HRH Nourah Al Faisal is the founder of Nuun Jewels, a Saudi fine jewelry brand based in France. As a young designer and entrepreneur, Nourah apprenticed in France to learn the skills she needed to launch her brand and now she’s setting out to change that. Nourah launched her new venture Adhlal, to stimulate and develop local industry in Saudi Arabia by creating an ecosystem for designers, businesses, mentors, buyers and collectors to come together to build local craftsmanship and domestic industry.
Nourah Al Faisal [00:00:00] And then I fully intended to become a writer and then an interior designer. And it wasn’t until I was in my late thirties that I came to do a redesign.
Sam: [00:00:11] Our guest today is Nourah al-Faisal, the founder of Nuun Jewels, a fine jewelry brand based in France. While Nourah splits her time between Saudi Arabia and France as a young designer and entrepreneur, Nourah apprenticed in France to learn the skills she needed to launch a brand.
And now she’s setting out to change that. This fall, Nora launched her new venture at Low to stimulate and develop local industry in Saudi Arabia by creating an ecosystem for designers, businesses, mentors, buyers and collectors to come together to build local craftsmanship and a domestic industry. Nourah, it’s a pleasure to have you with us today.
Nourah Al Faisal [00:01:11] It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.
Sam [00:01:14] So let’s start at the beginning. Tell us, what was the motivation? What was your inspiration that started you down your entrepreneurial path? First with Nuun and now more recently with that.
Nourah Al Faisal [00:01:24] So I’m one of those people who found their ways eventually to their passion. So I’d always loved design and I always loved jewelry. I just never had thought of it as a viable kind of job or vocation for me. And it wasn’t until much later in life, after the interior design.
I’d graduated with a B.A. in English literature and then I fully intended to become a writer and then an interior designer. And it wasn’t until I was in my late 30s that I came to jewelry design in a very, very roundabout way.
But having started late, I think also gave me the opportunity to be a little braver and take it a little more seriously. And I started very simply by making designs for friends and family. And I did that for up to anywhere about 15 years before I started on drawls 2014. So really recently. And it was just about finding something that I absolutely loved.
The apprenticeship was a joy for me. I recommend apprenticeship in general to anyone.
Sam [00:02:33] Such a good model at your age really is.
Nourah Al Faisal [00:02:36] It really is. And just to be in the workshops and with the creators and with the jewelry and it’s an exciting way to learn your craft. And so for me, it was just a joy to do. It had its difficulties. Obviously, it’s never easy to start your own business when you’re not experienced – when you really haven’t studied business. I had this very funny idea that I was going to work as an artist and just have some room somewhere and create these designs and then everything else would take care of itself, which obviously was not the case. But it’s you know, I enjoy the experience of learning. So for me, you know, learning, even though you make mistakes and you have your losses and everything, but just that kind of way of understanding something for the first time, applying your knowledge and applying your experience across the board, it’s super exciting for me and it’s something that I love. So it became a passion on the business side of it actually became a passion for me, which I never would have expected. You know, so in many ways it was very surprising. So we established in 2014 we have a boutique and four books on Ternary in Paris. I went on to make a few collections we’ve exhibited all over the world. We have our loyal clients. And I like to think of myself as an old fashioned type of jeweler, the type of person who works with families. And so one of my high points of my career was – is – when someone for whom I had created jewelry for her wedding came back and asked me to do her daughter’s wedding. Let’s have it. And so for me, that is the sign of success. You know that it’s multi-generational. So it’s fantastic having established Nuun and being very happy with the way that was going. And then obviously, because I live in Saudi Arabia and then, you know, the travel and going back and forth became more and more difficult. And when Vision 2030 sort of came in to it – when all of these new changes started coming in and all of these possibilities started coming in, it was very exciting. And so I was you know, I was first in line. I was like, I need to bring my workshop here and I need to bring the expertise here. And then I can do everything in one place. And it’s so exciting. Unfortunately, not so easy. So we had a few issues. I mean, my major issue had been you obviously with changes and everything, you know, being not uncertain. But in terms of not knowing where to go to get the information. You need, you know, in order to set up properly and sometimes, you know, laws are being created and systems reevaluated and you’re sort of in the middle. And if you try and kind of, you know, you’re trying to navigate your way through a system. It’s very difficult. And as I was sort of out there trying to figure out how I was going to do this and unable to to find all the answers I needed to do it, I mean, I could get into technicalities. But for example, we found I mean, I fully expected in my naive kind of way, I fully expected that I would come to Saudi and I would find people with a certain amount of knowledge. I’m talking about the craftsmanship here. And then that I would be able to train them up. But then…that didn’t exist. So because a lot of the lot of the people who were the craftsmen who were in Saudi at the time had then, because of all the changes and everything, had sort of left the country. A lot of the factories work had no base to work with. There was no base to work with. And then I suddenly realized, well, we’re not talking about, you know, just training a couple of people here. We’re talking about education. And that’s a big thing to take on by. So when you’re talking about systems of education and you’re talking about, well, is apprenticeship something that might work here or not? And if you did work, what would that look like? Who would you be in an apprenticeship with? Where are you getting the knowledge from? How would that work? And that’s just one example of the kind of way I had to sort of step back and go, oh, no. OK. So I’m trying to start something in the middle here and I need to go right back to the beginning. And I also realized while I was looking around that there were many other designers who who very much were like me, who had established their business outside of Saudi, whether it was in the Emirates, whether it was in Europe across the board, or indeed designers who lived and worked in Saudi but had to manufacture all of their pieces outside of the country because there was no manufacturing process or factories that worked.
