Fancy owning a katana? This Emirati duo can make your dream come true

Emirati duo Ahmed Tarek Ihlasi and Saeed Omar Al Janahi turned their interest in anime into a business venture selling fancy Japanese swords

By Karishma Nandkeolyar

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Published: Tue 9 Jan 2024, 6:19 PM

Last updated: Wed 10 Jan 2024, 9:48 AM

The entrepreneurial spirit is like that of a warrior’s – it calls for bravery against what sometimes can seem like insurmountable odds. That kernel of grit is strong in Ahmed Tarek Ihlasi and Saeed Omar Al Janahi, who slashed through their brick wall with Japanese swords when they were all of 20 and 19. The Emirati duo are the owners of Catakatana, a Dubai-based firm that specialises in Katanas, or Japanese swords. “We basically do everything, from designing to manufacturing them to getting them to the masses,” says Ihlasi in an interview with City Times.

The idea for this practice was born out of passion for anime. “Since I was young, I was so fascinated by anime and katanas especially. But then, two years ago, we found out that a lot of people actually like to get metal swords, but everything in the market was basically just wooden or plastic. We looked into the legalities of it and how we can get them. And apparently, there was one issue, which is that they can't be sharp. And that's how we worked around it and it has been fruitful ever since,” he adds.

The duo began their endeavour with an Instagram page and a physical location – their home – where customers could come and touch the wares and get a feel of what they’d like. They would scour anime such as Bleach and Naruto for ideas for swords, replicating the blades they saw in these titles.

The cosplay community in the UAE has embraced the addition; at the upcoming Middle East Film & Comic Con (MEFCC), Catakatana will not only be displaying their wares, but they are also sponsoring the Japanese village attraction. The community also gave the businessmen ideas on how to grow. “It all began from whichever series or shows we liked, so basically like One Piece, Bleach, Naruto. But then we started getting feedback from people through our Instagram page [and we got them to] vote on what we should get next. And that's how we kind of evolved from just taking our own perspective to taking the people's perspective as well on what we should make,” explains Al Janahi.

Today, these swords can also be found in malls across the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in Geekay, Comic Cave and Game Store.

Considering buying a sword? You can get it for anything from Dh600 to Dh3,000. But then these are the standard katanas. “Then you have the customised katana,” they say. The company is the first in the GCC, they claim, to tailor katanas. “You can customise your katana from start to finish. And these have a variety of prices. So it could go from Dh2,000 all the way up to if you want to go up to Dh500,000. We can gold plate it; we can go crazy with this. Usually, we've seen people spend between Dh2,000 to Dh6,000,” says Ihlasi.

The fanciest katana they’ve sold is an Arabian gold-plated handmade sword with Swarovski diamonds, made in Russia. It gave them the idea for their next exclusive make – daggers that are 24-karat gold-plated with Swarovski diamonds in the hilt. “They are Damascus steel - they're actually one of our imperial-grade daggers. We're kind of keeping it exclusive and special,” says Ihlasi.

The duo themselves have about 110 katanas on their office walls, they say laughing.

Although their business began as a burst of passion, there’s more to launching a successful firm, they admit. The important thing about business besides the desire to do it, says Ihlasi, is breaking that fear, that brick wall that all investors encounter. “People have a fear of investment because they have emotional connection with their money. Because they have earned this money, they have worked so hard for this money, they kind of they have this fear of [losing] it,” he explains, adding that it’s important to cross this wall and diversify.

“When you have your first business up and running, go on, move on to the second…multiply,” he says. He and Al Janahi have a number of ventures in the pipeline, including an app called Luber they are developing that will help people find part-time work in the UAE.

This is another thing, he points out, the importance of finding the right partner. “I was actually lucky to have a brother like Saeed with me because he actually kept me focused and he helped me manage. He kept me managing my time when I felt too slow …it goes both ways,” he explains.

He also calls for the constant development of skills, pointing out that things like negotiation, communication and sales are learned. “It's something you can either learn through books and YouTube videos, or just like me, through trial and error. People are scared to try. The first fear is that brick wall…things will get easier,” he says.

And they both embrace the hardships. “I still remember when we started, Saeed and I would go to Domino's and put a Google review so we can get a pizza for free,” he says recalling his lack of liquidity. “These experiences [of tough times] are actually most meaningful.”

Al Janahi adds: “The simplest advice we would give is just start one thing, as soon as you start that, everything is going to start falling into place. And if you keep on going hard, day after day, after day, after day, your path is going to be become set for you …you're going to find obstacles along the way, as soon as you get past one obstacle, you're going to learn new stuff, you're going to start thinking differently, you're going to face other obstacles, you're going to improve.”

It's this determination to succeed that got him his father’s support when he first explained the business idea of selling katana. “My father was a very supportive member of my family with regard to business. Because ever since I was young, I believe, he had this view of me… if I put my mind to something, even if it was something too out of the box, even if it was something that nobody has done, we're going to be able to do without any problems,” he explains.

It was this mindset that helped him professionally compete along with Ihlasi as a powerlifter; it helped him compete as a badminton player. It helped him score 99.06 percent in school. “I guess my father always knew that we'd be able to make it no matter what, so he has always been supportive of us,” he says.

It requires determination and grit to start a new venture; a steel backbone to go out and fight for your dreams. Ihlasi and Al Janahi have the mindset and the courage in spades. And if that’s not enough – they have a number of swords as well.

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