A FOOD TABLE WITH A SOUL – SILSAL PRESENTS PRACTICAL PRODUCTS WITH A ROYAL OUTLOOK
As the letters of the Arabic alphabet, Arabesque is so sweet and delicate; even those who’ve never seen it will feel a peculiar sense of familiarity with it. Its beauty gives spirit to anything and everything, including dinnerware, utensils and home accessories. From the first glance, it will captivate you with the subtle use of turquoise, coral red or the various shades of blue, while combining its aesthetic looks with practicality and artistic features inspired by the originality of the Islamic Art. You will find this and more at SILSAL Design House, a company specializing in tableware and accessories. Now, SILSAL is moving forward to establish itself as a leading trademark after becoming a household name in the Middle East for its unique porcelain tableware and utensils.
Looking at Silsal’s wide variety of products, you will not be able to decide what to choose; serving ware, dinnerware, soup bowls, tajin bowls, napkins, table cloths, dessert ware, serving bowls and dishes, all the way to saltshakers, scented candles, incense burners and flower vases.
Samar Habayeb, Co-founder, creative director and CEO of Silsal Design House, has succeeded in sending her designs to many houses around the globe and has developed, with her team, diverse and innovative ideas to turn simple drawings into products sold in major stores around the world.
In this interview with this Jordanian Entrepreneur, we will get a first-hand account about the efforts made to create items that fulfill all the needs for beauty and well-being.
TO START OFF, TO WHAT EXTENT DOES THE INTERNATIONAL AND ARABIC MARKET NEED A SERVICE SPECIALIZED IN DESIGNING TABLE AND HOME ACCESSORIES?
Silsal Design House was founded in 2013, after Silsal Ceramics had shut its doors. I was inspired by the need for beautifully designed homeware that was affordable and accessible. I was also dedicated to creating pieces that were specifically crafted for the Middle Eastern market.
At Silsal, we design everything from tableware to home accessories and candles to glassware. Overall, we design homeware.
We use different locations and factories to produce our products, which are scattered across various countries and cities. Each factory specializes in one craft, such as glass blowing or candle making.
WITH YOUR STUDIES IN CERAMICS DESIGN AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WALES AND THE EXPERIENCE YOU’VE ACQUIRED FROM YOUR MOTHER AND AUNT, HOW DID THAT FACTOR INTO YOUR RISE TO SUCCESS?
The Silsal story began in Jordan back in 1989, when my mother and aunt launched Silsal Ceramics as a way of reviving the country’s dying pottery tradition. After they moved on to a new chapter, Silsal Ceramics closed and a year or so later I picked up the torch, launching Silsal Design House, which was heavily inspired by Silsal Ceramics, but with a brand-new focus and ethos: affordability, quality and scalability. I had studied both ceramics and architecture, so my design sensibilities were already well formed. I’d learnt so much watching my mother and aunt build Silsal Ceramics, so that definitely prepared me in terms of understanding the dedication, effort and work that goes into building a business.
YOUR WORKS ARE MORE LIKE PIECES OF ART AND IT IS MORE SUITED TO PARTIES AND PUBLIC EVENTS IN HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS RATHER THAN HOUSES. IS THAT CORRECT?
Not particularly. While they would look amazing in a restaurant or a hotel, the majority of our customers buy our pieces for their homes, or as a gift. Event and wedding planners tend to utilize our Silsal Rentals service.
Of course, having beautiful tableware enhances any meal. Our products are not only aesthetically interesting, they’re often a talking point at dinner parties.
HOW FAR CAN THE UTENSILS AND VESSELS YOU MAKE YOUR PRODUCTS FROM WITHSTAND HIGH TEMPERATURE AND DAILY USE?
Our products are not designed to be left on a shelf, although they’d certainly look pretty there. They’re designed to be used and loved, whether that’s everyday, at the weekend, or on special occasions. We’re constantly working to make products that are stronger and more durable, as we hope they will be passed down from generation to generation.
HOW DO YOU ASSURE THE QUALITY OF YOUR PRODUCTS?
Quality control comes in many forms; from testing all of our products to ensure they are food safe and checking its cleanness and finishing, to confirming that the designs are perfect. In terms of design and aesthetic quality, we check all of our items and always put ourselves in the shoppers’ shoes. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, our after-sales service is excellent. If a customer is not 100% satisfied with a product, our team is on call 24/7 to assist them in returning, replacing or exchanging the item. Therefore, our quality control extends to our services. Luckily, we seldom receive any complaints, which is a testament to the rigorous process we have implemented.
