Nivine Maktabi Founder of Oumnia talks to ESK about having a business based in Lebanon, her inspirations and what she is most proud of.
Where did the concept for Oumnia originate from?
Oumnia means “wish” in Arabic, and in 2006 my wish came true when I established Oumnia the colourful concept store, where Art meets Fashion
How has your upbringing influenced your brand and creative direction?
I was lucky to be living in the UK as London had a lot to offer. I was always visiting the museums where the most important carpets are on display like the V&A and I was regularly attending the most awaited for auctions at Sotheby’s and Christies featuring masterpieces in the Oriental carpet world. In addition, countries like Iran, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Armenia that I have previously visited, fascinated me and made me fall in love with patterns, symbolic motifs, colours and everything handmade.
You studied the History of Carpets and Textiles at Sotheby’s Institute in London. What prompted you to study this specifically?
I come from a family heritage dealing and working in the world of carpets since 3 generations, as early as 1926. My childhood playground was jumping from one carpet pile to another in my late father shop in Hamra St. Beirut, Lebanon.
Being the eldest among my siblings, indirectly I followed the footsteps of my late father Mohamed. I wanted to learn and go deep in its roots and study about the culture and history behind this fascinating carpet world.
Having studied the History of Carpets and Textiles at Sotheby’s institute in London UK, I decided to introduce Carpets and Kelim Culture with a design touch adding my own new creations on both rugs and later pashmina shawls.
And just like that, I have followed family tradition and driven my passion for textiles and art into a career.
What’s your creative process?
I love to illustrate a message or a story into my designs. Most of my shawls have an identity; they are mainly Oriental with a modern twist, inspired by my background, my travels, the Orient while being fashion sensitive. I covered many themes in my designs like “Lebanon”, “women empowerment”, “Arabic calligraphy”, the “Oriental carpet” …that’s why some of them I call Statement pashmina because it depicts a story or a message
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced with your brand to date, and how did you meet that challenge(s)? What did it teach you?
Lebanon has played a pivotal role in my business and career since 2006. However, living in a volatile country made me always aware of practical day-to-day labor and challenges that arise from running a business. Nevertheless, these constant defies taught me resilience and hard work on not leaving a stone unturned
Who or what would you say most inspires you in your life and work?
My Father who was a workaholic, unfortunately he left us early and didn’t get the chance to work besides him.And many Businessmen that I have seen always on top of their business for decades and don’t wish to resign, inspire me and I have a lot of respect for
"Oumnia means “wish” in Arabic, and in 2006 my wish came true when I established Oumnia the colourful concept store, where Art meets Fashion"
— Nivine Maktabi
What’s your proudest moment to date (work related or not)?
There are few, I will mention some:
When Christine Lagarde, current president of European central bank and previously to IMF, was wearing few of my shawls during her official meetings
When former chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel received one of my carpets as a gift from the Lebanese prime minister
When a client of mine wrote about Oumnia as a case study for her Master’s project at university
Do you have a favourite quote or phrase or belief that serves as a personal motto?
If you don’t take risks, you risk even more
What influences your designs?
My background, I am of Persian heritage, born in Lebanon, raised in the UK, hence a mix salad and of course my travels, and every situation we go through and makes me say “This too shall pass” that I end up introducing into my designs
"Every situation we go through and makes me say “This too shall pass” that I end up introducing into my designs."
— Nivine Maktabi
Oumnia means her ‘Wish’ in Arabic, what inspired you to name your brand this?
I always wanted to have my own store, displaying my collection, Oumnia is a shop where all colours coexist, a cornucopia of where Art meets Fashion.
Quick Fire Questions:
How do you start your day?
Playing with my dog
What’s your coffee (or tea) order?
I love my coffee with oat milk and cinnamon
If we have a look in your bag, what would we find?
Zillions things …few masks, my phone, my keys, sunglasses, eye glasses, paper work, nail filer
What’s your favourite hobby?
I enjoy playing Golf and love to sing when I get the chance
Your style icon?
My mother, a beautiful lady
What’s the last book you read?
Confessions of a Forty Something (that I just finished reading yesterday)
If you didn’t live in Beirut, where would you live?
I call London home, so maybe I would choose London (and next life I would choose New York)
What is the best memento you own from your travels?
When I travel, I love tasting different cuisines that’s another passion that led me to open an Iranian restaurant in Lebanon to introduce this authentic cuisine.
Shopping something traditional from each city is a must for me, it has to be either from a local contemporary designer or something that represent the culture of this city
The most unforgettable place you have travelled to is?
Iran, it has a rich culture and history when you visit the Shah palaces, the museums, the old bazar, the artefact, their jewellery, textiles, copper, carpets, the heritage, the music, the poems, the cuisine, everything is full of flavors, colors and perfumes.