online shop during COVID.
Before COVID, I was working on launching a different concept that involved brick and mortar, but when the pandemic hit I realized brick and mortar is not here to stay and saw an opportunity in online stores. My idea was at a very early stage, at the time, which enabled me to change it around and create this platform. I have always been interested in lifestyle marketplaces and concept stores, so I wanted to create that experience on my own, but also to support the local community.
4. From your experience, how is purchasing behavior different in person versus online?
I think people are more confident to spend when shopping in person, and they usually spend more. However, I think people are starting to accept the idea of online shopping much better than before, especially in Amman, and have become more confident in doing so.
5. How would you rate the success of online shopping in Amman in general, before COVID and during? Is this the future?
I don’t think I have enough experience to judge the success of online shopping in Amman and compare it to before COVID, but I can definitely say that this is the future. We have been witnessing a growth in home-based businesses selling on Instagram the past few years, but also due to the pandemic, businesses had to adapt and start investing in online platforms.
6. What methods have been the most effective for you to get customers to trust in and invest in emerging, new brands online?
The main idea behind the platform was to give each brand an identity through its founders by telling their story. We have a very small community in Amman and I think for many people a part of why they usually purchase and trust emerging or new designs is mainly because they know the person/designer behind the brand and they want to support them.
7. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to move their physical stores to online shops?
I say definitely go for it! We are living through a very uncertain time and the best way to survive is to adapt and to take risks. Maintaining physical stores at the moment can be very costly.
8. What is in the future for THE LOCAL CONCEPT?
There are a lot of ideas on the table. The Local Concept is definitely envisioning a future that combines an online experience with a combination of a personalized offline experience. Who knows…
Meet the dynamite friend duo who founded new online, lifestyle marketplace in Dubai, Kinzzi. "Kinzzi means my treasure in Arabic, that which is dear and valuable to you. This is what Kinzzi embodies for us - we are collecting treasures from around the world." Below, explore the co-owners' inspiration behind creating an accessible resource tool for brands, creatives and customers to connect with another all in one place.
1. In a nutshell, describe a day in the life running Kinzzi.
Dana: First thing I do is check my email and go through them one by one. Then I open Asana (our project management platform) and check the status of all the tasks that I have assigned, and that have been assigned to me. Nowadays the line between work and life has been blurred, and because we are running the business remotely, it’s become even more so. We have several WhatsApp groups for each department - and those are constantly active throughout the day and week. We work with people all over the world, from the Philippines to the UK and the US, so we usually have to be responsive and aware of the time and weekend differences.
Rasha: I'm an early riser, I'm usually up by 5:30 am. I do a daily morning meditation while I wait for my coffee to brew. I then scan my emails and respond to those that require my immediate attention. Once I have my kids at school, I am back home to set the tasks for the day. I like to start the day by touching base with our team members and the designers we have on board and the second half of the day with the new prospect designers and customers. With the nature of our business, and being part of a small team, we are always on call and continuously tackling different parts of the business and finding new innovative solutions to issues that may arise. So everyday takes a different turn and makes it for an exciting one.
2. How does your long-term friendship come into play when running a business together?
We both love to travel, and have a shared love for interior design, fashion, and life. Because we’re friends and have a history, we know where each of us is coming from - we both have the same goals and objectives. Being friends allows us to see and be open about our strengths and weaknesses which helps in dividing the work tasks and trusting each other in our decisions. Best of all, we can be silly, emotional, or serious with each other - and it’s all ok!!
3. Why choose the name “Kinzzi”?
Kinzzi means my treasure in Arabic, that which is dear and valuable to you. This is what Kinzzi embodies for us - we are collecting treasures from around the world. When we find designers or products that we love - we truly feel like we’ve hit the jackpot, and having a platform where we can showcase these products and designers, and having people appreciate them and loving them as much as we do - that is our ‘Kinz.’
4. On your website, you list Kinzzi values:
Be part of our community.
Be you, be happy.
Connect and grow.
Lead the way.
Can you inspire us with tangible examples of how Kinzzi supports these values for its customers on a day to day basis?
