“Monthly Craftspiration” is a series that I run every month in which I feature one artist whose work I am deeply inspired with. I coined this term because Crafts + Inspiration = Craftspiration. Lol? You can check all the previous features here.
This month’s feature is Zairah Maher – the artist behind the beautiful home furnishing and linen company called Pomegranate Linen. I am sure many of you already know about Zairah’s business, for those who don’t, let me do the honours of a short intro.
Zairah manages Pomegranate Linen along with her husband Yousuf. Together they make products like bed linen (which includes bed sheets, duvet covers, pillow/cushion covers) and table linen (tea sets, napkins, table mats and runners!). She is the skilful artist behind each and every piece while her husband manages the production side of the venture.
The reason why Pomegranate Linen caught my eye was because, for the first time, there was a phooldaar brand of home linen that didn’t look TOO MUCH. We all know that the concept of plain white bed linen is foreign to us desis. We like our bohemian themed bed sets, we crave for colour, we adore florals! But sadly, over the years our access to elegant looking floral prints has been very limited. So when I saw Zairah’s work, I was literally swept off my feet. Frankly speaking, I have never seen such fresh prints ever in my life. So I naturally felt the urge to know more about her work, her design process and her inspirations! Even though I haven’t *yet* bought a single piece from her, I have solid plans of getting my hands on one of her designs as soon as I get to sort out my home!
So without further adieu, let’s dive into today’s interview! 🙂
Pomegranate Linen by Zairah Maher
Q. Hi, Zairah! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s your educational background? Where did you grow up?
Zairah: I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where my parents were working as doctors. We lived briefly in England before moving back to Pakistan. I did my O ‘level from St Josephs, and then went to England for my A’ levels and university. I completed my Fine Art BA Hons from The City & Guilds of London Art School, where I started out in traditional painting, but by the end of the four years was working across several disciplines and didn’t fit in either their Sculpture or Painting department!
Q. Wow! Did you always aspire to get into this creative field or did you initially have any other plans?
Zairah: By the end of the four years at university, my work had evolved into expansive installations and had become very conceptual. My work had grown to be about experiences and how the audience engages with it. Here in Pakistan, I didn’t quite know how to take it forward. This was over ten years ago. I had always imagined exhibiting and travelling but that didn’t quite pan out.
Q. I kind of get what you mean. You used to have another online venture named ‘Absolutely Caked’. Tell us a bit about that! Why did you discontinue it?
Zairah: Absolutely Caked was my creative outlet at a time when I was knee deep in starting my own family and nurturing it. It actually began because I wanted to improve my decorating skills for my sons’ birthday cakes. It was a certain Captain America cake that started all of this if I remember correctly. It all came full circle really. Cakes became the white canvas I had been looking for, the customer’s ideas for the event became the collaboration I enjoyed. It was exciting and a challenge to start something new here in Karachi, in the baking industry, and to push myself to keep raising the bar in terms of aesthetics and flavours. There came a point where I wanted to do more with my Fine Art training. I wanted to go beyond the cakes and work on products that lasted longer. Simultaneously my mother was also diagnosed with cancer, and my boys needed more of my time. I decided that Absolutely Caked had served its time with me and that I needed to move on and grow.
Q. That’s quite moving. So what’s the idea behind Pomegranate Linen? Like you mentioned, you are an artist first, so how did you end up making linen?
Zairah: Pomegranate Linen was an idea that had been brewing in my mind for years. Designs spilling out from the canvas and creeping and taking over spaces, like Matisse. My husband is a textile engineer, and has been in the industry for over 20 years. With his expertise and experience and my fine art background I knew we could work together. When to do that was the question. We were raising a young family and naturally he was intensely busy building his career and travelling. In hindsight Allah’s timing is absolutely perfect. After Absolutely Caked I knew I wanted to paint designs for homes, to take over spaces and create an ambience. My husband had reached a point where he wanted to apply his knowledge and experience for his own business. We just had to harness each other’s strengths to create our own dream – Pomegranate Linen.
Q. Well, your work is proof of the fact that you two make a great team! Tell us a bit more about your team at Pomegranate Linen?
Zairah: Our core team consists of three people-
I make the paintings and then work out the design in collaboration with my husband.
My husband, Yousuf, is actually the one who makes it all possible. Production is made from scratch entirely in Pakistan and he singlehandedly supervises all of it. He is the main driving force behind Pomegranate Linen and brings to it mad passion and an obsessive work ethic. He tends to see the bigger picture, and I tend to zoom into and hover around details.
The third person who helps gel it all together is my sister Sanam. She is a writer by profession and somehow got sucked into helping us. She manages our social media, bringing together and enhancing our strengths with her writing. She gives valuable feedback and steers Pomegranate Linen forward with Yousuf.
Q. So what is the design process at Pomegranate Linen like?
Zairah: The main idea behind Pomegranate Linen was to focus on motifs/forms that represents abundance and prosperity, to find beauty in the ordinary. It all starts with paintings and sketches. I make several as I go about my regular day, focusing on forms in my own environment. Flowers, fruits, vegetables, all are researched and played around with. Once I have a painting I like, or a composition, I then work it into a design. Yousuf pitches in with feedback on the technical elements and layering that need to be considered for the design. Once we are both happy with the design, it goes in for production.
