Emirati designers Khalid Shafar and Aljoud Lootah talk Design Days Dubai

Two of the UAE’s most successful designers discuss their journey so far.

Aljoud Lootah. Courtesy Aljoud Lootah
Powered by automated translation

Two of the UAE’s most successful designers discuss their journey so far.

How important has Design Days Dubai been in the evolution of your career?

Khalid Shafar: I was a participant at the first edition of DDD in 2012, under the representation of Carwan Gallery. The fair exposed different aspects of my work, such as collectable bespoke design, and introduced me to a new segment of the market. The fair was a very important platform for me as an emerging designer to connect and grow at the time.

Aljoud Lootah: DDD has played a tremendous role in exposing my work to regional and international collectors, as well as various institutions and museums. I am grateful for it, because it pushes me to produce bodies of work that challenge me and that present personal growth.

What are you doing for this year’s show?

KS: This year, in collaboration with Nakkash Gallery, I am presenting a new lighting installation called Forma using egals [the black headband worn by Arab men to hold their headdresses in place] – a signature material that I use often. The installation studies the relationship between shapes and forms, and how connections and interconnections relate to the formation of the installation.

AL: I decided for this series to experiment with marble. It is a common material when it comes to infrastructure, but manipulating it can sometimes prove difficult. Building on my inspiration of Arabesque motifs, the series will consist of three items, based on marble, with different angles that cast various shadows. The collection is called Double Square, and it depicts a recurring Arabesque eight-pointed star motif when viewed from the top. The motif, which consists of two squares, one rotated 45 degrees with respect to the other, is the starting point of a variety of Arabesque patterns, and through it, different combinations can be generated.

What have you been up to since last year's DDD?

KS: I launched my signature pattern collection last February, while participating in Milan Design Week 2015, and premiered my first outdoor public installation in London last July. I also presented The Cabin installation at Emirati Expressions at Manarat Al Saadiyat, which is on show until the end of March, and participated in Dubai Design Week with six different projects and installations around the city.

AJ: I produced my first collection, the Oru Series, which is inspired by origami, and was displayed at Design Days Dubai 2015 and Milan Design Week 2015. I also took part in the inaugural edition of Dubai Design Week with my installation Yaroof, which was a big learning curve in producing larger installations. Additionally, I designed my first handwoven rugs, titled Misnad and Uwairyan.

It has been five years since the first edition of DDD. What would you like to achieve, career-wise, in the next five years?

KS: Since my brand inception in 2010, I have achieved a lot. Yet this is just the start of any design career, and five years in such an industry is considered very young. Internally, I am at a resetting stage where I am reinforcing my foundations for the future. Five years from now, I want to have an established line in the market that the brand is well known for. I also want to increase the sales channels of my products locally and internationally, and tap into new categories of design.

AJ: My goal is to expand the line of my work to mass-produce objects and small furniture pieces that can be accessible to a wider audience, while continuing to work on the limited editions as well. I’ve also been receiving a lot of requests to provide mentorship programmes, and since I’m moving to a new studio space at D3 [in Dubai] in the next few months, I may be able to finally do so. The studio space will have a small gallery area where people interested in purchasing my work will be able to visit and view the items.

What's the most important lesson you have learnt along the way?

KS: Never get distracted by the attention or happenings around you; stay focused on yourself and goals; and keep moving towards your vision.

AJ: Stay true to who you are, your values and aesthetic. Steer away from trends or fads – those won’t help you. Focus on production, quality and detail – those make your work sustainable and worthy of collecting.

What advice would you offer to UAE-based designers who are just starting out?

KS: Think global and act global. Never compete against each other – complement each others’ work, and compete together internationally.

AJ: Work hard on developing your skills, apply yourself and seek the advice of professionals who have travelled the path you wish to seek.