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‘I Have A Talent, so Why Not Use It?’ - The Moka Store is Redefining Artistry in Baghdad
Malak Alsheikh is turning her hobby into a business, inspired by a growing community of creative entrepreneurs in Baghdad
Until recently, Malak Alsheikh saw art as a hobby - a passion to pursue in her spare time. It began when she was little. “I always loved making things. As a teenager, I was obsessed with accessories. When I couldn’t find what I wanted in the market, I made jewelry pieces to wear myself.”
She never dreamed it could be her career. Growing up in Baghdad, the idea of being an artist was out of the question. “We didn’t have a creative field or community. Young people were not supported to enter these fields,” she says. But in recent years the environment has evolved, with more opportunities for entrepreneurs and artists to carve out a future for themselves in the city.
“It’s changed in the last two or three years. There is a lot more support for youth who want to pursue creative projects,” says Alsheikh, who has a job but dreams of pursuing her art full-time. “I don’t want to keep working for other people. I have a talent, so why not use it.”
Alsheikh started attending events after high school, mingling with other creatives at cafes and co-working spaces that have become hotspots for the city’s aspiring entrepreneurs. The experience made her optimistic for the future and she decided to take the leap and turn her personal project, which she named Moka Store, into a proper business. “It’s easier now, there is a community for creatives, a market for our products and we have access to materials,” she says.
In previous years Alsheikh struggled to source the equipment needed to make her designs. Now, as more artists and makers base themselves in Baghdad, there is a growing market for creative materials, making it easier to develop her product lines and try new designs. “These days we can get what we need in the city, or order from Amazon,” she says, citing pliable wire for rings, the air-dried clay she uses for vases and macrame for coasters and wall decorations.
Financial barriers still present a challenge, but with an Innovation Hub grant from Ideas Beyond Borders, she is planning to purchase new equipment and create a marketing campaign to re-launch her brand and build the audience she has created over the years online. “This will allow me to take Moka Store from a project to a business,” she says.
In the past, this seemed impossible, but with the experience she has gained, and a growing community of like-minded entrepreneurs to support and inspire her, she is confident she can succeed. “It’s time for young people in Iraq to have the support to realize their ambitions. That is the aim of the Innovation Hub – empowering committed youth to pursue bold ideas and create a better environment for new generations,” says Faisal Al Mutar, President of Ideas Beyond Borders.
Alsheikh’s upcoming project will use recycled materials to create a line of interior accessories, tapping into the growing trend towards contemporary home décor among Baghdad’s middle classes. She enjoys the challenge of working with different materials and plans to incorporate ceramics, candles and glasswork into her lines. “I want my products to bring more than revenue and sales, I want to be known because my work is unique,” she says.
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This article was written by Olivia Cuthbert.