Sam [00:07:39] So it was clearly there was a sort of set of designers and companies that would have loved to be able to do more in the Middle East and they’d struggled with the same problem.
Nourah Al Faisal [00:07:48] It’s not just that. You also had a government that very much wants to establish this kind of manufacturing and this kind of infrastructure. So there’s a very, very interesting time because you have everyone on the same page. So you have the government that wants to create this local industry and local industry. You have designers who have worked and lived outside of Saudi, as well as designers who live in Saudi, but have had to manufacture outside of Saudi. And they all know what this infrastructure needs to look like. But they all have the same goal and they all have the same desire. And it’s created this…I mean, I don’t want to get all sort of soppy about it, but this amazing atmosphere. I mean, there’s truly a spirit of collaboration. And so to connect the dots and kind of go, oh, OK. So this is a bigger problem than me. This is something, obviously, that I can’t do by myself. But I’ve already met 20 people who are saying the exact same thing that I am and who are on the same page. We have a government which I believe, unlike any government anywhere at this time, is fully behind anyone who has a good idea. I mean, if you have a good idea, that’s good for the country that creates jobs and it’s good for the economy. They’re very supportive, very supportive. All you have to do is prove that you can do it. So it was sort of like a convergence of all of these different factors. Yeah, that made it. I mean, there was no way that I couldn’t attempt to do it. I mean, there are just so many people.
Sam [00:09:26] So in a sense, you validated the idea with all of these other colleagues of yours who are facing the same problem. And what did you do next in terms of sort of coagulating this group together, you know, kind of defining a common set of interests, but also goals and sort of a pathway to do so?
Nourah Al Faisal [00:09:48] There are a lot of organizations in Saudi that are doing similar things. I mean, and have been within the ecosystem for a long time trying to do separate things along the way. And then there are many hubs in different designer groups and things that they’re trying to do to help create the design industry. My issue was I mean, my particular kind of thing was that I’m very curious by nature and I like to know what I’m doing and I’m very good at admitting when I don’t know what I’m doing. And so the reality for me was I need to understand what’s going on here. And I can’t understand just this little bit that I’m working on. I need to understand what’s going on. And so for me, research was the major thing. So the government is conducting their own types of research in many different things. But it’s such a big job and there’s so many different things they’re focusing on that. I think that design is something they are focusing on and they’re doing a lot of initiatives and they’re trying to do a lot of different things. But sometimes it’s difficult to try and do something from the top down. You kind of need the people who are sort of in the mix in the magazine.
Sam [00:11:10] This is entrepreneurship, right, that you start with the seed of an idea. But then you have to sort of adapt and pivot that model based on the ground realities. And then you’re doing that, you know, a million more times before you get to the end goal.
Nourah Al Faisal [00:11:22] I mean, the reality is, I don’t believe and I don’t know, I don’t claim that this is everyone’s belief, but I don’t believe that it’s the government’s job to create a design industry. I believe it’s the artists’. I mean, we’re the designers, we’re the creatives. And we need to create an industry that works for us according to our geographical, cultural, absolutely. Whatever. And the government is an enabler. Yes. The government’s job is to enable us to do that, whether it’s by changing laws or creating systems or helping with education. But it’s our job to create it.
