It’s a wrap with Fatma and Noory for MASKA!

 

It’s a wrap with Fatma and Noory for MASKA!

Cousins Fatma and Noory run MASKA, that customises gift wrapping solutions in Dubai

By Mary Paulose (marypaulose@khaleejtimes.com)

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Published: Fri 20 Dec 2013, 3:22 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 9:58 AM

Few small enterprises are likely to get a big boost within a few months of their start-up. But the fledgling — and completely home-grown Emirati — boutique gift-wrapping concept MASKA has already broken ground by being awarded a special mentorship prize at the recent Dubai for Acumen business plan awards 2013, held to encourage new entrepreneurs and initiatives.

Acumen itself is a not-for-profit organisation working to change the way the world tackles poverty and other local issues, by investing in companies, leaders and ideas. Outwardly, MASKA may look like a simple enough concept: contemporary gift wrapping solutions, simple enough to be a home business, popular enough find a fan 
following. But behind the simple fold and wrap — and its young owners Fatma and Noora Khoory — lie plenty of finer nuances, and some solid business acumen.

It all started as a family tradition. “Emiratis are big on gift-giving, with all our festive occasions and social gatherings, and the art of gift-wrapping is popular among us. It’s always something we’ve done in our family, and when we came across the technique of gift-wrapping with fabric, we really 
took to it. It’s an offshoot of the culture we come from, and we like it that it’s really an art form, and the quality that goes into it — it’s a gift on its own,” says Noora Khoory, at their MASKA outlet 
in Town Centre Jumeirah, a popular local haunt.

The cousins then decided to make it a business, and thought about how they could add their own twist to the age-old art of gift-wrapping, seemingly something all of us can do at home.

“What we do is cater to local people’s tastes, but also customise it and add extras, like fancy wrapping techniques, trinkets, accessories and boxes,” says Noora. The girls were inspired by Furo-shiki, the Japanese art of traditional, artistic cloth wrapping — think origami, but with fabric. Their little store offers a conveyor-style, hands-on look through before you decide how you want your goodies wrapped.

“It’s simple: you have a gift that you want wrapped up, so you bring it to us, and start at one side of the outlet, where you can choose the paper or fabric — from raw silk to jacquard to crepe — then we help you out with choosing the colour or fabric patterns, and then you can pick out the trinkets, ribbons and other accessories that can go into it, and finally, a card to go with it,” says Fatma.

While “maska” in Arabic means to hold something, or the part of an object that you hold or grasp, the Khoorys also decided — very tongue-in-cheek — to make it appealing to the large expat Indian community here. For, “maska” in Hindi means flattery or buttering up! “We loved that idea as well! It makes the name special to us. We want to target all segments of the local residents here. Well, the very idea of buying a gift is to flatter someone or make them happy, isn’t it?” smiles Fatma.

“You may think people will gift wrap at home, but in Dubai now, a lot of people go for personal, craft-style gift-wrapping,” the duo say, which means their staff have wrapped everything from Indian wedding favours to christening gifts to dog food! And 
on one occasion, 70 gift pieces for a single client.

Finding Acumen

A year and a half ago, the girls came up with the idea, and finally put down their deposit on their Town Centre outlet this year, but it didn’t come without a fair bit of indecision, they say.

While Fatma is a business admin marketing graduate with seven years of work experience in the government sector, and also in a role that involved helping starting up ventures, Noora has project management experience as an architect. But that didn’t mean they immediately went about starting the business when they fancied it.

“As with everyone else, we too had our moments of self doubt, but there comes a time when you have to take the risk,” explains Fatma. “But we had the confidence that we could do it: there’s a market for these things even if you don’t know it, and we can create that for you. It’s been a steep learning curve, for sure, but we’ve generally had very positive feedback from customers and others,” says Noora.

“An entrepreneur’s most important trait, we’ve learnt, is the ability to adapt, shift and change with expectations and demand. Actually bringing our idea to the ground and interacting with people changed our ideas and opinions so much. Things we thought would work initially — how drastically we had to change our minds on those!” Fatma reveals. “If something doesn’t work, change your approach — nothing else works.”

“We’re not a traditional business model, but one that’s taken from an old concept and worked around to make it new. We’re always thinking of new ways to do things and present them to the customer,” says Noora.

So what does the valuable mentorship from Dubai for Acumen mean for them, and from none other than Badr Jafar, a leading Emirati businessman, social entrepreneur and start-up expert? “We went into the Acumen competition wanting to learn more and also thinking the process would restructure our thinking on MASKA,” says Noora.

Tough competition meant they didn’t win the top prizes, but ended up getting insights from the judges on what actually works on the field. “We thought the Acumen journey would action our plan, get it up and going, with inputs from people who know more about starting up and running a business,” says Noora.

So today, they see themselves being established, having multiple outlets around the UAE, and possibly elsewhere in the Middle East, besides taking the business online.

Social Media Success

It’s also widely known that Emiratis are big on the social media service Instagram. While the women behind MASKA have ensure they have a presence 
everywhere — a dedicated website, Facebook page, Twitter feed — Instagram is their big draw. With over 1,000 followers and counting, the feed is also their biggest source of growth.

“I can give you an example: around Eid, we had these special cartoonish characters made and printed on cards, and spun a storyline around them — Moza and Khaloof, and people would see them and drive all the way to ask for prints or cards featuring them. We found it really cool, and that’s the 
power of social media for us,” say Fatma and Noora.

Finally, their arty business is not without a good cause. The Khoorys are working towards helping the less privileged, by empowering women in poorer communities in the UAE.

A fund created from their sales will be used to buy sewing machines and a contract with MASKA to produce the wraps for them. “There are plenty of women who are sitting at home without an income, and constrained by social mores to be able to go work 
outside. So we’re going to give them a means to get an additional source of income, which can go towards their children’s education.

It’s also about making them responsible and empowering them at the same time, and help get them to a point where, maybe, they won’t need us anymore,” say the enterprising cousins.


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