While change is always good, it’s not easy to move from the familiar, safe and normal into a totally different realm. Zuwaina Sultan Al Rashdi, CEO of Dar al Herfya, World of Handicrafts talks about what it takes to get off the beaten track and venture into an unfamiliar territory.
A former front-runner in the corporate world, Zuwaina Sultan Al Rashdi is continuously breaking barriers, accepting new challenges and reaching for the sky. Having graduated with a degree in Media and Communications from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, Zuwaina got her very first job working with the Ministry of Information before shifting to Omantel where she worked at a senior management position for over five years. She moved on, again, to Omran where she served as marketing and branding manager. After having spent almost eight years in the corporate world, Zuwaina finally decided it was time to let her creativity shine through, by starting her own venture – a project that not only allowed her to follow her dreams, give wings to her creativity but also to help society as well. And thus Dar al Herfya, World of Handicrafts was born.
“I needed to do something that would add value to my life. I have served the corporate world and worked in a good position with big organisations. But I felt it was time to move on. I had gained the required experience and knowledge as I was responsible for corporate gifts and it was there that I noticed that they never reflected our true identity. So I started thinking of establishing a company that would benefit the society as well as myself – something that would make commercial sense as well.
So I got in touch with productive, creative families; we have a lot of good people in the handicraft industry here in Oman. And they wanted the opportunity; they wanted their creativity to be presented in the right way. So I saw the items, I knew their weaknesses and challenges, and I started working on bettering them. At Dar al Herfya, we position these handicrafts as high-quality handmade items. I want to take Omani handicrafts to a new global level. We have a lot of good items and we want to promote them as unique, corporate gifts.”
However since its opening, Dar al Herfya has branched out from corporate gifts, supplying everything from handmade folders and carved pens to bedsheets and furniture. Moreover, they are now going one step further by supplying these exquisite, traditional items to hotels. The Alila Hotel in Jabal Akhdar, is a good example, for which they have supplied a series of handicrafts such as traditional cushions, all of which have been locally created.
“They give us the design and specifications, and I implement it locally,” explains Zuwaina “After I finished the project in Jabal Akhdar, they awarded me another project in Musandam. It is a huge deal and I am very proud of both having received this project and being able to deliver the handicrafts according to their quality specifications.”
So how does Dar al Herfya manage to keep up with their heavy demand? “I have more than 350 families operating around Oman. It is a bit of community development as well, a CSR initiative.” Says Zuwaina.
With women from all over Oman pitching in, Dar al Herfya has expanded – keeping a leader for every region. These leaders communicate with the community directly, announce workshops and help maintain the quality of the products.
“Quality is important.” Zuwaina says “I do not accept just anything, because if I do that, then there is no room for improvement. These women need to understand that their products are being presented in such a way that they are suitable for high-profile clients and international restaurants.”
Dar al Herfya may have been started because of one woman’s ability to think outside the box, but since then it has grown to empower and assist hundreds of people living across Oman. It gives women from far-flung regions a chance to work from home, where they can look after their families and add to the household income. Moreover, the venture takes a huge step towards reviving Omani culture and putting its handicrafts on the map. As Zuwaina puts it, ‘It is all about innovation, caring, thinking beyond and supporting society!’
In the end, Dar Al Herfya is a result of combined efforts. “You cannot clap with only one hand!” Zuwaina explains “We have a lot of ideas, but it takes time, effort and resources. I have received so much help from my family as well as others who believe in the cause such as my project manager. My husband has been a huge support; without him I could not have done any of this. And of course, the women who create these handicrafts, they are really strong ladies. They raise the children, manage the household and take on these projects as well. They are the real heroes!”
With its unwavering enthusiasm, creativity and passion, this is one organisation that is going above and beyond the call of duty to prove that ‘nothing is impossible when you put your mind to it.’