So it’s so interesting now because it’s a real shift in some ways. You know, jewelry businesses is kind of ultimately sort of a luxury good. And, you know, involves a certain set of skills. And now you’re really sort of creating, in a sense, a public private partnership where you’re partnering both with other designers in your industry and and then with the government in some specific ways to sort of develop a model that makes the most sense to take this idea of local craftsmanship forward.
Sam So talk a little bit about what you’ve learned from from sort of that shift, because, you know, they’re sort of new skills you’ve acquired, I’m sure, along the way.
Nourah Al Faisal [00:12:43] So for me, I don’t feel like it’s such a shift because on a personal level, I’m a super collaborative person. So even in non jeweled, although I haven’t collaborated with people, not for want of trying, by the way, it’s just that I love talking to other designers. It’s always been I think I mean, I’ll go to exhibitions just to talk to the designers. I love that flow of creative energy back and forth, you know, ideas. And so I’ve always had that. And I’m a people person. So I love it. I mean, there’s nothing more that I love than sitting down with, like young designers, jewelry designers in particular, because that’s my expertise. But designers in general and talking to them a little bit about what it’s been like for me. The lessons I’ve learned and trying to give them what they need so they don’t have to go through mistakes. I made them so that they have an easier journey or an easier kind of way about it. Because I think it’s important to give them that support. And so for me, it wasn’t really a big step in those terms.
Sam [00:13:56] So is there a consumer shift that you’re seeing sort of along the way? I mean, in a sense.
Nourah Al Faisal: You know, I imagine that the consumer base has been so accustomed to really consuming non-Saudi and non-Middle Eastern brands for quite a long time now. And now there are these options that are, you know, not created in Saudi Arabia as yet. You’ll get there, but they’re certainly designed by, you know, people such as yourself, your colleagues in the design industry. And they’re kind of they have a more, you know, kind of local feel in a sense. I’d like to point out that it’s been happening already for quite a while. Yeah. Especially over the last I’d say quite I’d say almost five to 10 years. The shift has been happening. Where we have an issue is probably with the quality of the products being manufactured in Saudi. But for things, for example, like graphic design, we have some amazing graphic designers who have been working for many years, also interior designers, fashion design, although it’s manufactured outside of Saudi. We have some fantastic fashion designers who are international and have been for a while. There is a shift.
The desire to support the local product has been very strong for a long time now and especially now. I mean. Just growing in leaps and bounds, but we are, as you said, we are a society that for many years always favored buying the products, you know, that were imported. Right. And so it’s I think it’s going to be a long journey till we get, you know, where we get the demand and the supply kind of working together the right way.
Sam [00:16:00] So tell me, what’s your sort of immediate term plan in terms of next steps on that law now?
Nourah Al Faisal [00:16:07] So for the land right now, what we’re doing is we are conducting our research into the design industry as it exists now. So we are just about to launch our first in a series of white papers, all talking about the demand side of the industry. We’ve started already with our focus groups for talking with different designers in the different sectors, including students and people who have been working for 25 years. And plus the idea is to publish everything that we find. The idea is to publish in 2020, the first industry report on the design industry in Saudi Arabia, and to give us all sort of a roadmap so that we’re all speaking the same language so that we all have the same starting points. And to just give this knowledge literally to everyone, to the government, to all these different entities. And so once we’re all on the same page and we’re all understanding where we are in reality, then it’s down to us to take the next steps right now.
Sam [00:17:15] And did you envision having lived and worked in France and in Europe more broadly as long as you have?
Nourah Al Faisal: I imagine some of this collaboration will involve French companies or French artisans or from other parts of Europe sort of coming in to help with some of the training and collaboration around building a local. Well, there’s a set of knowledge.
There’s already entities that are doing that. So, for example, the British Council has been working for many years in the area. You’ve got entities like Turquoise Mountain, but Turquoise Mountain, I would say, is maybe more focused on heritage. But having said that, they have helped to create the first first workshop of the women and Saudi. I mean, it’s really exciting. I love it. It’s really fantastic. And they’re looking to, I think, open another one. I hope fingers crossed. Absolutely. There’s a cross-cultural dialog that is very, very important. I mean, there needs to be that exchange of knowledge. There needs to be that exchange of artistry, but not at the cost of. And this is my thing. Not at the cost of sort of. I mean, I think we need to learn the skills, but we need to keep putting our identity into what we create. You see what I mean? So it needs to be a really local voice. But I mean, there’s a lot of entities now that are very aware of that. There are a lot of people who are super supportive, supportive of that as well. I mean, it’s a very long term project. It’s not something that is going to be done in a day. It’s definitely something that myself and a lot of the people that I’m working with and collaborating with expect to be doing for the rest of our lives. But it’s also really exciting.
