Today we are joined by Kawa H. Pour, founder and creative director of Art Factory Studio. With more than eighteen years of experience in art and fashion, Kawa H. Pour now works to push the boundaries to tastefully break the stale atmosphere around fashion and photography. Tune in as we discuss the negative impacts of fast fashion on the art world as well as how it contributes to peoples’ misunderstanding of fashion as an art form, and listen for Kawa’s advice on how to grow a business.
Kawa H. Pour [00:00:01] I think fast fashion, it’s not meant to be here in the fashion industry because it’s creating a lot of damage.
Sam Jayanti [00:00:12] Welcome to Ideamix radio. I’m Sam Jayanti, and every week I chat with entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, career changers, experts and enthusiasts for insider tips that you can apply to turn your idea into a business. So sit back and enjoy today’s show.
Sam Jayanti [00:00:34] How do you build a career as a stylist in fashion and media and what does it entail? Kawa H. Pour is a highly acknowledged international fashion stylist and the founder of Art Factory Studio. He pushes the boundaries tastefully to break the stale atmosphere around fashion and photography throughout his professional career, Kawa H. Pour Has worked with too many leading global brands and magazines to mention. Ka It’s a pleasure to have you on Ideamix radio today.
Kawa H. Pour [00:01:04] Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
Sam Jayanti [00:01:07] So tell us what is Art Factory Studio?
Kawa H. Pour [00:01:12] Art Factory Studio is a result of my 20 years of the experience in fashion and art industry. So working in fashion industry and constantly facing obstacles to be solved very quickly and sort of have a comprehensive solution for everything. I come with the idea of creating an agency that looking after our clients needs with a full solutions to our factories, a creative studio providing our client with an A2Z solution with a one point communication. That’s what Art Factory is.
Sam Jayanti [00:01:53] and the types of things that you’re producing for clients range from photography to even short films, things of that kind?
Kawa H. Pour [00:02:04] True, that’s the difference between Art Factory and, let’s say, majority of the existing agencies and companies is that we do not look into just produce content or rent out manpower. We are trying to research about who our clients are, and what do they need? Do they really need what we give them and what? What do we do to help their business to grow? That’s at the core of Art Factory because we also believe that providing wrong services to clients that they don’t need that might affect the brands and the clients massively financially and also put them on the wrong direction in terms of branding and positioning. So for that reason, we do a lot of this kind of research before we are providing our clients with any type of strategy for solution and such.
Sam Jayanti [00:03:07] I love that. You’re thinking a step ahead of your clients.
Kawa H. Pour [00:03:10] I think this is really important because clients are only as good as we can showcase them. So that’s why it’s also extremely important for us to showcase the clients as they are and as they deserve to be showcased and highlighted.
Sam Jayanti [00:03:29] Yeah, such a good point. The rise in fast fashion in the industry has meant, Kawa, clothes are marketed as temporary and replaceable. And the annual value of clothes discarded prematurely is now more than four hundred billion dollars. In an interview with Fashionela 2016, you said that “fast fashion is as dangerous as fast food for the industry because it damages the art and integrity that lies behind fashion.” Tell us a little bit more about that.
Kawa H. Pour [00:04:03] Thank you so much for bringing this up. I really believe so, and I really stand for what I said earlier. I think fast fashion, it’s not meant to be here in the fashion industry because it’s creating a lot of damage. And the damage is not only for the brands and letting them settle for a good quantity and not quality, but also it’s damaging the creative community. In what sense? I mean, that fast fashion means clearly, quantity before quality, and that means also if you would need a high quantity of and high volume of content creation, then you need a lot of people to produce that for you. So meaning quality automatically becomes secondary. And that does not give enough time for the next generation to be developed, meaning that they are jumping into projects, jobs, and positions that they cannot handle, which damaged, in what sense, establishing them. I mean, not only financially and artistically, but also psychologically. It will damage them because they will get the wrong perspective of what passion and art and culture industry is about. And this is extremely harmful to our industry. And also, I think this is absolutely going against those ideas that we have about sustainability, healthy growth, and all of that. So in the market that we are operating within in the Middle East, a majority of clients are actually working with a supply of fast fashion rather than sustainable long-term thinking about fashion and culture production in general. And this is creating a situation where you constantly rely on importing services, not incubating or developing the young generation, the youth, and the talents that are locally placed in the Middle East, in my case then. And this automatically creates some sort of a situation where the market goes more and more towards a, as I call it, a Wild West, meaning anyone who comes in for a short period of time grabs some projects and there is no thought of sustainability, no thoughts of a long term relationship because people who run in and do projects and just leave and they don’t care so much about the industries, and this is one of the side effects of fast fashion.
