Culture Couture

One entrepreneur is using T-shirt design to shed light on Qatari culture.

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Shadda designs

Name: Shadda designs

Type: Online store

Co-owner: Fatima H. Al-Kharaz

Young entrepreneur Fatima Al Kharaz had one aim – to deliver a unique message from Qatari youth culture through the medium of fashion. With this aim in mind, she created her own T-shirt design business, merging a focused approach on branding initiatives with innovative and fresh design. To the young businesswoman, a constant incorporation of localised branding strategy was key – combining branding and design to shed light on Qatari culture.

bq: What sparked your interest in fashion?

FK: During my time as a student, I became aware of and got to know several graphic designers in the region. More specifically, I learned from designers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE who had started their own T-shirt lines. They were mainly choreographic designers, which means they applied graphic design to T-shirts that were readymade, and their work gave me a great deal of inspiration.

Also I’m very happy that we have a great designer like Bothayna Al Zaman  from Doha. However, upon completing my studies and graduating in graphic design from VCUQatar, my friend and I began our own T-shirt design business in 2013.

bq: You are also employed in another job at the moment. How do you manage to balance two careers?

FK: I must admit that it has all been very challenging! I am presently working full-time in education and, in the beginning, it seemed impossible to make time to manage two different careers effectively.  However, through diligence and hard work, I was able to handle the pressures and rise to the challenge.

I devote time to my design business in the evenings and at the weekends. I thoroughly enjoy solving the problem of balancing the conflicting demands of my personal and professional career. Indeed, I don’t see it as a problem, but as an exciting proposition. I enjoy both fields of employment immensely!

bq: Where do you source your T-shirts?   

FK: In the beginning I purchased readymade T-shirts from local markets, later I began dealing directly with manufactures outside Doha, and now I mainly import them from the UAE.

bq: Do you also offer customized design?

FK: Not at the moment. When you are just starting out in this business, it is difficult to effectively manage and achieve customized designs, but we certainly have plans to incorporate this service in the future.

bq: Does your work primarily tend to reflect Qatari culture? 

FK: Yes, and that is vitally important to the mission statement of our business. Our designs deliberately attempt to speak about and illustrate aspects of local and national culture. It is my deepest desire to promote our love for our culture and showcase our rich and fascinating heritage.

Each of my designs attempts to tell an individual story that helps spread a positive message of Qatari culture, and this dedication to the promotion of cultural awareness means that there is a great element of continuity in my work.

This continuously enriches me as a creative individual and as a citizen, enabling my chances of engaging a wider audience in a heightened awareness of knowledge about Qatar through my works.

Fatima H. Al-Kharaz
Fatima H. Al-Kharaz, co-owner of Shadda designs

bq: What is your marketing strategy?

FK: I am heavily involved in the use all forms of social media to advertise, particularly Instagram and Facebook. I find it a very effective tool to cultivate awareness of my business products, a process that would otherwise prove both expensive and difficult.

I also attend a lot of events, as I find that meeting people face to face provides me with a much better chance of getting my customers engaged. For me, the process of seeing actual reactions to my work has proved to be invaluable. It hones my design skills and sharpens my knowledge of the needs and preferences of my customers.

bq: How did you finance yourself, did you have to take loans?

FK: That has been a challenge, but as it is a small business, I have been able to manage adequate funding. And as I am still in the process of obtaining a license, I have not had to approach a bank.

bq: What procedures do you have to undertake to obtain a business license?

FK: The short answer is that it really does vary from business to business. It’s a long procedure, and there are a lot of requirements. And you do need to know a great deal about the whole process before you begin. My best advice to anyone wanting to start a small business would be to approach someone who has already undertaken that procedure, and seek their advice.

bq: Is it a long procedure?

FK: Yes, I think the procedure of gaining approval from the ministry is a major challenge, and like many who become involved in it, I feel that it’s a tough procedure for a fresh graduate who has no idea about the system. This can prove very challenging for a budding entrepreneur.

bq: The fashion industry is very competitive, what do you do to keep your ideas fresh and innovative?

FK:  I am a huge fan of brainstorming. I undertake a great deal of prior research to feed and stimulate my own imagination and ferment ideas. I am a great believer in consultation – asking people what they think.

I like to discover what they do like about my ideas and designs, and equally, what they don’t. Sometimes I work from sketches, and sometimes I dive straight in and go with the flow of ideas.

bq: What is the most interesting part of your work?

FK: I truly enjoy meeting people and seeing their reaction – how they relate to my designs. When my T-shirts provoke an interesting conversation – that is what really motivates me. It spurs me on to become even more creative!

bq: Have you encountered any obstacles?

FK: My biggest challenge was lack of business experience. As a young entrepreneur I did not have a clear and concise strategy. So I had to work hard to gather my knowledge, and I am still constantly striving to learn and develop my skills in both business practice and design.

bq: What advice would you give to somebody thinking of starting their own business?

FK: I would say take the risk and do it anyway. It seems scary, and a lot of the time you don’t know what you are doing, but once you address your fears and begin to take calculated risks, you will reach your own comfort zone, and hopefully prosper.

bq: What are your plans for the future of the business?

FK: I would love to be able to open a ‘bricks and mortar’ retail shop. And I have ambitious plans to open stores in other countries too. Innovation, creativity and expansion – for me, they are interlinked and essential to personal and professional success.

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