Kinzzi is a place where we both are pouring all our passion into. These values are what make up our brand DNA and how we want to be characterized. Designed to inspire and empower, Kinzzi creates a community that supports small businesses and rising talent through a platform that thrives on nurturing creative minds. We want each and every customer and brand to feel as though they are a part of a large, supportive community. Kinzzi embraces creativity by championing a design-led approach with a penchant toward individual stories. We look to discover new regional and international brands, talented designers, artists and businesses with the main objective of sharing them with our community. We aim to lead the way by being an incubator for emerging and independent talent while also creating a fun and welcoming space.
5. Can you define what a ‘curated marketplace’ means to you? How do you hope to forge a community of like-minded artists?
A curated marketplace is one where you will find products and sellers that have been carefully and artfully selected. It is no small feat to sift through and find sellers and products that resonate with us, and it takes a lot of careful consideration in bringing the right mix for our consumers. We want our customers to trust us and trust that we have done the homework for them in selecting beautiful and quality products and designers.
In our community, we want to encourage collaborations and the creation of beautiful things - we want to bring people and artists together. Our hope is that our community will find items on our site that resonate with them also, and that they can connect to the items like we have connected with them.
6. We see that you have created a hub for featured creatives to get discovered; what is objective with that?
At Kinzzi, we aim to be a hub for everything creative. Many times people are looking for different services and professionals in creative services, and they don’t know where to search. We aim to become that resource center for them, to provide vetted professionals that we know can provide a good service.
7. How has Kinzzi dealt with the effects of COVID-19? How have you shifted your offerings to accommodate new consumption behaviors?
We had just received our business license right before the lockdown, and although that wouldn’t have typically been good timing, it actually served us well in the sense that we were able to focus on everything that needed to be done - without any of our daily life distractions. Since most things could be done remotely, we were able to launch our site in the summer. Kinzzi also provided a space to help support small businesses who were really struggling to survive in the height of the pandemic.
Due to the pandemic, a lot of businesses and consumers had to change their mindsets and embrace e-commerce more than they might have done previously. Here in the Middle East we’ve come a long way in e-commerce in the past couple of years, however, we are still way behind from countries such as the US. Now that things are starting to change, we are confident that we have launched our platform at the right time - where we will get a positive response from both our sellers and our customers.
8. What are customers looking for when shopping online today?
The pandemic has triggered a change in human behavior with people spending more time at home, prompting many to redecorate or move houses. As a result of this, we have seen a lot of home decor products being purchased online. There has been a notable shift to casual entertaining as well. People are moving towards purchasing comfortable clothing, loungewear or even swimwear.
Social interactions are still very limited in different situations, so we’re seeing a rise in gifting online - we recently launched our gift cards which have been a big hit!
9. What is next in Kinzzi’s future?
We have a lot of initiatives in the pipeline - one such initiative is our social impact section on our site where we will highlight all the small business and non-profit organizations that contribute to the community and have a meaningful impact as part of their ethos. We wish to continue to improve our services to our sellers, creative community, and customers. We are continuously working towards enhancing all offerings, and ensure we remain ahead of the market. We also have something very exciting planned with some regional influencers - watch this space!
10. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs in the region?
● Be passionate about what you are doing - because it’s a lot of work, and there will be a lot of ups and downs along the way so you will need that passion and motivation to keep you going.
● Be flexible and be able to adapt when you need to. If we've learnt anything this year from the pandemic is that life throws many curve balls at you, and if you are not flexible to adapt to change then you will not be able to keep up.
● Start lean - we’ve tried as much as we could to bootstrap all our operations. As much as we would’ve loved to have all the bells and whistles to start - we had to prioritize things, and then slowly add to them as we went along. It’s important to learn and then iterate in the process, without having the burden of losing a lot of investment.
"We both complement each other, while I tend to go for a modern look and feel, he brings the colors and balance to the spaces," affirms Omar Nakkash, about his father and NAKKASH Gallery founder, Wajih. Below, the Design Director and art enthusiast expresses his aim in designing to complement his clients' lifestyles and how the family-run business has thrived even during the pandemic.
1. In a nutshell, explain how NAKKASH Gallery came to fruition, what it offers and your mission.
NAKKASH Gallery was founded by my father, Wajih Nakkash in 1983. It began as a small interior and architecture business based in Sharjah until the first flagship showroom opened in Garhoud, Dubai in 1993. This growth saw NAKKASH Gallery become a haven for iconic furniture and limited-edition pieces sourced from all around the world.
