The Entrepreneur: Miaser Al Habori, founder of Khashab Design

“I had no intention of turning this into a business,” Miaser Al Habori said of her furniture company Khashab Design. “It started as a hobby. I like working with my hands, and I thought, I can do that!”

The young Yemeni expat had arrived in Dubai after completing her architecture degree and Masters in social entrepreneurship, and was hoping to find a job in a related field. But, she said, many potential employers “didn’t understand where I’m coming from – that I see it from sustainability. Not just in design, but from the economic and social side too.”

It was that passion that informed her decision to work only with reclaimed, repurposed material for her creations. Encouraged by friends and family, Ms Al Habori began to post her work online. Soon, she was approached by an e-commerce site, offering to sell her pieces. “That’s when I really thought I could turn this into a business,” she said. “If strangers are taking money out of their pocket, it’s not like your friends and family saying, ‘Oh, that’s lovely.’”

At first, Ms Al Habori intended to run Khashab as “a sideline”. She soon learned that wasn’t realistic. “The deeper I get, the more I understand that it’s worth the investment of time and resources. I was so fixed on the idea that I had to have a ‘real’ job with steady income. But you get back what you put in, versus sitting all day in front of the laptop looking for jobs, writing a great cover letter that, probably, no one even reads.”

The UAE, Ms Al Habori believes, offers great opportunities for makers such as herself. “For things like arts and crafts – even for fashion – you have so many platforms where you can reach out to people. Social media’s magical, but you also have these markets that happen year-round, and that’s where a lot of people know me from, and they’re a great platform for getting your product out without the need for a physical store. They really help you to shine.”

Running a small business through those platforms is “great”, she said, but when the time comes to expand, that’s when the UAE can be challenging: “If you want to turn it into a sustainable business, it’s hard. It’s expensive for a person on a shoestring budget. If you want to sell, you have to have a physical space, like a warehouse or store. It’s still geared towards investors with a lot of start-up capital.” However, she added, “I believe there will be change, because there’s a need for it.”

Ms Al Habori said that, far from causing problems for her, being a female entrepreneur has probably been helpful. “It’s good PR being an Arab woman. It’s kind of working to my advantage being the one holding the jigsaw and tools. Like, ‘Oh! You do this yourself!”

As her “one-woman show” grows, Ms Al Habori plans to invite other designers to exhibit their work with the company, and provide the labour to actually create their designs, which they can then sell with Khashab taking a cut.

And she’s no longer looking for a job. “I’m full-on now. There’s no turning back,” she said. “Even if I regret it later.”