DUBAI: Located in the heart of the UAE, The Room Place in Jumeirah, Dubai is a store that exclusively sells traditional crafts made by Egyptian artisans.
The shop partners with Fair Trade, a social enterprise in Egypt that works with 2,300 artisans in about 17 villages and is divided into 75 crafts, to sell, promote and market handmade work both locally and globally.
The founder of The Room Place, Amira El-Serafy, told Arab News: “Artisans get very excited about working with Fair Trade because they secure a number of added value and benefits to them and to their families. They immediately get the fair amount of cash.”
“We work together to ensure that their work environment is safe. We also work together on literacy programs and we try as much as we can to erase illiteracy from their areas,” El-Serafy said.
In her store, in an Arabian-style souq that “complements the interior of the shop and the products,” the Dubai-raised Egyptian entrepreneur sells home-decor products that range from palm-leaf baskets, embroidery work, wood-carved goods, rugs, pottery and alabaster items.
“The idea of making sure that traditional crafts do not disappear is itself a message,” said El-Serafy, whose background is in advertising and journalism. “We have so many beautiful traditional crafts that we need to shed light on. We can easily compete with mass production and on a different scale because every piece is unique.”
If the artwork is not handmade, the machines the craftsmen use are made by them. “There isn’t machinery that burns fuel emitting toxins into the environment, no. They are aware of the environment,” El-Serafy said.
Ninety percent of the artisans Fair Trade and The Room Place work with are women. “This shows how they are becoming more independent and are able to sustain their own income,” she said.
“Sometimes people ask, ‘Do you think their perfection is in their imperfection?’ You can’t really see imperfection in handmade stuff. It’s too beautiful on its own. You can feel texture, you can feel color, you can sometimes feel the clay in the items,” she said.
The goods sold at The Room Place are made to be suitable for the Gulf region, but without losing the traditional element. “For example, people here like the bigger pieces of pottery because they use it for display,” El-Serafy said.