Sam [00:19:08] I mean, it’s an amazing effort. And, you know, in a sense, it’s a reflection of a sort of post global, globalized world that we’re living in where, you know, people want an identity that is international, but that is equally founded in something local that they can identify with much more closely. And, you know, your bringing your skills as an entrepreneur to this enterprise to really create this ecosystem in Saudi Arabia is fantastic. Thank you.
Nourah Al Faisal [00:19:40] I mean, I just want to for a second about that. A lot of people ask me in terms of new and my designs to. They’re like, you’re a Saudi designer, but your jewels are not specifically Saudi looking. They’re European looking. I’m a child of the world that I live in. And I travel a lot. And I’ve traveled since I was a child. And I realize not many people have that luxury. But my jewelry, my creative output is absolutely going to be the result of everything that I absorb, wherever that is. Yeah. And so it has because I am a Saudi designer. It has a Saudi identity by default. Yes. You know what I mean? And I think that a lot of people are going back to the Saudi design ecosystem or Saudi design. In general, they kind of unknowingly pigeonhole what it should look like. There are a lot of young Saudi designers right now creating the most amazing things that have nothing to do with what you would typically say is Saudi design. It’s just it. And I and I’m very excited, too, to help them show the world what they are capable of.
Sam [00:20:53] Yeah, absolutely. So I have to ask this. There’s there’s you know, you’ve been a woman working in Saudi Arabia and outside for so long. There’s been a lot of change in Saudi. With respect to the role of women in society and their ability to now work. Talk. Tell us a little bit about that and your views on that evolution.
Nourah Al Faisal [00:21:14] So I’m very blessed – I come from a family of very strong women. So Quinn effort was King. PENCIL’s wife started the first school for women many, many, many years ago. And I’ve been very lucky. My mother, my aunts with the old worked that one way or another throughout their entire lives. So I come from that kind of background. So for me to work and to create and to go in to do was never something that was outside of either the realm of possibility or or outside of the norm. Having said that, I know that there are a lot of women didn’t have that. The changes that have happened now are amazing. There are so many women who are now in the workforce. The support by the government, just the simple fact that they can drive to work and back is huge. I know a lot of people talk about it in terms of freedom. And the simple reality is the ability to take yourself to work and back. A lot of women were not working because they had no transport. And that is a reason and nobody thinks of it in that way. They just think of it. And then I understand it in an emotional way. Yeah. You know what I mean? But in a logical way, you had 50 percent of a part of our nation, of our people who were staying home for something as silly as that, you know? So it’s as a woman. It’s empowering. It’s amazing to be able to be part of the empowerment of younger Saudi women to see their absolute focus. They’re completely motivated and they’re very excited to do it.
Sam [00:23:15] You’ve been a long time entrepreneur. Tell me about some of the skills and learnings that you’ve taken away from this experience.
Nourah Al Faisal [00:23:24] So having started without much business experience, as I said, one of the things I learned which was very important is how to adapt and how to learn evolution, the ability to take on learnings and apply them. The ability to accept failure, learn from it and move on. These are huge things. I mean, honestly, I have failed far more than I have succeeded, which may not be the greatest thing to say, but I’m someone who never views failure as the end. If something doesn’t work, then I need to know why it didn’t work, what it was that didn’t work about it, and kind of apply that. And that’s the only way that I’ve been able to learn and grow. Yeah. I mean, it’s a deeply humbling experience, right, to go through that journey. Having said that, in terms of design, you know, when you’re a designer, you’re constantly evolving. So that’s a lesson you have all the time. I look at my designs from like 10 years ago now and I think, what was I thinking? But you just have to apply that to your life as well. You just have to accept that you need to always evolve and you have to be constantly curious. You have to want to learn new things. You have to actively go out and seek new knowledge that is going to help you because it’s not just going to come to you. It’s something that you have to do every day.
Sam [00:24:46] Couldn’t agree more. Nourah, as a longtime entrepreneur who is now applying her entrepreneurial skills, learnings and network to effect change in her home country and economy. We’re excited for all that’s to come for both Nuun and Fratello. Nourah, thank you for joining us today. Thank you.
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