Coffee with Y meets a local entrepreneur who’s breaking stereotypes and empowering Omani women through the historic art of traditional handicrafts.
Success finds those who knock on the right doors.
Those who have found it will tell you that it’s the hard work, perseverance, sacrifice, and love for what you’re doing that ultimately ensures the key to success.
For one Omani woman, finding success meant taking off on foot with her ideas of fashion design and fine-tuning them until she found herself in a completely different field altogether, ultimately offering jobs to women who are striving to let their voice be heard.
Today, Arwa Moosa al Musafir and a group of five Omani ladies find themselves the sole suppliers of Omani handicrafts to a bevy of the Sultanate’s top five-star hotels.
Arwa’s inspiring story begins in 2014, when she’d just opened her line of clothing with an aim of modernising Omani attire – a business she still runs with fair success.
Armed with a degree in business from the Modern College of Business and Science from Baushar, the Muscat-born Omani realised that offering business-to-business (B2B) services would be the only way forward for her trade to take off.
In an interview with Y, she tells us: “I began using all my experience in B2B services and approached hotels with my ideas in fashion and design. My idea came as a means to generate money without relying completely on fashion sometime [back] in February this year.
“They (the hotels) had very positive things to say, but their requirements were a bit different: they wanted Omani handicrafts and other gifts for clients, guests, and staff.
While Arwa’s profession is as hands-on as anyone can be with textiles and other materials, her experience in handicraft-making was only slowly taking shape. Yet, she nodded yes to the requests of her first client – the Crowne Plaza Muscat OCEC – who wanted Omani handicrafts to gift their visiting staff from the brand’s Middle East hotels.
“The request that came to me was quite simple. The chef, Tony, had told me that he wanted to gift the officials who were coming a nice souvenir from Oman. Their only requirement: all our products would have to be plastic-free and eco-friendly.
“I saw that as a challenge as I had virtually no experience in that department. So, I approached my colleague (name withheld as per request), who said that we could work together on prototypes.”
In just a few weeks’ time, the two had drafted the initial layouts and created their first handicrafts: various articles that were crafted with coffee, dates, luban (frankincense), and silver.
Their articles also include candles, fragrances, gift bags, and other little crafts that adopt Omani designs and traditional crafting methods.
“The hotel loved our ideas and we’ve since agreed to work together – but my partner and I soon decided that we could offer this opportunity to several women in Seeb and Al Khoud who have no means to work and show their skills.
“We keep seeing so many women in Oman who have the talent to work and make money but no platform to do so. That, coupled with the competition from expats – some of whom are more educated – means these women remain homemakers for the rest of their lives.
“That’s not something we believe in,” Arwa says.
The two businesswomen then drew up a plan: increase output of these little handicrafts and bring on women who had a passion for traditional local arts.
Having found four other women from villages in Seeb and Al Khoud – all between the ages of 18 and 60 – Arwa then decided to travel by herself and approach the top hotels in the country with her plan to market Oman with handicrafts.
“There’s no better way to market our country than with traditional articles that are made by us Omanis. It’s what we do best, and by supporting us, these hotels are not only getting the best from what our team can do, they’re helping families financially.
Needless to say, hoteliers in Oman loved her idea and her team of Omani ladies now have a stable income.
Today, some of her clients include Alila Jabal Akhdar, the InterContinental Muscat, Six Senses Zighy Bay, and the like – all asking for her Omani handicrafts to be crafted in special ways to complement the hotel’s appeal.
“Alila Jabal Akhdar, for instance, is famed for its rosewater and honey products. So, these are products that are grown in the vicinity and need more recognition.
“What we did there was we made candles out of rosewater and fragrances with luban, honey, and rosewater. This is how we tailor our services for the clients,” she adds.
Arwa’s products can cost anywhere between RO1 and RO25 depending on the complexity of the product. Smaller articles such as beaded bracelets and dolls can cost less, while those products made out of pure silver – such as coffee cups or dallah (coffee pots) and other silverware – can cost more.
Speaking about the impact she’s created for her team of craftswomen and their families, Arwa tells us: “I’m very happy to see the positive impact on these women. Some of them had given up on their dreams after they settled down.
“But, with our new project, they’ve rediscovered their love for work. There used to be this stigma in some families; that women need to be well-educated and only earn money by working in offices.
“We’re proving that it’s no longer the case. These women can now make money from the comfort of their homes. And, in many ways, we’re giving them the chance to shine through their work.
“Our targets are increasing by the day. And who knows? Maybe, in the coming months we’ll have more women working for us. Slowly and one-by-one, we intend to change the living conditions of some of these women.
“Brighter days lay ahead of us.”