Fast forward to 2014 when NAKKASH opened the second outlet in the heart of Dubai, right off Sheikh Zayed Road. The concept here goes beyond furniture display; the idea is to provide indoor and outdoor living spaces and a sense of ambiance to our clients. This showroom showcases a diverse array of contemporary and modern styles. And while it is divided by brand, we tastefully pair together furniture that embodies the ambiance of each space.
The company also grew when my sister Aya and I joined the family business. We grew up with the brand and understand it more than anyone else. By working alongside the team, we breathe new life and new ideas into the company.
In 2016 we relocated our flagship office and showroom from Garhoud to Dubai Design District, where it is now the headquarter of NAKKASH Design Studio, which I manage. We also added a new dimension to the business by launching an online gift service, which offers a gifting experience that is both unique and convenient.
NAKKASH’s design philosophy is based upon the belief that the life inside of one’s space should feel good in every sense. A well designed space, whether residential or commercial should embody an extraordinary design that is timeless while maintaining a striking interior that is unique, luxurious, functional, livable, comfortable, and most importantly speaks the client’s language. Our aim is to add a distinctive touch of elegance to every design situation and refine the lifestyle of our clients. We at NAKKASH showcase diverse arrays of style and embodiment of luxury indoor and outdoor living. Our main focus is to go beyond client expectations by continuously being inspired by the past and the future.
2. Enlighten us about your dynamic as power-family, running NAKKASH together. How do you complement your differing skillsets?
In our family, a hereditary eye for design, passion and creativity was passed onto me among my siblings. I was the only one who followed in my father’s footsteps and pursued my studies in interior design and architecture. Working with my father means that I am always learning. Business discussions don’t end at 5pm, in fact, they tend to go on during dinner, a family gathering and even on holiday. We’re constantly learning together and that’s what makes our work ethic so strong. I see a lot of myself in him, for instance we are both fond about details and our approach to design is quite similar- but I believe that having a distinct eye from his, is the perfect recipe when it comes to designing spaces. We both complement each other, while I tend to go for a modern look and feel, he brings the colors and balance to the spaces.
My sister Aya decided to complement the family business by pursuing a career in marketing. She has helped enhance the company’s brand image and continues to contribute to the gallery’s success. When NAKKASH was first established, the market was still not saturated and there was not much competition, so there was no need to have a marketing department. But times have changed, and in today’s world every business needs marketing specialists. She has helped us rise above the noise of a crowded marketplace and continues to find new horizons for the family business. She also tends to act as the peacekeeper between my father and I, trying to ensure that everyone sees everything from other people’s perspectives.
3. What makes NAKKASH unique from other interior design companies in the region?
NAKKASH Gallery’s showroom is a haven for unique and eye-catching design pieces sourced from all corners of the world. Also known for being one of the leading interior design firms in the UAE, we are able to set ourselves apart from other design galleries by complementing any space with effortless style and elegance. Our furniture is playful, iconic, universally appealing, and full of surprises! NAKKASH constantly seeks to produce environments that have versatile characters that can unite the contemporary and classic in a subtle way.
4. How has COVID-19 changed the nature of the way your clients want to shop for furniture? How has NAKKASH accommodated these changing needs?
Undoubtedly, COVID 19 is transforming how people lead their daily lives and therefore how businesses are run across sectors. Furniture might seem like the last concern for people facing a pandemic. But the need for comfortable and productive spaces during quarantine has opened up a tremendous opportunity for furniture shops. People have been spending much more time at home, which has led clients to revamp their spaces. We accommodated the changes by providing our clients with a digital look-book of the collections and furniture display in store for those who were still reluctant to visit our physical showroom. Furniture shopping is very much of an experiential sale, and our customers still prefer to visit our showroom and sit on the furniture to get a feel of the texture and comfort of our products.
5. What are your thoughts about using AR with interior design? E.g. IKEA’s app where customers can download items from the site to ‘trial’ them virtually in their homes?
AR is definitely an added value in the interior design industry. Shopping for furniture takes time, but thanks to augmented reality and innovative technologies it is helping designers to connect and collaborate with the client from the incipient stages of a project. From helping them visualize the furniture layout, to the material and color selection, this technology will become indispensable in working with clients, especially indecisive customers. However, I believe that no technology or app will entirely replace the personal service a good designer provides to clients.
6. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs in the region looking to support new emerging talent in the GCC?
They should begin by asking themselves how the emerging talents can support a collective culture yet enable high potentials to thrive. Look for cross collaborations of different industries, like design and technology for example, and create a product or service that will disrupt the status quo. The most important is to implement an adaptation strategy to meet local cultural and regulatory requirements.
7. What is in NAKKASH’s future?
I believe it’s only natural for a gallery of such caliber to expand and offer its wonderful designs to a broader audience, and to continue to be innovative by introducing the market to new and refreshing brands. I hope to introduce other markets around the world to our style. For NAKKASH Design Studio which is our service division, I want to continue to focus on creating experiential spaces and unique concepts across our residential and commercial projects in the GCC.
Kitopi and Shop Kitopi spokesperson Mohamad Ballout, CEO & Cofounder, sheds light on Kitopi's decision to expand to online groceries in order to respond to a current need in the MENA market. In our exclusive interview below, read how the team uses data to better target its offerings and how it leverages its consistently reliable customer service to encourage repeat purchases.
1. Tell us about Kitopi, how and when you launched?
Kitopi is a managed cloud kitchen platform that partners with restaurants to expand their delivery reach. Our mission is to simply power the food economy. We launched the company in January 2018 when we realized there was an opportunity to revolutionize the food industry.
Kitopi’s platform is unique in that it provides restaurants with access to state-of-the-art infrastructure at minimal capital expenditure, expertly-trained staff, and industry-focused technology. Think of it as ‘Franchise 2.0 - we are enablers that empower restaurants to plug in and scale up globally. We’re going where no one else has gone before, and it’s challenging but also very exciting to be first movers in this space.
2. Who/which kind of customer/user is Kitopi meant for and why?
Kitopi partners with restaurants to expand their delivery reach and help them scale in just 14 days. We work with all types of brands, across several cuisines. Our target customer is anyone who knows how to make good food and is able to market it well. We take care of the rest.
3. What makes Kitopi unique from other grocery delivery platforms?
Kitopi is a managed cloud kitchen platform and in March 2020, when the pandemic hit, we saw an opportunity to leverage our supply chain to launch a Groceries vertical. However, our plan to launch home-groceries was sped up thanks to the increasing demand over the last few months.
Shopkitopi.com is a one-stop shop for groceries and food essentials but what’s even more unique is that we also sell pre-prepped items from our favorite restaurants. So for instance, we sell the zoodles from Right Bite (that people can prepare their own way at home) or chicken tenders from NKD pizza… amongst a wide variety of other items.
4. How has COVID-19 changed the nature of the way people shop for groceries?
Shopkitopi.com was launched to solve an increasing customer demand - people didn’t want to leave their houses to shop for food items and therefore wanted to order and receive immediately.
We saw that there weren’t a lot of stores delivering, with some having as long as three days waiting time while we offered delivery anywhere in Dubai within 60 minutes. We feel like this change in consumer habit of shopping for groceries from their homes is here to stay: it’s easy, convenient and makes people feel safe.
5. When designing the UX experience on the site, what went through your mind?
Ease of use and more information. Our 1.0 solution gave us feedback from the users, so we incorporated the positive ones and added what was missing. We also wanted to introduce a new way to shop - i.e. by "lifestyle" and see if users are open to this type of user behavior. We use analytics to see how users are interacting with the site and keep iterating on that.
6. How important is word of mouth marketing and user reviews in growing this type of business?
Very important. We have a 75+% repeat rate so far so once a user has tried Shop Kitopi - they are hooked. We check each user complaint and work on our internal operations and use this to guide our product selection as well.
7. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs in the region looking for ways to convenience their customers in their day to day lives?
Never lose sight of the business and learn to be agile and move quickly to solve a problem that no one has attempted to solve before. Having an entrepreneurial mindset and thinking beyond just an idea are important values we practice at Kitopi.
