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The "Simple is hard" lesson from my wabi sabi mentor

November 10 2020 – Kristina ZOUEIN

The "Simple is hard" lesson from my wabi sabi mentor
The "Simple is hard" lesson from my wabi sabi mentor

It was 12 years ago, that I walked in the Johnny Farah (JF) House of leather accessories in Beirut, Lebanon. And there he was, sitting on an Arne Jacobsen leather chair, in his mid 60s, with his white Borsalino hat, his red eye glasses, his stylish sneakers and his feet up on a raw wooden table.

I was 27, shy but confident with my little carry-on and a series of belts that I had designed under the label of Kinza Designs*. I had a bachelor in marketing, unhappy work experiences, and had recently started designing belts: the impostor syndrome was weakening my psychic, and I needed recognition to be able to move forward in my career path. And it was there and then that I embarked on a decisive (life?!) journey of leather and design!

Twelve years down the line and leather & design are still the reasons I get up early and stay up late. I couldn’t agree more with Simon Sinek who says that “Working hard for something you don’t care about is called stress: Working hard for something you love is called passion.” I could also take Simon Sinek on the side to tell him that passion doesn’t exclude stress, but that would be another topic ;)  

“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”  Henry David Thoreau, writer and philosopher.

I will never forget my first initiation with JF: we were on the mezzanine of his charming little boutique downtown Beirut, wooden uneven floor, around an atelier table. Johnny gave me my first little red moleskine sketch book, he taught me the basics of cutting leather, and said “good design is about simplicity”. Johnny embraces the Japanese notion of wabi-sabi: a philosophy and aesthetic that is centered on the notion that beauty is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. At the time I didn’t realize how significant the challenge would be, and that simplicity requires experience, knowledge and a deep appreciation of raw materials. Crazy as it sounds, it actually took me almost 3 years to introduce my first 6-bag line of leather bags in the brand’s line. It was tricky to stay consistent, to tie designs across a single collection, creating leather bags, wallets and belts that were smart, pretty, and in-line with the avant-garde Johnny Farah signature. But hey I eventually pulled it off! and went on designing two collections per year of leather bags and belts that were showcased in Beirut, NY and Paris: the Johnny Farah flagship boutique in Beirut, the NY Soho-based showroom, and in Tranoi fashion tradeshow in Paris.

Those years spent under the umbrella of JF, combined with the countless hours I spent with artisans, were formative to my pursuit today: to design smart beautiful leather objects combining established techniques with contemporary crafts. Which is why I created Kinamania, a story-telling brand around leather rooted in meticulous craftsmanship and cultural heritage, that embraces modern technologies.

The Kinamania pursuit : to celebrate makers

Kinamania's philosophy is to celebrate makers, artists, artisans : and we also take great pride in partnering with non-profit organizations that drive real changes in people’s lives. Cross-stitched ancestral motifs on canvas with NGO Inaash (The Orient), embroidered leather by a tailor of bullfighters (The Spain sandal), an upcoming collaboration on a derby shoe with the unconventional Arabic type designer Lara Captan (The Rima derby shoe, launching in January) and lately the introduction of 3D printed pieces to my leather bags and creative workshops (The ChainMail bag). If you're curious to know more about the collaborations that have paved the way to what Kinamania is today, you can browse through the collaborations page here.  

I wish I had more time to explore the world of crafts! But a day in the life of a creative entrepreneur is not only about designing, there are so many other necessary tasks to keep the business going and growing. And I am enjoying the ride! 


*Kinza means ‘treasure’ in Persian.

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