Are We Awake? New Bahrain pop-up shop and cafe showcases regional designers

Jewellery, fashion, toys and even raw candy are on sale at the new store

Man², a creative design firm active across Bahrain and the UAE, is hoping to showcase some of the Gulf’s coolest creative brands with their new venture, Are We Awake?. The pop-up store and coffee shop is located in Bahrain’s City Centre Mall, offering a platform for everything from record labels to fashion designers during its limited three-month run.

While Are We Awake?’s launch has been beset by a recent Covid-19 lockdown in the kingdom, it is finally gearing up for a much-anticipated reopening this weekend.

Owner Salman Mattar feels that the initiative brings something different to the Bahraini scene, pulling together some of its disparate threads into a cohesive whole.

“We felt there was just something about the process of curating and gathering brands we believed in and personally love, and then sharing them with others,” he tells The National. “As a team, we’re also heavily influenced by music and artistic expression and wanted to work with brands that felt the same.”

Are We Awake? celebrates 'the good things in life'

The central ethos of Are We Awake? is about celebrating creative expression and collaboration, with Mattar and co-owner Abdulrahman Al Sayed describing their store as a “continuing love letter to the people about staying awake for the good things in life”.

Mattar reached out to brands he’d been following closely for a while, focusing his efforts on finding people in music, contemporary clothing, collectible art and experimental food, and they were only too happy to participate.

“We shared the idea with them and they were eager to be on board,” he says.

Brands from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain

One participant is Saudi fashion label Too Dark To See Tomorrow (2d2c2m), which is the brainchild of Riyadh designer Ahmad Alwohaibi. Alwohaibi launched his clothing line aged 24 and has used it to explore his creative side and process major life events in the six years since.

“All of my collections are inspired by some point in my life,” the artist explains. “My contribution to fashion is also my personal revolution. From conceptualisation [to actualisation], my creative processes are fascinating to me as well. I’m always exploring high-quality mediums and design, and this constant state of learning has helped in adapting to the ups and downs of life.”

The latest 2d2c2m collection, called Homecoming, is intensely personal to its creator. “The collection symbolises my personal journey, from depression, leaving home to exile, then coming home again,” says Alwohaibi. The collection’s launch, streamed via the brand's Instagram Live, involved the efforts of 24 people, including directors, stylists, make-up artists, lighting designers and models. It encompasses colourful knitwear and bold prints, and selections from the collection are available to buy at Are We Awake?.

Another featured brand is Azza Fine Jewellery. Founded by Bahraini designer Azza Al Hujairi, it is inspired by mythology and history, and aims to connect tradition with modern-day lifestyle through chic and trendy fine jewellery pieces.

Also at the pop-up is a micro record store selling vintage and contemporary vinyl courtesy of Museland Records’ offshoot Tasjeelat, vegan treats from Bahrain’s own Raw Candy and designer toys, such as the adorable line of thobe and ghutra-sporting fish, called Hamoor, from Toyio.

Man² also owns speciality coffee shops in Jasra and the Diplomatic Area, so it was only natural that the new store is built around a cafe. The PB+J Bar serves brioche concoctions, such as coffee and peanut butter paired with banana-vanilla jam, all made in-house from scratch.

Now, Mattar looking forward to the reopening as Covid-19 restrictions in Bahrain are lifted.

“Three months is a while for a pop-up,” he says. “So we’re working with the brands to keep things fresh throughout the duration. It’s been a tough year for a lot of us, so we just want people getting excited again by keeping things playful and experimental.”

The pop-up has a long-term future, too. “We want to keep the brand going ... as a continuing platform for creativity and experimentation,” says Mattar. “Maybe it’ll remain the same concept or take on another form – who knows?”

Updated: July 26th 2021, 1:17 PM