Q. What has been your most favorite work so far? Something that you hold very dear and why?
Zairah: Since I have made all the designs, and I’m the kind who will swiftly ditch any idea that I’m not happy with, I love each piece we have created. Certain stories connected with some of the designs are particular favorites. The Kadu design evolved after weeks of watching my neighbor’s kadu plant grow and creep across into our home, defiant of the concrete walls built marking boundaries. Similarly the Green Champa design is a favourite as it reminds me of the tree growing in my mother’s courtyard, intense green leaves unfolding rhythmically across the width of her small courtyard, punctuated by the fragrant white flowers. What brings me greater joy though is seeing how customers respond to our collections. Many have said that it simply makes them happy to see the colours and designs. The functionality and low maintenance of the linens makes them even more user friendly. That’s what I love about my work – it cheers one up to look at it and is easy to use, bringing beauty to your home!
Tasmiyah: The way you have explained it, I think it truly shows the soul you put into your work!
Q. What has been your least favorite work?
Zairah: Alhumdulillah so far we haven’t had any such incident.
Q. So it’s my understanding that when you’re running an actual live business, there are numerous times when things go wrong. Has this ever happened with you? And how did you manage the situation?
Zairah: The potential for things to go wrong is tremendous. Alhumdulillah we have a very good team handling the production and so far there have been no major blips. We were outsourcing our stitching of bed linen at first. Quality control there was problematic and we had one unsatisfied customer with a duvet cover that was incomplete. Just one. But the slip in quality control did not make me happy. We replaced her duvet set immediately. Thereafter we took steps to bring the entire stitching of all linens under our supervision to maintain rigorous quality control. Yousuf and I are so particular about quality and finishing, and I’m a perfectionist when it comes to details. We are making beautiful, purely Pakistani home linens that rival International brands. A slip is not acceptable.
Tasmiyah: I totally agree with you on this! Many times brands focus on quantity vs quality and in my opinion that totally takes the integrity out of the work!
Q. What are some of the things or people you couldn’t imagine doing your work without?
Zairah: My paintbrushes. They are over ten years old but I cannot paint without them. And Yousuf. I make a design. He executes it into the forms we want.
Q. In your opinion, what are some of the things that go into running a successful business?
Zairah: Hard work. Consistent obsessive hard work. Honesty. Do not ever sell something you will not stand behind wholeheartedly. Knowing the strengths of your team members and harnessing that.
Tasmiyah: Golden words. Period.
Q. How do you measure your wins and losses? What is it that makes you feel like “Yes, I did it!”?
Zairah: Our first exhibition was my yard stick. My husband had left a stable job to start this business with me. We were testing the waters with linens, the kind which weren’t being produced in Pakistan for Pakistan at all. We also had a lot of naysayers as every start up does. To our overwhelming surprise, the two day exhibition received so much attention with lines of women waiting to pay extending all the way out the door. Alhumdulillah the response was amazing, and my husband and I barely managed to keep up. Its been onwards and upwards since then with no looking back at all. We have satisfied customers repeatedly coming back to purchase more for their homes or as gifts to take abroad for family or colleagues. We are meeting more and more new customers nationwide who love our products for their homes and families. Alhumdulillah no losses so far.
Q. I’m absolutely loving your Eid collection! What’s in store for Pomegranate Linen next?
Zairah: With the Eid collection we tested the waters with the launch of our furniture line. We got an amazing response from Karachi, and from places as far away as Toronto and London, Kuwait and Hong Kong! People loved the uniqueness and it gave us the green light to diversify and introduce some very unique designs to our upcoming home collections and product ranges. Expect bigger and more fabulous products from Pomegranate Linen!
Q. Woohhoo! InshAllah! Would you like to give any advice to people who are good at something but are too scared to start their business? How can they take their first step?
Zairah: Know your strengths. Team up with someone who complements your strengths. Just start and work hard. Most importantly, believe in your dream, no matter what. The one who has fire in his belly will succeed.
Tasmiyah: Thank you SO SO much, Zairah, for taking the time out for this interview! I wish you and your team all the very best for your upcoming projects. I can’t wait to see what you guys cook up next! I’ll forever be cheering for you! ❤
I hope you guys enjoyed reading this interview as much as I did. I personally feel inspired to the next level after getting to know Zairah. The hard work and integrity that she puts into her work is mindblowing. I think her work speaks for itself.
Do check out Zairah’s social pages linked down below and keep a close eye on what they’re upto – who knows when they might pop up with an exhibition in your town! To place an order with Pomegranate Linen, please message them on Facebook or Instagram.
If you’re a budding crafter and you want to be featured in my monthly craftspiration posts, then get in touch with me through email. I would love to do a story on you too!
P.S. All photos in this post belong to Pomegranate Linen and have been used solely for the purpose of this interview with permission. Any unsolicited use of these photos is highly unethical and discouraged.