DUBAI: As the civil war in Syria worsened in 2012, Yara Tlass — born and raised in Damascus — relocated to Dubai with her family. The Swiss-educated MBA graduate was deeply affected by the troubles in her homeland and wanted to find some way to provide humanitarian assistance by combining her business knowledge with her love of jewelry design.
“It was life-changing on so many levels,” the 30-year-old told Arab News about her move to the UAE. “I honestly felt like it was some kind of responsibility to be able to do something and help out in any way I can. I was actually studying management and then completely switched to NGOs and humanitarian work. I just felt the need to create a positive change.”
Along with friends — including activists, writers and filmmakers — Tlass set up a small grassroots charity organization called ‘Watanili’ (which translates to ‘My homeland is mine’) in 2014. It currently supports 50 displaced Syrian children in Turkey by hosting art therapy sessions and educational workshops.
An annual donation to Watanili’s centre and its activities comes from a percentage of the profit generated by Tlass’ delicate jewelry line — Usfuur — that she launched in 2015. Inspired by Dubai’s nascent yet vibrant cultural scene, Tlass claims that her decision to launch her own brand was somewhat random, made after attending workshops and various other creative initiatives.
In Arabic, the brand’s name means ‘bird’ — an omnipresent motif in Tlass’ simple, elegant collections, which feature 18-Karat yellow, rose-gold and silver sterling rings, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Some of the pieces are also adorned with pearls, precious stones, tassels, and charms. It was important to Tlass to choose an Arabic name for her brand, she explained: “I’m very attached to my Arabness in a way, and I care about the Arab world in general. I think it’s important to put ourselves out there and remind the world that there’s talent and potential coming out of this region.”
Tlass describes her personal style as contemporary and minimal, and that is also reflected in the aesthetics of her pieces. “I feel that jewelry is super intimate,” she said. “You wear it, touch it… It’s so close to your body, it really becomes a part of you. I find it very expressive of your personality and sense of style.”
The choice of a bird as the brand’s logo fits with her philosophy for dealing with troubled times. “I wanted something to represent a message of hope and peace. And the bird seemed to be the perfect icon for that kind of ideal,” she said. “I really love that idea of being able to transcend borders and geographies, and to be able to manifest yourself as yourself and not be kind of boxed into nationalities, religions, or backgrounds.”
Although Tlass relished the process of founding her brand and designing its identity, she admits there have been a few hurdles along the way.
“It was very challenging, especially in a place like Dubai, where you have the most amazing designers and so many creatives. It’s really difficult to prove yourself and build a brand identity,” she said. Little by little, though, Usfuur has had a taste of success, participating in a number of pop-ups and making its way to prominent stores in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, and Lebanon.
Making a statement through her pieces is essential for the designer, who plans to expand her creative process by collaborating with fellow artists in the near future. “When I create, I think of it as a statement piece. The whole idea of the project is to create that sense of inner peace, freedom, and being comfortable with who you are,” Tlass said.
She also emphasized the fact that her brand is paired with an important cause. “We give back with every piece,” she explained. “The humanitarian aspect is inherent to the brand. The more we are able to expand as a brand, the more we are able to level up our humanitarian efforts in the future.”