Sam Jayanti [00:07:13] Yeah, I absolutely agree with you. You know, another podcast guest that we’ve had in the past was working in Saudi to really create a domestic industry around all of the creative businesses in art and fashion and design was very concerned about this, and I think it’s turning more and more into a concern globally. And yet the consumer seems to continue to buy from these fast fashion companies. Do you think that that awareness of the unsustainable practices that are inherent in fast fashion, do you think consumers are beginning to develop an awareness of that and are going to more and more start to vote with their feet in the sense of not buying as many of these disposable products?
Kawa H. Pour [00:08:09] I think this is another very, very good question, Sam. I think what I talked about, mostly was about the production of visuals. However, when we’re getting into discussing the consumption of the actual wearable fashion, we are facing a lot of other difficulties because this fast fashion industry is literally killing us by shaping our mindset, shaping our behaviors, and our way of spending our money. Meaning literally, people are buying clothes for vacations, for parties and then they throw them away, which is not at all sustainable. So to answer your question, I think yes, people are aware. However, I think one part of it is because it’s a trend. It’s a trend to talk about sustainability. It’s a trend to talk about organic growth and such things. But I think that we in the industry, we haven’t really done our homework and we do not take this responsibility fully seriously because I think we should educate the society because we are the elite of this industry. If we do not educate society, then society will not know. So that’s means also that majority of our friends and partners in the fashion industry, just let go and accept whatever it is, and then they called this adapting to the circumstances, which means that’s going against everything that fashion and art have because art and fashion are in the root of it, it’s rebellious, meaning you have to go against anything that you don’t feel it’s right rather than adapt to it. So totally agree with you. I think we have to take this responsibility to educate people that how to be and step by step. The big companies will follow that direction. I guarantee you this is how we have seen different industries have been operating.
Sam Jayanti [00:10:30] Yeah, I totally agree with you. And it’s so interesting that you mentioned art and fashion. You know, you’ve said in the past, and I happen to agree that fashion is one of the most poorly understood art forms. Can you explain that for our listeners?
Kawa H. Pour [00:10:49] Yeah, absolutely. I think this is another thing that also I stand for because I think that fashion, is such a misunderstood art shape and art form because. What people will think fashion is about, it’s liking clothes, which is far away from what fashion is actually. Fashion is an art form. It’s art shape, it’s communication. So it’s a lot of different segments falling into what fashion is about. And I think the reason of this misunderstanding has been supported by different industries is because it’s somehow benefiting the system, as well as benefiting a system where it becomes much easier to manipulate people by having controlled consumption behaviors. And also at the same time, it’s much, much easier to promote fashion as a must-have or a visual thing only, not the real meaning of what fashion is about and how it’s going to how is translated, what we are trying to say with fashion, the way we are dressing the way we are creating the way we are gathering and socializing around the same group of people because we are like-minded people. And this is something that again, I think in my opinion, it comes back to not taking this massive responsibility of communicating the right messages with tools such as fashion, trend art, whatever it is we are talking about. And then this misunderstanding is a fact.
Sam Jayanti [00:12:50] Yes, I absolutely agree, I think fashion is, in the end, a vehicle for intellectual and artistic engagement and that that often gets lost in the sort of profit objectives of the industry. Let’s take a quick break. Kawa, you have a super varied and multicultural background in which you emigrated from Iran to Iraq eventually to Sweden, where you spent many of your very formative years. You worked in construction while pursuing an art degree and eventually a fashion degree. Tell us about how that experience has been such a critical component of who you are and the work that you do.
