Startup of the Week: Smuug pins: Small accessories that tell a bigger story

Startup of the Week: Smuug pins: Small accessories that tell a bigger story
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Updated 12 January 2021

Startup of the Week: Smuug pins: Small accessories that tell a bigger story

Startup of the Week: Smuug pins: Small accessories that tell a bigger story
  • Smuug specializes in producing artistic and funky pins and they are becoming a hit with Saudis due to their distinctive designs

What we wear reflects our personality. But it’s not just our clothing that gives others a window into who we are because our accessories also have a story to tell.
Pins are a way for people to describe their mood, style or even values through slogans and symbols.
Smuug specializes in producing artistic and funky pins and they are becoming a hit with Saudis due to their distinctive designs.
The designs include Al Salwa Palace, a palm featuring a Najdi henna design, a cup of qahwa and even a bottle of Vimto, the wildly popular purple cordial that is the beverage of choice for millions of people in the Kingdom.
Brandie Janow is the founder and creative director of the brand. The US native said she had been drawing and illustrating for as long as she could remember and that this passion inspired products for the brand.
“I love the fact that small minimal items can tell a big story. The owner can be wearing an outfit and have a little pin on that represents something that they love or believe in. I find that powerful.”
Janow realized the products available in the market did not represent the local culture and were irrelevant to Saudis and she thought this was a shame.
“I had the idea that I would try to design and sell some myself. After a lot of research and work I found manufacturers that were able to create the products that I wanted.”
She taught herself to design and learned more about the commercial aspects of the business. She also visited different outlets to see if they wanted to stock her items. To her surprise, every store she contacted showed interest in what she had to offer.
Each of her products is designed after a careful process and the first step is research.
“Since the actual story of the design is so important, I try not to do anything cliched. After I have decided on the idea itself, I sit down to draw it by hand, and then I take it to the laptop where I vectorize it.”
Her pins are produced in the US and other items are made in the UK.
Janow said that it was hard work owning a business. “But if you love what you do it becomes enjoyable. Coming up with the correct pricing is important. You have to factor in all of your costs such as manufacturers, shipping, website upkeep, and your time.”
She has lived in Saudi Arabia since late 2008 and considers it home. “I hate to hear anything negative about the country that has taken me in and been so kind to me, so I will always try my best to relay the stories I learn along the way. We all are equipped with different tools to be able to create change, mine just happens to be design.”

Highlights from this year’s Egypt International Art Fair

Highlights from this year’s Egypt International Art Fair
Updated 15 January 2021

Highlights from this year’s Egypt International Art Fair

Highlights from this year’s Egypt International Art Fair
  • Works from 100+ artists from the MENA region will be on show in Cairo from Feb. 12-14



This 2020 painting is typical of Zidan’s exuberant, colorful and loving portrayal of the female form (her Master’s degree was on “Human Anatomy for Artists”). The 30-year-old Egyptian artist began depicting plus-size women as a response to the “unrealistic beauty standards” of Instagram, she once told Cairo West magazine. “The most important point is that I portrayed them feeling happy and satisfied. I want every woman to feel accepted and confident about how she looks.” In another interview, with Executive Woman magazine, she said: “We aren’t supposed to look alike. Everyone is different, and every woman is enough the way she is.”



The Cairene multidisciplinary artist has described himself as “much concerned with the changing perceptions and the state of continual metamorphosis that Egypt, as an African, Arab, and Middle Eastern country that was colonized and liberated, has witnessed in the last three decades.” In his paintings, such as this one, he is “obsessed by human movement and the quest for freedom,” and uses bold colors and impressionist techniques to imply that movement.



The 55-year-old artist is one of the most significant figures in Yemen’s art scene and his paintings have sold around the world — particularly to fans of Art Nouveau work. His art is inspired by city life in Yemen before the civil war, depicting simple, colorful urban scenes often featuring female residents. “These cities, and their inhabitants, form a primary reference for my work… the clothing, the weather, the nature and the environment,” Alakel is quoted as saying on “You’ll find that Yemeni women actually form the main inspiration for my work. They are unique in their style, their vision, their dress… and there is also a certain kind of silence in their faces. I see these women as symbols of the larger environment in which they live.”


‘Peacock’ (series since 2018)

El-Masri is a Lebanese artist who was born in Syria and now lives and works in Paris. According to Ayyam Gallery, his practice “revolves around the repeated examination of a single material subject as he explores variations in depth and space through abstracted compositions. … Like Morandi's vases or Cezanne's apples, El-Masri's depictions are less about the objects themselves and more about the possibility of transformation that is derived from paying close attention to the object over time.” El-Masri explained this practice to the Attasi Foundation. “Every time you repeat a shape, you perceive it in a different way,” he said.

“The Peacock” is a series he has been working on for the past few years, reportedly intended as an homage to his father, who was kidnapped in Syria, after which El-Masri stopped painting for some time. When he started again in 2018, the peacock was the first thing he painted, and he has since completed several works on the same theme.



Sudanese multidisciplinary artist Salah El-Mur is based in Cairo, but spent many years traveling throughout East Africa and the Middle East. This, according to a statement from the organizers of the Egypt International Art Fair, “has given him a rich and diverse background, while still maintaining a distinctive and peculiar Sudanese identity, to the extent of becoming a (flag bearer for) Sudanese art.” His vivid and colorful paintings of street life “do not (portray) significant events or actions, but characters — each with a concealed story of their own.”



This painting comes from the UAE-based Syrian artist’s “Family Portrait” series. His expressionist-style works, according to the fair’s organizers, is based on “the inherent psychology of portraiture in compositions that depict a revolving cast of characters” and was “initially inspired by the confessional elements and sense of freedom in children’s drawings.” But the inspiration for this series came from childhood visits with his family to photographers’ studios. “These psychological portraits capture the fatigue and uncertainty experienced by millions,” Maymanah Farhat, director of art at Ayyam Gallery, told Time Out last year. “They remind viewers that the future of countries such as Syria now rests in the hands of displaced youth; children shaped by the trauma of war.”


‘Egyptian Girl’

Abdelwahab is one of Egypt’s most-respected contemporary sculptors. His work is something of an homage to Ancient Egyptian civilization and visual references, and he often uses traditional techniques and materials to create his sculptures. But while he celebrates his country’s heritage, his style is modern — even incorporating Western influences no doubt inspired by his time studying in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, he earned a three-year scholarship in the Rome atelier of the acclaimed Italian sculptor Emilio Greco in the late Sixties.