DO HOUSEWIVES SPECIFICALLY HAVE A LARGER DEMAND ON TABLEWARE?
Honestly, I think our products have been successful across all strata of society, our clientele include CEOs, innovators, entrepreneurs, house-wives and house-husbands who all love our work.
THE ELEMENTS OF SUCCESS; IMAGINATION, PATIENCE AND DETAILS, ARE WELL INTEGRATED TOGETHER. YOU EVEN INCLUDED TABLE NAPKINS. CAN YOU ELABORATE MORE?
I am eternally grateful to my husband and family who have proved to be an endless source of support and inspiration, as well as the wonderful people who make up the Silsal team. In terms of my personal traits, I think my drive, dedication and work ethics have all contributed to my success. In addition, I’ve never been afraid of taking a calculated risk; starting the company in Dubai was a risk, but one that has paid dividends. Every business decision is a risk, but if you don’t try, you’ll never succeed. But more than that, we’re a company that truly offers products and services that no one else have, and I believe we do it well. Finally, I love what I do and give it 100%, so that’s half the battle.
ITS EVIDENT THAT YOUR WORKS ARE INSPIRED BY ISLAMIC ARABESQUE. WHAT DOES THIS ASPECT MEAN TO YOU, IN A TIME WHEN PEOPLE SEEM TO DRIFT AWAY FROM AUTHENTICITY?
We are dedicated to producing items that are inspired by the arts of Arab and Islamic worlds. That is, and always will be, our modus operandi. The Middle East is a land of contrasts, one where ancient heritage and modern culture sit side-by-side. With every collection, we aim to preserve time-honored traditions, breathing new life into them and reimagining them through the frame of modernity and in the process, creating something new and beautiful that we all can enjoy.
ARE YOUR PRODUCTS EXCLUSIVELY AFFORDABLE ONLY BY THE UPPER CLASS?
Our prices have, and always will be, as accessible and affordable as possible. Saying that, we have a really good price range; we have glassware and plates which start from 55 AED and decorative items that can cost over 1,000 AED. Our products are suitable for a wide spectrum of clients.
WHY DO YOU OFFER A RENTAL SERVICE FOR FRAGILE PRODUCTS LIKE THESE?
All of our rental stock are completely separate from the stock we sell. So, a customer would never get a product that’s been rented. As for how robust our products are, unless you’re using plastic, all plates, vases and glasses are fragile, which is a fact that we have accepted long ago, given the fact that our products are made of high-quality porcelain. However, we felt that there is a need for such a service and that what made us accept the risks.
DUBAI IS SEEING AN UNPRECEDENTED BOOM IN THE TOURISM BUSINESS, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS. HOW MUCH DID THAT BENEFIT THE BUSINESS?
The best thing about the UAE is that from the top down, the government actively works to make things as easy as possible for entrepreneurs. They view their commitment to improving the ecosystem for the private sector as a win-win, which is exactly what it should be; they do that really well. And, since we consider the GCC, as a whole, our home market – it’s a great place for us to be. It’s well connected, growing and creative.
WOULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR TEAM, THE ENGINEERS, CALLIGRAPHERS, PAINTERS AND GRAPHIC DESIGNERS?
We work with an amazing team of designers and calligraphers and we are lucky to have them. While the design team is mainly in-house, there are a number of freelance calligraphers, from all over the world, who we work with on a project basis. It’s always incredibly exciting to work with calligraphers that have such a deep and profound knowledge and understanding of their craft, and usually of a specific calligraphic script which they have spent their entire career honing.
WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE IN ORDER TO MAKE YOURSELF A NAME DESPITE THE INTERNATIONAL TRADEMARKS’ SUPREMACY OVER HANDCRAFTED PRODUCTS?
When Silsal was just an idea, finding a mentor who understands the dynamics of handmade products was quite challenging. However, in an abstract sense, one mentor was able to give me sufficient guidance to kick start my business. He also elaborated that in order to evolve my business, I need to step back a little and assess what have I built so far; perhaps even wait for my kids to grow up and give me an honest feedback at a later stage.
In general, the mentor whom I worked with taught me how to become inclusive and forward thinking and that is the reason why Silsal keeps growing.