Kawa H. Pour [00:13:36] I think as any refugee leaving their home country, you feel very strong. If your mind is connected, then it will make you very strong because the ruthlessness makes you feel at home regardless of where you are and where you go. Everywhere is your home and this is exactly how I feel. So when I immigrated from Iran at the age of 10 to Iraq, Right before the revolution in Iraq, if we call it a revolution, but in the Kurdish department, because I’m Kurdish from Iran, immigrated from the Kurdish Kurdistani Iran to Iraq because of some political issues and once we arrived in Iraq and settled in Iraq, then a revolution happened over there as well. So we had to sort of leave the country. So with the help of the United Nations, we managed to move to Sweden. And ever since, I have been constantly working on trying to identify who I am and how I can help people in the same position to not feel that they are left behind, Because this is also there is beauty in being a refugee, as I mentioned, especially for us minority people such as Kurdish or Palestinian or people who do not have a country, you can at the same time feel blessed and feel like everywhere is your home country. So this has, of course, affected a lot of people negatively around me, so I wanted to really turn this to something positive. And lately, with the help of meditation and yoga and understanding who I am and where I stand, and what I want has made me very strong and I feel very confident in reaching out to people who need help in this position and helping them with that as well.
Sam Jayanti [00:16:06] If it doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I love that you’ve taken a very positive view of all the places that you’re from and all the experiences that you’ve gone through, which were tough at moments, I imagine. But the fact that you’re also giving back to help others who are going through this situation and there are many, as you said, while also developing and understanding through yoga and meditation and other means in terms of who you are and how you feel about your identity, that’s super important for everyone, I think, as individuals. Kawa, initially, your business was really you, and at some point, you realized you couldn’t do everything yourself. You hired a few assistants and eventually, you transitioned to building out a team to become a full-service creative agency. Tell us about that transition. It’s something I think a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with, sort of what is the point at which you make your first few hires so that you’re not running around trying to do everything yourself? And then also, when do you sort of taking the next step of expansion to really develop into a more full-service business?
Kawa H. Pour [00:17:27] I think it’s very important to understand that there are two ways of growing a business. Growing a business for financial purposes is called investment. This is a financial investment you do, and the more money you put in, the more money you get. This is the best of the world. You can also lose it, of course, but regardless. And there is another way which is my case, and I never got into this industry for money. However, of course, making money gives you the opportunity and make your businesses grow stronger. So when I started, to even start a company, I reflected over my life and my career, of course, we’re sort of connecting the dots. So what I did, it’s like looking back to my first years in Sweden when I arrived and I couldn’t even finish school because I had to. Before applying to college, because I had to learn the language and stuff like that. So I had really two choices, one was to stay another year and wait and see if I can apply again for programs that I wanted or study construction. So I didn’t want to lose the time and I jump on and study construction. When I came back home and my parents asked me “so what happened? What did you choose?” I said I chose architecture because I thought that this will convince them that I made a good choice. To make a long story short, after a few years, actually, after a few weeks, I knew that it was not for me. So I started looking around how can I convince myself, convince my parents that I am not wasting my time? So that’s how I found out a few courses in drawing, painting and tailoring, and stuff like that. And every evening I would go for those courses and learn a lot about such things until I applied for the design, school and fashion school and so on, and build myself an educational platform to stand on. And from there, I started to start a company in Sweden, and everybody who are familiar with Sweden knows Sweden. Starting a company in Sweden is very complicated in terms of its very structured. You need to have full control over all incomes and expenses and taxes and so on. So, me working alone and working in construction at days and work and running a fashion industry company and at nights and weekends, it was really difficult for me to struggle. So what I did, I reach out to students that were in my position where I was a student, and I knew that they will not get any chances because of many reasons, and I hired them. I hired four of them to assist me and manage things for me while I was working in construction to bring money because the first year of the fashion industry sadly doesn’t provide you any money.
Sam Jayanti [00:21:02] Absolutely.
Kawa H. Pour [00:21:03] So juggling between the two different jobs I managed to step by step, resign from my construction employment and start my own construction company where I hired my two brothers and a few friends from the company. And we work on that until I decided to leave everything to my brothers. Just sign that to them and leave that and focus 100 percent on the fashion industry. And this is where I discovered that I need support, and I have always been sort of support…
Sam Jayanti [00:21:49] Supporting others and you actually needed support for you.
Kawa H. Pour [00:21:51] Exactly. And what I did. So I worked closely with my team and actually what I did with the minute I signed a construction company for my brothers, I bought a car, but my photographer and my assistant and drove all the way from Stockholm to Paris because that’s where I wanted to start my career and build up my name, my portfolio. Because in Sweden, all doors were closed, knocking doors, even offering to work for free. No one accepted that for whatever reason, we’re not going to get into that. So when I went to Paris with my team, a lot more doors were open, so I started from there and then moved to London and New York and so on. And that’s how I step by step built this up. So in terms of the entrepreneurship in that movement was that. I wanted to create a balance between my artistic work and my commercial work because artistic work will definitely feed me. It was fine for me, but also I had four people to feed. So I had to find a balance between that. And in 2015, I decided to move my business down to Dubai. And here I started the company and step by step gathering all the elements that I have been experienced during those years and managed to create this. What today is Art Factory from the beginning was only a service to provide me with my projects.
