We talk to Sheikha Hind bint Majed Al Qasimi, founder of locally based brand, Designed By Hind.
Sheikha Hind Bint Majed Al Qasimi, founder of Designed by Hind was inspired by the beauty of her home country of the UAE. With a love for pottery since she was a child, she eventually decided to turn her passion into a business and founded Designed by Hind in 2016. The Sharjah based homeware brand produces pottery that combines traditional Emirati crafts with contemporary designs and techniques.
Among the recent collections is ‘Sarood,’ a contemporary take on the braided palm hair mat that was traditionally used in Oriental culture for meal time gatherings. The pieces were developed with palm matting acting as the initial cast for the mould, from which each delicate ceramic ‘sarood,’ or plate was created. Using this methodology ensured that the imprints of the original handmade weave patterns and slight imperfections were still central to the design.
Here, we discuss with Al Qasimi the inspiration behind her designs and how she is encouraging women in the UAE to be empowered.
What can you tell us about your designs?
Whenever I try to describe what I do, I get very poetic and emotional. What I do is merely an extension of who I am and mostly how I perceive myself in a given moment. If I’m determined, my work will be reflecting that, if I’m in love with my craft, my work will give that away.
But there is a short anecdote on how I got started and fell in love with porcelain. Since I was young, I felt quite fascinated by this ceramic and I distinctly remember when I was 13, I had gifted a beautiful cup and saucer to my mother on the occasion of Mother’s day. I always liked the texture and the colour of porcelain, the myriad designs, this vitrified pottery was more than a passing interest and I knew someday it’ll be a vocation to develop my own creation.
The main concept behind my work is the fusing together of traditional Emirati elements and modern design, which I try to marry and blend into a piece which has the best of both worlds. With the right treatment and vision, the two aspects complement the final product.
How have you combined traditional crafts with modern techniques?
My formative years were spent in such a wonderful, heritage culture, it was natural for me to appreciate traditional crafts and techniques, but then having studied Fine Arts at Sharjah University, I recognised the beauty of more contemporary concepts as well.
The qualities of each period are represented through distinct textures on the vases that I worked on in the “Post Craft” project – a raw and earthy coral effect symbolises the time before oil was discovered, while a luxurious gold foil façade bears testimony to the wealth and prosperity that came with oil. The post-oil world geared by technology and sustainability is reflected in the product’s glossy metallic look. Each piece of work has journeyed through time and has a story to tell.
What inspired you to create this concept and why pottery?
I got so absorbed in this ceramic that it makes me perpetually curious. I always look for creativity and this craft is one of my childhood hobbies which means a lot to me and reminds me of my mother. So, I began with early sketches on porcelain and gave the first pieces (the Tumenah collection) to my friends and family, and after receiving positive feedback from them I grew more confident and started my business. That was the beginning of Designed by Hind. I do believe that craft should come before quantity, therefore, pottery has always fascinated me.
I am inspired by the nature and traditions of our region and the heritage crafts of our culture. Through the Designed by Hind collections, I want to tell a story about our history, our region and our people. My fundamental inspiration comes from a symbolic transition of ideas into realities. There is so much left to discover, it overwhelms me just to think about it! I’m discovering it piece by piece, each time I try something for the first time and the results always lead me to somewhere new.
Why do you think it’s important to celebrate traditional UAE handicrafts in today’s industry?
Every country is proud of its traditional handcraft, the UAE has much cultural history that must be celebrated. In Sharjah, there are numerous pioneering initiatives that involve women in artistic and creative fields. Initiatives like Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council help to empower those working both in the traditional and contemporary crafts sectors. These creative works also help to develop a fresh narrative using the UAE’s traditional crafts.
Therefore, I feel we should increasingly try to reach out and collaborate with the global markets to uphold the Emirati culture with a contemporary twist.
Some of the proceeds of your pieces are donated to the Bidwa Social Development Programme – how is this project close to your heart?
It means a lot to me. The Bidwa Social Development Programme is a part of Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council and is an integral platform to present the region’s craft making skills to communities across Sharjah. We are trying to introduce both children and adults to this cultural legacy and illustrate the crafts within a modern context and its potential as a viable business sector.
Are there plans to expand further globally?
I’m always in favour of expansion. Every year, I push my creativity further and I genuinely believe that there is no end to the goals that you can set for yourself. I try to constantly refine and restyle different aspects of my work in order to maintain a fresh and challenging new look. I also want more of my collections to reflect our heritage that can be spread across the globe.
What trends are you particularly interested in homewares?
Off-the-beaten-path examples of mid-century designs particularly interest me. But within homewares, I would say a luxurious collection of tableware is my favourite. It can include anything from cutlery, glassware, serving dishes to other useful items. Sometimes, I tell myself if this piece that I am creating survives the journey ahead and makes it to the final object, someone will be using my craft to eat their meals on or drink their tea from! Therefore, the quintessentially English pastime of afternoon tea is celebrated with Designed by Hind’s Bidwa Tea Set.
The Middle East is also where multiple influences meet to create colourful styles of art and interior décor. The region is known to be the cradle of civilisation. So, inspired by the patterns created by the Emirati art of ‘Talli’ and its woven braids, the set offers a refreshing new Emirati-inspired take on a traditional British custom. My brand showcases the most local traditional crafts, reintroducing them in a contemporary manner that resonates to the modern context we live in today. We strive to explore and develop a dialogue between designer and craftsmanship.
Has your work at Sharjah Business Women’s Council help you grow as a person and what more do you think needs to be done in the UAE to empower women?
I extend my gratefulness to the holistic vision that the UAE leaders possess. We see tremendous empowerment of women within the workforce to the point where there is equality in many key aspects. Women have been elevated in areas like entrepreneurship and industry to government, politics and legislation.
As a member and now Chairperson of the Sharjah Women’s Business Council, I have witnessed continuous support from our leaders to equip new and established female entrepreneurs with cutting-edge business skills. The council always tries to offer windows of business opportunities for the women in the UAE. I have also made it a personal mission to show that there are no limits to success.
As far as further empowerment is concerned, the Council tries to offer them with best practices, specialised training, financial support and administrative expertise so that they can establish themselves as successful entrepreneurs in various sectors of the economy.
What can you share with the readers about business strategies?
When it comes to strategizing your business concept, you have to perpetually strive for distinction. You need to try and optimize the use of different distribution and communications channels with a holistic go-to-market strategy. Demand identification and proper engagement with clients is key to establishing credibility and brand value in the market and outperforming your counterparts.
In addition, I feel diversity is a business imperative and you have to try and constantly reinvent and reorient yourself. I think where things have been done well, we just need to make sure they are done better. Where there are gaps, I would like to close those gaps.
What is the motto that you live by?
Work is sometimes pleasant, rewarding and empowering but it can also be challenging at times. That is when you need to turn to yourself the most. I would say that the greatest asset of all is to have self-belief and willpower. When you have confidence in your own abilities and ambitions, you have the power to determine your own path and chart your own destiny.
The outside world can be daunting at times but if you focus on your ultimate goals and have the support of those close to you, there is no reason why one cannot succeed. I think dreams shape from experiencing something subliminal for the first time and then trying to make it a regular, in your life.