My UAE: Entrepreneur Fatma Al Khoori’s talent unwrapped

The Emirati handed in her resignation notice and set up a food website with friends to bring together Emirati chefs and food enthusiasts. As a starting point, Barzeh featured more than 50 local dishes that were prepared and photographed professionally.

Fatma Al Khoori. Reem Mohammed / The National
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Fatma Al Khoori, 30, worked for Dubai’s Executive Affairs Authority for seven years before deciding to change her life around.

The Emirati entrepreneur handed in her notice and spent the next 12 months taking various courses to help her establish where her passion lay. “That year was about self-development, an internal journey,” Al Khoori says.

Over this year, she set up a food website with friends to bring together Emirati chefs and food enthusiasts. As a starting point, Barzeh featured more than 50 local dishes that were prepared and photographed professionally.

But her biggest project was Maska, a gift-wrapping shop in Jumeirah’s Town Centre. It is inspired by the Japanese art of furoshiki, wrapping with fabric. “Gift wrapping is a big industry, but it’s really underserved here. All celebrations are big and the wrapping is just as important as the gift – it makes all the difference.”

Al Khoori sources material from places such as India, Paris and Milan, but uses local designers when she can. She has a style to suit every taste with selections of lace, silk and trinkets.

“It’s inspired by furoshiki but we've added our own twist. The fabrics and the trinkets are all high end and I suppose you could say more Arabic.”

Last year Maska piloted a programme offering women from poorer families a chance to earn money for their children’s education by sizing and hemming the fabric from home. The Sewing Machine Initiative worked with low-income Pakistani families and was such a success Al Khoori wants to start it up on a long-term basis.

“It worked really well. Some women couldn’t leave their houses and work for cultural reasons, so we took the work to them. I love my job because I can be passionate about it and get excited about what I do.”

What is your favourite book?

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I love all Ayn Rand books but this is my favourite. It's very intense, it helped me explore myself when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do.

What is the strangest gift-wrapping request you’ve received?

A gift basket for a puppy. It had a bone and food and she wanted it wrapped. I’m not sure the dog would notice the wrapping, though.

Where do you find inspiration?

I enjoy going to art galleries but I get inspiration from everything and everywhere. A lot of my friends are designers and I like to look at their own work for inspiration.

What is your favourite type of fabric?

I love Jacquard fabric where the pattern is threaded into the fabric rather than printed on. And I like symmetrical patterns because I think you can do a lot with it.

Where should people buy fabrics in the UAE?

The Kuwaiti Souq in Deira has a lot if you want affordable fabrics. And definitely Meena bazaar in Dubai; they have the most beautiful Indian fabrics.

What’s the best place you’ve travelled to?

Tokyo was amazing. The architecture is beautiful. My brother has a lot of Japanese friends so we were shown the ins and out of Tokyo.

Do you have any hobbies?

I read a lot and I go to the beach at the Dubai Ladies Club. I also do art classes from time to time and I used to go to Tashkeel a lot, they do lots of different classes there.

Who inspires you?

When it comes to entrepreneurship, it’s my father, who passed away last year. He did a lot in his life, he had all these crazy ideas. The last thing was a plastic recycling plant. He loved the idea of making money out of dirt. He always followed through on things even when people didn’t believe in him.

Where would you like to be in five years?

In terms of Maska, we want to build a brand. If I think about 10 years down the road, I definitely want Maska to go international. I’d love to see it in London and New York.

What item can’t you leave the house without?

My iPhone 5S because I’m always working. I need to be connected, I feel lost without my phone.

Where do you go to drink coffee?

My very close friend always takes me to Shakespeare and Co in Jumeirah. It’s very cozy. If it’s me by myself, I spend a lot of time in Bateel Cafe in Town Centre because it’s very close to Maska.