Sam Jayanti [00:23:27] So many bumps along the road, but at each point you overcame them. I love that. Let’s take a quick break. Kawa, I want to come back to the way that you grew and scaled your business, what do you feel has been the most effective method of growing the business?
Kawa H. Pour [00:23:52] I don’t want to be cliche, but you have to believe in yourself and believe in what you do. That’s crucial. And most importantly, you need to love what you do. Like me, I still after 20 years, trust me, I work sometimes 20 hours without feeling bored, and I wish that days were longer and nights were longer so I could work more. Because I love what I’m doing, and I see that also my hard work is creating opportunities for other people around me. So if you don’t love what you do and you don’t believe in what you do, it’s it will be definitely very, very difficult to survive in such hard climates as the fashion industry in general.
Sam Jayanti [00:24:46] Yeah. And how have clients found you? How have you found more clients? How has that happened?
Kawa H. Pour [00:24:54] So I think that I always say that I’m from the Facebook generation, meaning when I left Sweden for Paris, I didn’t just jump in my car and drive for 24 hours and drive to Paris. So what I did is like, I create a lot of great networks through Facebook. This is way before Instagram and such. And when I arrived in Paris, I already knew a lot of people. A lot of people knew me, and we network people from all over the world came to Paris and we worked that way. So meaning the good reputation that I managed to build in a very early stage in combination with, of course, the quality that I delivered in my work. It made a name. And of course, still, if you ask around what people think about me as a person, not as Art Factory, kindness, I’m very kind, very generous with everything and I care about people. I see people as human, not as products or as a job, a colleague, or whatever other people say. I think this is also have been helping me a lot to get a lot of clients, a lot of clients, repetitive clients who are coming back client have been requesting me all over the world. I’ve been flying have the pleasure to fly all over the world to do exactly what I love. So that’s I think everything comes back to exactly what we discussed from the very beginning quality before quantity. I never wanted to just give them two more looks or two more pictures or another video, just because I always deliver top-notch quality and clients will come back.
Sam Jayanti [00:26:38] That is certainly the case. You’ve now been in the creative business for over 18 years. Tell us a little bit about how you feel the product cycle and consumer behavior have evolved during that time.
Kawa H. Pour [00:26:54] This is actually one of the most interesting questions right now because everybody keeps talking about changes and the transformation of the industry and so on, so this is at the same time, it’s also a very confusing matter because a lot of people from the beginning, I thought that finally people brought the topic up and talk about it. But also, I very early on discovered that this is also just a trend of just throwing outwards and suddenly a lot of people in our industry not leading as they preach. So I think that customer behavior has been absolutely changed and sadly, to the negative, from quality to quantity, from slow fashion and appreciation for art to fast fashion to working under very, very uncomfortable circumstances. And all of that. So for me and for my company and for my very talented and dedicated team, we constantly try to work against that. We are building a wall, refusing to work under uncomfortable circumstances, which is stress, which is not knowing what you want before you start a project or ordering wrong services and then blaming it on companies that the product didn’t work. So that’s the change of the course. Customer behavior 20 years ago, when I was still in Sweden, working as an assistant and working with the elite of Stockholm. Things were totally different, what for one photoshoot we could have two weeks. We could have plans, we could have to do a test of styling her makeup. Nowadays, there are very, very few clients who are doing that. Actually, just before jumping on this call, I had a conversation with one of my clients from Bahrain that is one of the very few clients that are working that way. We have a shooting and we do tests. We do all of that, that we did an old school way. And of course, this will reflect the final outcome. So the behavior of not appreciating what people do and the art, of course, is reflected over the consumption as well. You see, even as I mentioned earlier, people are really going to buy a full look for just an event or for a for a dinner and then they throw it away. They never see it again, and they keep it. They keep on buying, buying. So this becomes a sort of addiction behavior, which is very, very bad.
Sam Jayanti [00:29:59] It’s an illness. It absolutely is an illness, but it’s been facilitated by the industry to get people to buy more stuff.
