“Making concretes was our little investment. We worked hard on them and were very pleased by the outcome. Our first collection was given away as caudex to our friends, who called on the second day to inform us that the collection – in its entirety – has just collapsed!”
This is not how the story ends though. Amani and Maryam’s failure was the force that pushed them forward and made Gray Designs one of the most successful projects established during wartime. True, their first failure came as a blow, but they chose not to stop there and tried again, again, and again. Their second attempt, however, was more significantly more successful. They sold everything in a week! Needless to say, there were no collapses this time and the pieces still exist, determined to stand all tests of time.
Amani AlSahli and Maryam Hassan met in nursery. They had no idea that matching Lego colors and making small houses would one day turn into something grand. Their friendship grew throughout school, and once they graduated it was to no surprise that both their souls fluttered towards interior design. After all, they had the passion, taste, and will to truly bring interiors to life.
It was during their second year of college when they were first invited to design a dental clinic. The two were not too sure of what they were supposed to do, as they still have not taken all their courses and were in no way familiar with all of design’s ‘tricks’. Nevertheless, they embraced the challenge, and after a lot of inquiry and hard work the masterpiece of Level 2 students was ready to be implemented.
Maintaining such a pace, Amani and Maryam graduated college only to be faced with an unexpected war two weeks later. Like all Yemenis, they were not spared any ensuing devastation as they watched the burial of their dreams. They started “hunting jobs” but were rejected once and again as companies – due to war – were not hiring but, rather, laying off their employees. Then, they thought of promoting their work on social media by posting their senior projects, waiting for a response. That, too, did not come. “Unfortunately, designers rarely get called in a city where people are thinking less about decorating their homes and more of surviving an airstrike.”
But it was not the time to give up yet! It was then that their concrete pieces “saw the light”. The two girls and a friend – Nada AlMedhwahi – started off with YER 60,000 (around $280 at that time) in capital. It was not much, of course, but it was enough to buy them the materials they needed. They would mix the ingredients with their own hands, not minding how much it affected their skin or nails (many of which fell victim to the process). “Our aim was to utilize an ordinary raw material and make it into something unique and beautiful.” They created vases, trays, planters, coasters, and candleholders: all were grey in color—the inspiration behind the name of their brand. Being gifted with a sensitive eye to all forms of art, they added calligraphic inscriptions to the pieces, making them all the more beautiful. After a few attempts (and a number of failures), the project became an overwhelming success.
Knowing that they had made it into the market, they decided it was time to take an even larger step. Along with their concretes, they started focusing on furniture and décor. From design, to picking fabrics, and matching colors to delivering it to clients’ living rooms, the girls did it all.
“Our logic is simple: Why would people import furniture from abroad if we could make it for them here in Yemen with almost the same quality and at lower prices, while at the same time employing youth and helping our local economy?”
On August 25th, 2019, Amani & Maryam watched their dream materialize as they opened the doors of their store Gray Designs for the first time. Walking into Grey Designs was akin to walking into an IKEA or some other international brand that has been in the business for years. It was hard to focus on one thing, starting from the store sign, the cravings and pieces on the walls, the sofa sets with their elegant cushions, the tables, and most importantly the concrete pieces that represented the very essence of Gray Designs.
“When I walked into the store, I was thrilled by the idea of while men were too busy fighting and tearing down the country, women’s hands were creating and repairing not only the country but also the hope that we almost lost in the echo of this war.Hajer AlNahari
Feature photo by Youmna Ghamdhan.