Hot cup of coffee at the ready? Take a moment to get to know Jumana Al Darwish who took a chance to follow her dream and create one of the happiest home grown concepts we have come across.
Inspired by her daughter Ayla, it all began on Jumana’s dining room table. She envisioned The Happy Box as a way to bring engaging creativity into the lives of families, giving them the opportunity to spend quality time together.
The Happy Box offers a monthly subscription service by which boxes of ‘happiness’ in the form of arts and crafts, games and treats are delivered to your door. Each box can be customised to the needs of the receiver.
As it grew, The Happy Box began to provide treats and gifts for children’s parties, birthdays and even travel boxes to keep little ones happy while on holiday. As the business began to grow, Al Darwish introduced The Happy Studio – a creative space that brings to life The Happy Box concept in a welcoming, fun environment.
The Happy Studio in Alserkal encourages people from all walks of life to visit and share moments of joy together. It offers interactive community installations, arts and crafts workshops, birthday parties and even curated photoshoots (who doesn’t want to take a bath full of balloons alongside a giant inflatable unicorn?)
Watch our interview below.
Describe your morning routine.
Mornings for me are madness. I start usually very early between 5.30-6am, I wake Ayla, we have breakfast, chit chat, and then she heads out to school and then I have half an hour to myself in complete silence with my coffee. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a coffee lover so those 30 minutes are religious for me. Then my day begins, it’s back to back madness until the afternoon which I dedicate to Ayla completely. Sometimes during the week I’ll find one or two days where I can work out, otherwise it’s pretty hectic.
What is the message you are trying to spread with The Happy Box?
People tell me ‘it’s your company, you had it close to five years now’. It really is my baby. It’s a social movement, it’s no longer just a company anymore. What we’ve created, we’ve provided families with opportunities to connect to one another through our platform of art and creativity. The Happy Box is so much more than just a box filled of arts and crafts, it’s a force of bringing people together, community together, and embracing oneself through the love of art.
Tell us about the Happy Studio.
The studio was kind of a natural progression after we started the The Happy Box. To be honest I didn’t think The Happy Box would’ve survived the first year, so when I first started it was a social experiment to ‘see if it would work’, and it did. I was running my company from my dining room table, then in my garage and then it just felt right to have a brick, stone, all my ideas under one roof. I also wanted to create a space where people can come from all age groups, not only children. It’s where we run our operation, it’s where our factory is, but also a massive space where we host events, our installations as well. Being in Alserkal Avenue, it is a hub of creativity which felt like the right space for us.
How do you balance motherhood with running a business?
I’m one of the very fortunate mums because I was able to build a business around my daughter. Prior to starting The Happy Box, I worked for the government of the UAE, her majesties office, for many years and I just felt that when I became a mum I wanted to have more flexibility, even though I loved everything that I was doing. I was able to build The Happy Box around Ayla, and we grew up together. It was in it’s infant stage, Ayla was two when I started the Happy Box and then as it grew we recruited more personal, we became an army of people and that’s when I learning to delegate. That was a very difficult part for me, letting go and letting it run. And now I feel Ayla needs me a lot more, so I need to be more present in her life so I learnt to try as much as possible to try and find that balance. Some days I’m an awesome mum, and other days I’m not an awesome entrepreneur. There’s no balance, you strive for your balance.
What makes you happy?
A lot of things. First and foremost family, being with people that I love. Travel, culture, communities and charitable work – is a very big part of my life ever since I was young. That gives me true happiness, being with others and being able to help others. I love art and poetry. I love to sit in a café and just read. I really appreciate every single moment that comes my way. That is happiness for me, in the most simple things.
What do you consider your biggest career success to date?
Looking back at my journey of almost five years since we established The Happy Box, we’ve had several milestones that I’ve been truly proud of. The first one was that it was actually working, we’re onto something! And then franchising it out to be able to add it to different markets, to see if the product actually worked. Another milestone would be moving form a homegrown concept and taking it to The Happy Studio which evolved into something bigger. And now we’re onto something else that I will let you know in a bit.
What has been the biggest challenge?
There are always challenges, so there isn’t one specific challenge. I’ve been very fortunate, my journey has been very smooth so far but there are hiccups along the way with everything that you do, with a every milestone that you hit there is a massive hiccup that comes your way. I really feel that as long as you stay focused and on track, keep your eye on that ball, you never lose site no matter how much noise is around you, and you really focus a lot on making the company sustainable, upping your services, making sure that everything is within your core values, nothing that you do is outside of that, I feel you’re able many of these challenges. Surround yourself with the right people, we have an incredible network of partners and entrepreneurs that support us, I feel we’ve been very fortunate.
What’s your personal motto?
I have a couple. A quote by poet Omar Khayyam “be happy for this moment, this moment is your life.” I feel that life is comprised of several different moments, and you really have to just take a step back and enjoy being where you are. Another personal motto that I live by, and is a fundamental principal in everything I do, are my mum’s words “there are three major pillars in one’s life and it is your health, financially stable and fidning a connection” – with a divine or mediation, whatever it is, being grounded. I live my life around this. I think every woman should be financially stable, every woman should focus on her health because health is something you can never buy, and having a connection and being grounded which keeps you intact moving forward.
Who is your inspiration?
Many people. Of course my family, my parents – I think I’ve taken my mum’s social values and my dad’s work ethic, they really inspire me, they keep me going. Being around incredible friends, partners and a network of female entrepreneurs. But aside from that, it’s being around things that I love – like art, music, travel, languages, these get me kicking, it gets me to dream, and it helps me bring all that passion out and bring it to life.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Let go of perfectionism because it doesn’t exist. In my earlier adulthood life, I wanted to be perfect – the perfect daughter, perfect student, perfect wife – and I never really looked at myself as what this Jumana truly wants. If I could go back, I would just say “let it go”. But there are some things that are worth your time. Focus on the things that you can control and change.
What would you tell yourself 10 years from now?
That it was worth it, that I didn’t settle and that I carved a life that I always dreamed of.
What do you say ‘no’ to?
Many things. Anything or anyone that I think wastes my time or adds unnecessary baggage or noise in my life, I get rid of it. I’m very particular about time and I feel that time is everything.
What is your professional motto?
I have two. ‘Make it happen’, and ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen?’ I always tell my staff as long as it fits in with our core values, it’s ethical and it’s up to the standard just make it happen, just run with it. And ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen?’ Take a risk. When I started The Happy Box it was a risk, I had no idea that I would be here in five years down the line. It’s an opportunity, go for it.
What book are you reading at the moment?
In the past year I’ve read several books. I come from a family of poets, my grandmother was a poet, my father’s family are poets so I’ve been brushing up a lot on it. Poetry speaks to my soul and really inspires me. I’m in that phase, there’s always a poetry book with me.
How do you want the world to remember you?
I truly want to be remembered as someone that has made a significant difference in the life of others. I hope to do that now with the Happy Heart foundation. We are in the process of setting up our foundation in London and it will focus on primary education, and specifically girls. I really want to impact their lives, I really want to create change. The moment you empower a young girl, the moment that the community is empowered, the family is empowered, and there’s effective change.