Kawa H. Pour [00:30:05] Yeah, absolutely. Because Again, we don’t take our responsibility. We support that indirectly. And it also comes in in my industry as well, like when a client is just requesting shooting every day for I don’t know, for Instagram, for TikTok and stuff like that, I tell them, No, don’t do that. Try to make your main campaign, which is six pictures. Make them recognizable. Show them in different shapes and instead of investing money in making them, you should try to invest in an art director to play with the content that you already have. So people can remember that people can see that people can also understand that you are working for sustainability, not for just supporting fast fashion. So everything in this is a chain, it’s all linked. But somehow, I think in society, people are missing the point somehow, and again, it comes back to us. This is our fault because we in the elite, do not take this responsibility. We think that it’s enough if we hang someone on Instagram, what they did or how they do when they are behaving in a certain way? That’s not that does that doesn’t create any change, in my opinion, to change me to come from the root.
Sam Jayanti [00:31:38] Yeah, I think there’s a lot of change in evolution. And perhaps maybe the one good thing that comes out of the pandemic is it forces a reevaluation and actually prompts both consumers, but equally, companies to reassess and really change their behavior. Last question. Where do you see yourself and your company three years from now?
Kawa H. Pour [00:32:03] Dubai.
Sam Jayanti [00:32:05] That’s good. You’re staying?
Kawa H. Pour [00:32:08] Yeah, I think no, of course, definitely I am here to stay. I love Dubai and I think I love UAE in general. I think it’s a great place to be. And also, I love what is actually happening right now in the Middle East. I love how, how many artists, creatives just blooming every day and I see that we are playing a very important role here. I see that we are a leader in the market. We are holding this torch to light in the dark and people follow it and people love it, and we also love that. I think this is also very important for us because growing up in Sweden and having worked internationally, I think that there is a huge misunderstanding about the Middle East in general and also the most important, the Middle Eastern females and ladies and women. They are really, really misunderstood outside our region because people know nothing about women and how many important and how many strong independent women are here who are working in government, working in massive companies. They are amazing artists. A lot of these kinds of empowered ladies are there and people do not know about them. And when still when it makes me sad when people need to illustrate a Middle Eastern woman, they immediately think of a lot of makeup and hijab and all of that. Sure, hijab is something religious, and it’s a choice for everyone to have it or not have it. However, that does not limit the taste and knowledge of the ladies who wear this, and what do they know about art, fashion, culture, and our society? So I think I really love that fact that we can highlight that and showcase that the knowledge of the Middle East is very vague and internationally, globally, and also the fact that the Middle East is the center of the civilization has been the center of civilization, but a lot of people do not know about it due to any reason could be political, could be religious, could be business, a lot of things. But I think its time is now to as also thanks to the pandemic, people are becoming much more local aware. And this is great because here we can really dive into understanding that we have huge power here and we have a huge source of our cultural status to show to the world. And that way also shows that there is no difference between people from the Middle East and anywhere in the world. We at the level of education is high. The taste is there. An amazing artist out there. So and I see my company The Art Factory to be a home for those homeless artists, a platform for people to really step in and fight for art, for sustainability, for fashion, and for a cultural movement. A cultural revolution, I would say.
Sam Jayanti [00:35:54] I love that. I think increasing awareness, you’re playing such a key role in that, as well as really educating both consumers as well as clients and companies. It’s such a critical role that you’re playing and you’re giving back to the community effectively. Here’s something else you should know. As consumers trend away from companies that rely on fast fashion, they could have a real impact on the main players in the business, according to a 2019 Nielsen poll, seventy-three percent of millennials are willing to pay more for a product that’s sustainable. Thanks to Forbes and the World Research Institute for the data used in today’s episode. Kawa, we love your story because your creative spirit has guided you through multiple industries and moves. You’ve always taken a positive view of all of these changes, and we can’t wait to see what comes next for you. Thank you so much for joining us on the show today.
Kawa H. Pour [00:36:51] Thank you so much, Sam, thank you for having me. And it is a pleasure, definitely.
Sam Jayanti [00:37:04] Thanks for listening today. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, please do review the show. We love hearing from you, so e-mail us at info at the idea makes dot com or Instagram DMs. Our episode this week was produced by the incomparable Martin Malesky, with music by the awesome Nashville-based singer-songwriter Doug Allen. You can learn more about Doug at Doug Allen Music dot com.
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