ARABIC CALLIGRAPHY IS SO DIVERSE AND ALLURING. WHAT FONTS DO YOU USUALLY USE AND WHAT ARE THE FACTOR THAT DEFINE WHAT COLOR TO USE?
Designing a collection is a long and time-consuming process. In terms of fonts, we have used a variety of fonts from across the region for different collections, including Kufic, Diwani and Thuluth. For certain collections, we have even designed our own calligraphy. In terms of selecting colors, the process depends mainly on the mood of the collection. Fairuz, for example, is full of bright and bold hues like purple and turquoise, so it really makes a statement and it’s perfect for special occasions. On the other hand, our Ghida collection plays out in a classic combination of blue and white for those who prefer the looks of traditional china.
YOU HAVE WORKED WITH WELL KNOWN COMPANIES SUCH AS EMIRATES AIRLINES. DID YOU COLLABORATE WITH COMPANIES WITH THE SAME SIZE AND STATUS?
I’m not sure there are many companies that we’ve worked with that are bigger than Emirates, but collaboration as a concept is particularly important to me because I want to market Silsal in further countries and regions. We recently collaborated with Dubai-based fashion house, Zayan the Label, to produce a scented candle and that was a brilliant experience. In terms of aesthetics, they have a perspective different than ours, which means this project would inspire us both to move outside our comfort zones. We have a number of exciting collaborations coming soon too, so watch this space!
HOW DO YOU FIND THE EUROPEAN APPEAL TOWARDS YOUR PRODUCTS, EVEN THOUGH IT CARRIES A DIFFERENT CULTURE TO THEM?
In terms of Silsal Design House, we offer international delivery through our website and have a really strong customer base in Europe, the US, Australia and beyond. It’s incredible to see that our designs translate so well around the world.
WHAT ARE THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS CONTESTS YOU’VE JOINED?
Maison et Objet, a professional trade fair dedicated to lifestyle, decoration and design, which takes place in France twice a year.
WHAT ARE YOUR AREAS OF OPERATION?
In terms of physical stockists, Silsal can be found in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon and Côte d’Ivoire. However, via Silsal.com, we ship to over 100 countries and regions around the world, including Europe, the US, Australia, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
DO YOU MAKE CUSTOM-MADE PRODUCTS?
We do have a Silsal Bespoke service, which allows customers to approach us for completely customizable designs. It’s an incredible service and very popular with clients wanting gifts or giveaways that are truly personalized.
WHAT IS YOUR INSPIRATION BEHIND SUCH AMAZING DESIGNS THAT COMPLIES WITH ALL TASTES?
Everything from a person, to a building or a piece of art can spark inspiration. It can strike at anytime and anywhere. This is why I try to give myself time and space to reflect on everything I’ve seen and experienced.
WHAT WAS THE KINDEST COMMENT YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED FROM A CUSTOMER?
We recently had a walk-in customer say that Silsal beautifully represents her culture, her country and her history. It was absolutely humbling and touching.
IS THERE A SPECIFIC PRODUCT THAT YOU HOLD DEARLY TO YOUR HEART SO MUCH THAT YOU HAVE IT IN YOUR OWN HOME?
I have so many Silsal pieces and I use them interchangeably. We recently launched a lovely collection of candles, which I have placed in several rooms of my home. Honestly, I don’t think I could make a product or collection that I don’t love or would never use.
SO, DO I UNDERSTAND THAT CANDLES ARE YOUR MOST RECENT PRODUCTS?
Candles are a product we’ve never considered making before. However, we saw how popular they are, especially in terms of gifting. Then we decided to launch our own collection. While most candles come in plain or branded containers, Silsal’s are encased in beautifully designed porcelain vessels, which can easily be re-used as a trinket box or dish once the wax has run out.
IF SOMEONE PLANS TO LAUNCH A SIMILAR PROJECT SPECIALIZED IN HOSPITALITY AND ARABESQUE-INSPIRED DESIGNS, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE HIM/HER?
For a long time, you’re going to have to be your own cheerleader. So, believe in yourself and your products, everything takes time.
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT FAIRS YOU’VE PARTICIPATED IN?
That would be Maison et Objet, a professional trade fair dedicated to lifestyle, decoration and design, which takes place in France twice a year.
Thank you so much Samar.