A communication and PR manager by day and an entrepreneur by night, Qatari Sara Al Safar recently launched Sama’s Store, an online shopping platform for all-natural skincare and beauty products as well as cultural and artistic items. There are more than 100 items available on Sama’s Store from Qatar, Morocco, Vietnam, the US and more – all available in Qatar for the first time.
Sama’s Store draws inspiration from nature, people, culture and art. According to Sara, it is a celebration of the many unique cultures and people that inhabit the planet and the stories they tell through their traditional practices and handicrafts. Each individual product has been handpicked by Sara herself. Sara launched Sama’s Store late 2017. ‘Sama’s soft launch was around October-November 2017. And it resonated. Word of mouth works and it’s something new. People are always interested to look at new trends,’ said the new entrepreneur. Sama’s Store made its first appearance in December 2017 when Sara collaborated with Elite Lounge and Flat White at The Pearl-Qatar on their first anniversary. ‘We had a pop-up show. I displayed a range of products to show what Sama is,’ she said.
‘I’ve always wanted to do something related to art and culture. I always found passion there. I’ve been into art generally, designing my clothes and things. I wanted to do something different from my daytime job,’ said Sara who has been working at Qatar Foundation (QF) for approximately eight years. She’s currently the communication manager at the foundation. ‘I think QF has a role in that. It allowed me to diversify with the kind of experience I gained. We’ve been challenged from scratch within QF… constantly taking new challenges, establishing things,’ she said. ‘Before establishing Sama, it took me around three years to figure out what I really wanted to do. The idea has been on my mind and it kept evolving,’ she added.
‘My biggest fear was I don’t want to start something that I can’t sustain. I don’t want to start something where I’ll get bored, or run out of ideas or inspiration. I make my own clothes but I get in that mood for two months per year then that’s it. And I don’t want to do random things or something that dies,’ she added. Once the idea was complete, she approached White Space Studio to discuss branding. ‘I sat with her and she helped me a lot to shape the idea because when you want to develop your brand name, she needs to understand the full concept. How am I doing it? Why? What does it represent? When you have these conversations, you keep thinking and trying to shape your idea further. I feel this stage helped me a lot to crystalise what Sama is,’ explained Sara.
Soon after, Sara embarked on a summer holiday to Thailand and Malaysia in 2016. ‘I returned from the trip and I got cute souvenirs. I love [traditional] markets. When you go to the islands and their shops and the organic things, I really love them and collecting lifestyle pieces, furniture, stationery and whatever it is…I realised it’s something I love doing and I don’t get bored of. I always like to shop and find unique things,’ she explained. Once Sara decided what her online store would offer, she began thinking of a name for it. ‘When I was on the plane, inspired by nature, the name hits me and I love it,’ she said. Sama is the Arabic word for the sky. ‘It’s connected to nature, which is what Sama is all about. It’s broad and ambitious because Sama is a lifestyle concept so we bring people out there who produce products that we like and pick from my travels and everywhere,’ she added.
Online shopping is still unpopular in Qatar therefore there aren’t many local online stores. ‘When you go to Europe or America, you find lots of these [online] concept stores. In Doha, we don’t have that so I wanted something different as well, not something repetitive like restaurants, coffee shops or clothing line,’ she explained. ‘Hopefully in the future I’ll look into have a physical store because it’s about the experience if you want people to experience the products, and to feel and touch them,’ she added.
Every product sold at Sama has been handcrafted by emerging artists and traditional craftspeople using all natural materials. International brands such as The Way Soaps, Kaashi, Paddy Wax, Marble & Milkweed are available for first time in Qatar and the Middle East at Sama’s Store. ‘I recently signed contracts with two companies: Paddy Wax – their products are not in Qatar so I’ll be resourcing their products to supply a chain in Qatar – and Marble & Milkweed from New York. Briar is the creator of the brand and does all her skincare products handmade in her own lab. She goes to gardens and beaches for inspiration and ingredients,’ Sara explained. From Qatar, Sama’s Store offers products from MEDAD, By Haya and ZanPrints.
Sara herself selects the brands on offer at Sama’s Store. ‘I go online. I make sure they are linked to nature, the way they have done something that we really like as Sama; relevant to our overall style and brand; and they’re not available in Doha so we make a new range of products accessible in Qatar,’ she said about the collaborations. ‘Most of these brands are well-known but not big brand names established for years in the market and this is how we are, as one of Sama’s values is to create more opportunities like this. Another example is Kaashi – they are Persians living in the US. They have their own workshop. They work on creating furniture and home decor by hand. One of them is an artist as well so they use their art introducing coasters and trays. I’m their supplier in the Middle East,’ she explained.
Sara brings the items she handpicks from abroad to Qatar and makes them available on the website only when they arrive in the country. Once they arrive, she shares updates on Instagram ‘so people are feeling the journey of how Sama is growing and what we’re making available. It gives me an idea and sense of their feedback and what they really like,’ she explained. ‘We’ve just hit 2,000 followers on Instagram without doing actual PR or marketing. The orders and audience are growing as well.’
The entrepreneur emphasises the importance of being on social media, specifically Instagram, and its impact on her online business. ‘I feel like the Instagram page has been the gateway to get people to the website, which is really key. It’s really difficult to drive traffic to the website but through Instagram, we’ve been able to do that. We’ve created a Facebook page but we’re focusing on Instagram mainly. Creating Facebook pages is something we’re looking into because you can increase followers and traffic through that as well,’ she explained.
Prices range from QAR65 to QAR2,500. ‘I’m really trying to keep the prices of the things on my store accessible. I’m really trying too hard. For a startup, this is really difficult including shipment and operational costs. Here in the market, to produce collaterals is very expensive. So I’m doing my best to keep the prices accessible,’ she explained. Currently, purchasing items from Sama’s Store is only available in Qatar and accepts cash only.
Sama’s ambition is to evolve from a provider to a producer. The next phase will include Sama-branded products that have been locally produced. ‘I’m currently working on our first Sama-branded products. It will be stationery with our look and feel. I’m starting small on the project. I might also do cushions and lifestyle products, using Arabic letters, calligraphy and poetry. I want to bring those back to life. I really love proper Arabic poetry and calligraphy, which is very beautiful so I want to bring that back to life through simple products,’ she explained.
Check out Sama’s Store at samastoreqa.com.
Author: Ola Diab
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