Leena El-Khereiji is co-owner and the main designer at Charmaleena Fine Jewellery, a Saudi brand of conceptual and contemporary wearable art.
Leena and her sister Hala founded Charmaleena in April this year, to make original, art-inspired jewelry. The brand was launched at the prestigious Jewelers Salon Exhibition (Al-Sunaidi) in Jeddah and Riyadh, and was well received by the international jewelers' community.
Prior to launching the brand, Leena gained over three years of work experience in creative design when she was trained at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in London as a jewelry designer, with an added accreditation as jewelers professional (AJP). Leena participated at the Al-Sunaidi Exhibition Competition in Jeddah in April 2011. She was awarded first place for the best design inspired by Islamic architecture, which gave her the affirmation she needed to launch her jewelry brand.
Leena's first collection, the Freedom collection, was inspired by her belief that freedom is a powerful and inspiring word, which has many interpretations.
As a Saudi designer, a lot of her pieces are inspired by her heritage, Arabic poetry and calligraphy, and capture influences from time she spent abroad. Leena believes her jewelry creates a cultural and artistic bridge between east and west, thus capturing a strong niche in both the national and international fine jewelers' arenas.
Arab News met Leena El-Khereiji to talk about her latest participation in the Young Creative Entrepreneur (YCE) competition that took place under the auspices of the British Council.
Why did you take part in the YCE competition?
The YCE competition recognizes achievements in the sectors of design, music, fashion, screen, interactive, performing arts, visual arts in addition to communications and publishing to celebrate the best and brightest entrepreneurial and creative talents and give them a platform to engage and collaborate with the UK creative sectors. The program is considered unique as it rewards the talent and initiative of young creative entrepreneurs from across the creative industries globally. It recognizes the central role they play in the development of a competitive and sustainable creative economy. It champions those who find new ways to take creative work to audiences and communities and highlights the wider social, economic and cultural benefits in doing so.
What was the most challenging part about joining the competition?
Taking part in the YCE competition and gaining international experience was an incredible opportunity to expand my understanding of the design world and benefit from international exposure. Moreover, I believe that by participating in the YCE I could help dispel stereotypes about Saudi women as being sedentary and showcase the potential that lies within our desert dunes. There are so many talented young people in Saudi Arabia that lack support and encouragement. I am grateful that the YCE award exists and is trying to build a positive design infrastructure to promote designers like me.
What did you learn in London during the London Fashion Week in September, where you received a master class from top fashion designer Paul Smith?
YCE award recipients from around the world were flown to London for seven intense days of design workshops and lectures, which covered the correlation between business and design, innovative business in the digital age, fashion sustainability and production.
Paul Smith, who is incredibly humble and down to earth, shared so many things that will stay with me forever. The lessons that I will never forget are that structure and routine are very important for the creative process to truly flourish. Also, you have to learn about yourself, what triggers parts of your brain to develop creative ideas. If you are blocked, then you have to take a step back, giving yourself time to harness your potential.
I have to confess that the YCE was a genuinely inspiring experience and gave me the encouragement to be myself and to be original.
How did jewelry experts and clients in the UK receive your collection?
Charmaleena was so enthusiastically received by people in the UK and international creative industry experts. This exposure has helped me realize that if you feel something, just do it, and don’t wait for approval from anyone.
Becoming recognized as a designer of fine jewelry from Saudi Arabia, as a YCE award recipient, competing on both international and national levels, is the first step towards positively contributing to the design industry in my country.
I would like to use the YCE award as a platform to inspire young designers, promote creativity and to encourage other nationals to believe in their ideas when no one else does and to persevere until their dreams become a tangible reality.
What vision did you have when you started your business and what won you the YCE award?
My vision for Charmaleena is to embrace innovation and translate this into attractive timeless pieces of fine jewelry. The multifunctional feature of each design is something unique and original within the national and international fine jewelry market place.
I won the YCE award based on two designs: The multifunctional aspect incorporated into the Freedom collection and my Calligraphy bracelet.
In the Freedom collection necklace I used the motif of very delicate wings in a trendy yet sophisticated way. All the necklaces can be worn as either a pendant or separated into a pair of earrings.
The flexibility and multifunctionality of the design is uncommon in fine jewelry. I wanted to give my clients the flexibility and enjoyment of owning a piece that can be worn in more ways than one.
The Freedom collection was inspired by the world around me. Over the course of the last year, everything on the news and around me was about freedom. Everyone wants to be free. Freedom can be interpreted in many ways: Freedom to love, a person’s desire to be physically or mentally free from the past, present or future, or the freedom to choose one’s personal life path. In essence, freedom is a powerful and inspiring word, which has many interpretations as reflected in the flexibility of the collection.
The Arabic calligraphy bracelet came from my second collection. I wanted my brand to reflect my love for poetry and Arabic calligraphy and recognize these elements as recurrent themes throughout each of my collections.
By the way, to be able to share my love for poetry, words and Arabic quotes I designed creative gifts made from 18 carat gold, which women will keep forever.
Each handmade Arabic calligraphy bracelet can be customized with an inscription in Arabic of the client's choosing.
How do you balance your creative drive with entrepreneurial requirements and what are your future plans?
My sister and I work very hard on our upcoming collection, which will be launched in April 2013. In the meantime, Charmaleena Fine Jewelry is very excited to be internationally sold exclusively on www.giftvault.com, with selected pieces showcased at the Gift Vault boutique on Bond Street in London. We are also looking forward to launching our Jeddah showroom, which will be open to the public by appointment.