8. What is in Kitopi’s future?
We’re looking to continue to perfect our operations in our existing markets as we continue to expand within these cities as well. We have just on-boarded two international, much-loved food brands onto our platform so we’re looking to partner with many more similar restaurants and help them scale across borders. We will also continue to invest in the shopkitopi.com product, offering more items and ensuring the user journey is as seamless as possible. Stay tuned for more exciting updates on www.kitopi.com!
Manoshi Kamdar, owner of boutique fashion design & business consultancy in Dubai, AARA Inc, enlightens Curated ME about the importance of designing with a commercial mindset. Read more about her unique take on her strategy behind supporting designers design in the most efficient and cost effective ways.
1. Creating support for both existing and new brands and apparel retailers, Aara Inc is a bespoke creative fashion consultancy that provides brands and businesses with a full-range of services from designing (apparel and textile), trend forecasting and design execution. Tell us about when and how you came about developing this niche concept.
When I completed my Fashion Design at Parsons New York and returned to India, I realized how overtly saturated the fashion scene was. I was quite put off by the idea of starting my own brand just for the sake of it. I certain I wanted to do something different that fulfilled a real need.
When I began speaking to designers and brand owners, I realized that although many of them were very talented and had multiple resources at their disposal to run successful ventures, they get lost in the chaos and lose design focus. They needed someone who understood market nuances, design intricacies and had a business acumen. That was the starting point for Aara Inc. Over the past few years, Aara has learned from its clients and created solutions specifically addressing their pain points. We help them bring balance and efficiency to their designs.
2. Describe a typical day in the life for you at work consulting clients.
No day is the same for me. Because of the varied nature of activities we do, each day poses its own challenges and learnings. In one day, I can go from doing heavy design work and guiding my team on design to negotiating with vendors to sourcing fabrics to line presentations. It is very exciting, however managing different clients and a full-fledged team all the same time can have its moments!
3. Who are the ideal clients that would benefit from trend forecasting and design guidance support?
Over the last few years Aara has had the privilege of working with some of the biggest names in fashion but also small startups and entrepreneurs. The beauty of working with us is that we are agile enough to cater our offering to different client requirements. We are multi-faceted in our approach and believe in strong design foundations, which is why any brand, big or small can work with us.
4. What methods do you use to conduct the design/trend research?
Our trend forecast and design research approach is bespoke to the client and market they operate in. Each client has a different audience and understanding their needs is the first step in the research process. We attend a lot of tradeshows, events, travel quite a bit and keep our eyes and ears open at all times scouring for inspiration. While designing or creating something new and unique we have a strict "No Internet" policy which helps us tap into our own imagination. For trends we are much more scientific in our research, tracking key brands, influencers, runways, streets, vendor developments to see what’s new in the market.
5. We normally see agencies within Comms, PR, Media & Marketing functions. However in the region, we rarely see niche agencies who specialize in design support, like you do. Why do you think this is?
Most brands or designers prefer to hire their own full-time in-house design team which is why companies like mine have been few to none. However, what most of the brands don't realize is that when they hire for a particular role, they hire only that skillset. With a company like Aara, one can get many more services and integrate many more processes, becoming more cost-effective and efficient. Needless to say, overall designers will receive tons of industry knowledge and expertise which they would never be able to get from just 1 designer.
6. In your opinion, where are fashion trends going from here? Will brands still follow seasons?
Fashion is in a state of massive flux right now. There is a clear divide between brands who still follow "trends" vs. those who are going the other way. While "trends" in the traditional sense will stop existing soon, collections will still need newness and anchor points every now and then. Bigger brands and fast-fashion players will tend to go more collection & capsule-centric over season-centric, whereas soon high-end designers will give up seasons completely.
7. What advice do you have for aspiring designers who are trying to find their own positioning niche, be it through their design or marketing strategies?
My biggest advice to all designers is don't start a brand for the sake of it. Start a brand if you have something interesting to say and plan it well. In an industry overflowing with talent and clothing, we need designers to be able to stand on their own and give something really new and unique to the customer.
8. What’s next for AARA Inc?
The last few years have been a great learning experience and we expect nothing less in the future. In the beginning of this decade we made a conscious decision to change the way we approached design. Using our client experiences, we identified the most crucial areas that need big changes in the industry. Our focus is on sustainability and efficiency keeping design at the forefront. We are also looking into some tech applications to make the design process more seamless for smaller brands.