Do you think that what is old and “has been“ should remain in the past ? Well for Nour Najem, a 30-year-old Lebanese designer, the answer is clearly no. Working for the home decoration brand L’Artisan du Liban, she tries to be the bridge between old and new, ancient and modern.

It is early morning in L’Artisan du Liban’s workshop near Sin El Fil, where Nour Najem is waiting for us. She wanted to do the interview there, in her workspace. Rolls of fabrics, on racks, by hundreds decorate the room. It feels like a sea of purple, ocean blue and golden yellow textiles. You would not know where to look because of the profusion of things to stare at. 

Could, you explain what is your job here?

I am one of L’Artisans du Liban’s designers. My main task is to draw our products. I am also the one who decides which objects are going to be manufactured by our artisans and later put in our stores. In terms of design, I find my inspiration in traditional ancient Middle Eastern handcrafted items and then add my personal contemporary touch.

Although I must never forget several factors. First, I must respect a “design brief”. For example, a new collection needs to contain a certain amount of bedroom and bathroom items, or even toys. Then, I have to keep in mind that I need to generate work for hundreds of artisans. I will, as a consequence, mix blown glass and leather for example, or textiles with wooden pieces. Finally, I must pay attention to the cost of each piece! I am indeed constrained by many factors, but that’s what I like: there is always a new challenge. 

You were saying that your inspiration comes from old Middle-Eastern handcrafted items. Do you take it from a specific era of our history?

Why would I limit myself? I think we should not narrow our scope to a single era. The Middle-East was the cradle of culture. We were influenced by such different currents, between Kingdoms, Qalifats, or other invasions. Our culture became abundant and diverse.

Moreover, the goal of my creations is not to reproduce or recreate what was made centuries ago. The question that I always keep in mind is: “how can I create an emotional link between the customer and the objects ?”. For example I am currently working on a cover for tissues boxes made out of textiles. I know that every Lebanese mother or grandmother have a cover made of the same fabric. Maybe this cover will remind customers some sweet old memories.

What did you study to become a designer? 

My study background is not so straight-forward. I first studied biology for three years at AUB in order to work in the pharmaceutical branch. I also passed the AMCAT [Aspiring Minds Computer Adaptive Test], a computer-based test to help you find a job more easily. You can put the results on your Curriculum to guide your potential employer.

Anyway, after my Bachelor of Science, I asked myself if I really wanted to continue in that path. It felt like erasing a part of me. Since I was young I always wanted to help people, so medicine was perfect. But, I also always needed to express myself artistically. The pragmatic career I was about to follow could not give me the full satisfaction. So I decided to go to ESMOD to follow fashion design courses and in the meantime do a Master of Business at the LAU.

L’Artisan du Liban as well as your own fashion label are social businesses. How did you turn toward this type of businesses ? 

I first learned about “socially responsible companies” while I was studying at LAU. It’s a company that works with a social mindset, helps others and also makes profits. Afterwards I was certain that it was the kind of company I wanted to be part of. And I have been doing that since then! L’Artisan du Liban bases its whole supply chain on a human scale. We only work with individuals.

Moreover, I launched my own fashion label in the spring of 2013, Nour Najem. With this enterprise I give the opportunity to housewives to work together, make connections and earn a salary. The most beautiful thing is that they thank me since they are able to make their daughter understand the importance of making a living on their own. 

Any last words for our readers? 

Just to tell them to follow their ambitions and aspirations. Nothing more!

 

C.K.