Meet Kashida Design, a Lebanese design and furniture manufacturer that makes furniture based on Arabic letter shapes. Its success lies within a passion for the Arabic script and clean-cut ergonomic and simple products. Embracing different calligraphic and typographic Arabic styles, Kashida wants to bring a strong vision on culture in the Middle East through modern design pieces.
Kashida’s goal is to continuously invent innovating designs that meet the lifestyle needs of modern society with an ergonomic design. Kashida is supported by a team of Lebanese designers and craftsmen.
Kashida has received much acclaim; it won the Entrepreneurship Challenge on Tasmeem Doha (2011), came third in the Maurice Fadel Business Plan Competition (2011), and was awarded The Best MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Start-up in the Non-tech category of WAMDA (2011). It won the Communication and Arts Typography Annual Competion in the Miscellaneous category (2012).
al.arte.magazine was given the opportunity to interview the founders of Kashida Design, Elie Abou Jamra and Mirna Hamady, about the beginnings, their love of their language, the product line, and the future.
Can you tell me the story of why you wanted to design furniture based on the Arabic script? And please tell me how it all began with Kashida Designs. Who is behind Kashida Designs?
Kashida was founded in 2011 by Lebanese designers Elie Abou Jamra and Mirna Hamady. The brand offers functional accessories and furniture pieces based on Arabic letterforms. The idea began cooking toward the end of our university years at the American University of Beirut. Elie was designing his own Arabic font and we found ourselves wondering about the full potential of the typeface. Could we create huge letters of it?
We constantly found ourselves thinking about Arabic typography, which is a highly popular topic in the design world, and an important factor shaping modern Arab identity. We thought: why do we appreciate the beauty of Arabic script on a scroll or canvas, in two dimensions only?
The idea of integrating Arabic script into the home dawned upon us. Now, people could experience letters in their daily life. Arabic is not just present inside a closed book, or on a scroll. Arabic is now your chair, table, or bookshelf. Letterforms have risen from their linguistic status to become functional art pieces for your space.
How did you come up with the name Kashida?
A ‘kashida’ is a typographic term meaning the elongation between two Arabic letterforms, acting as a bridge. We called our company Kashida because we are bridging between Arabic script and product design. The name seemed to fit our company’s expertise perfectly!
What do you like the most about the Arabic language and script?
Arabic script is simply beautiful! Calligraphic forms are endless, and one can push Arabic to a limit where its function is to be visually appealing, and not necessarily legible.
Also, Arabic is our mother tongue. Why resort to foreign language when we have a great resource within our own culture? Experimental Arabic typography is shaping the contemporary art scene of the Middle East. It is a powerful ambassador of the region’s visual culture.
How did the Arabic language and script inspire you?
Arabic script gives us so much to work with: in Arabic, the shape of the letter changes depending on the placement in the word. We have 29 Arabic letters, so that makes around 85 different shapes to use…not to mention the 9 broad calligraphic styles that exist, and hundreds of typographic experimentations. The inspiration is immense!
There were several campaigns in Lebanon to preserve the Arabic language. Do you think that the Arabic language is dying?
Perhaps ‘dying’ is a bit of an overstatement. Arabic is the mother tongue of 280 million Arabs living in the Middle East and North Africa. However in Lebanon specifically, Arabic is definitely marginalized by English or French, which are both widely spoken as well.
At Kashida we do not claim to preserve Arabic language, but rather celebrate it within our space through functional design pieces. Maintaining a language is an immense task that can only be done collectively, and through various touch-points. We hope to be doing our part through design.
What are your general inspirations?
We have formed an Arabic type library early on at Kashida, adding to it what we call ‘treasures’ we have gathered along the way. For instance, Elie once bought an old Arabic brochure teaching Naskh writing at a flea market in Amman. We not only refer to books, but take photos of instances in the city that may inspire us at some point, ranging from street art to stone engravings on a mosque’s façade. We are inspired by the work of an anonymous calligrapher who writes an Arabic ‘no parking’ sign in Diwani script, just as much as we gaze in awe at the published work of a design student pushing the limits of experimental type.
At Kashida, the inspiration is all around us, and not necessarily a specific artist or piece. Our inspiring personais the Arab calligrapher who has paved the way to modern typography, as well as the world-renowned entrepreneurs who have creatediconicdesign brands that we all know today.
Do you think that there is more interest nowadays in the ‘east meets west’ concept? And why?
Definitely. We live in a world that virtually has no borders. Societies are mixing and people can easily access various regions and cultures. East and West are not 2 distinct entities but rather parts of the same body. Design is naturally part of this symbiotic relationship.
Do you feel you are contributing to the cultural heritage in the Arab world?
Yes, we do feel that we are contributing to the contemporary culture of the Arab world. At Kashida we are adopting our own methodology: transforming 2D Arabic letters into 3D products, adding function. Functional design pieces find their way into the homes, offices and spaces of many. This approach blends in smoothly with today’s contemporary lifestyle, where people seek functionality but are also design-savvy and brand aware.
I think there is a big clientele who is interested in your designs. Do you see your market as local, regional, or global? Are you planning to conquer Belgium and the Netherlands?
From the start we knew our market was not only in Lebanon, but regional and even global. As soon as we kicked off, clients from the Arab world approached us, even Arabs living in Europe and the US.
Interestingly enough, we are noticing that many non-Arabic speakers are becoming Kashida clients as well. The way we see it is that Arabic is not merely a language but a strong visual element in our culture that intrigues people all over the globe.
Yes, one day we plan to enter new markets like Belgium and the Netherlands! For now, however, we ship to our clients worldwide.
What is the shipping time from order to delivery (for international orders)?
For accessory items: 1-2 weeks. For furniture pieces: 3-4 weeks.
What does the future hold for Kashida?
Kashida’s near future holds several product releases and new market expansions. We are also working on establishing our own flagship store. We have schemed an alternative retail concept store that will host Kashida products amongst other surprising elements. This is our next big step for the brand’s expansion, hopefully we will announce more at a later stage!
This post is also available in: Dutch