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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - DHAHRAN: On the upper floor of a newly established mall in the Dhahran area, a natural flood of light from giant windows leads to the Mustqr women-only co-working space.
It was founded in 2020 by Saudi entrepreneurs and Dhahran natives, Lamyaa Al-Dajani and Sara Al-Shammari. Today, the space celebrates its third year — a few days before Saudi National Day.
It seems fitting that this Saudi-owned business is keeping Vision 2030 in mind while holding a firm — but beautifully manicured — grip on the future. Their current priority is the creative Saudi women of Dhahran.
Al-Shammari told Arab News: “It all started in Lamyaa’s bedroom in July of 2019. We were just talking and I was telling her about a potential business plan I had in mind to open up something to serve the local creative community. She said she had a similar idea. So since we both were headed in the same general direction, we thought, why don’t we join forces?”
Al-Dajani said: “We met about seven years ago at a job we both worked in. We quickly recognized that we were in sync with our work ethic and deep passion. We both left our positions for different reasons, so the timing felt right.
“I said ‘absolutely, let’s collaborate, but with one condition: We have to start it from scratch.’ We had to toss out our earlier plans and brainstorm.”
They took stacks of colorful post-it notes and started writing keywords on each little square by hand, piecing together their vision, one word at a time. Soon, the whole wall was covered and they moved onto Excel, where a sheet was created with a list of co-working spaces that existed around the world. They studied why each succeeded and why each failed.
Then they created contracts for each other as business partners; one that was a “professional contract” and then one that was more of an “emotional contract.” They wanted to make sure they were always on the same page.
According to Al-Dajani, it was important for them to prioritize their friendship: “We were friends first before being business partners and we want to maintain that. We have such a deep faith in each other and we constantly communicate clearly to avoid any pitfalls others may have who have worked with those close to them.”
As COVID-19 was in full swing, they thought outside the box. They saw the gap in the industry and tried to create a secondary safe space for creative women in the area to go to beyond their home, corporate office or noisy cafe.
They came up with a curated space that combined all three of those elements into one. From the lighting to the temperature of the air conditioning to the seating to how the floors felt as you walked across, to how the space smelled — all details were custom-made by other local Saudi women.
“This is our test branch. We wanted to create a complete and holistic experience that prioritizes and empowers creative working women in all aspects. We have the coffee area, a gym and a lounge space in addition to the different work spaces,” said Al-Dajani.
Since they launched at a turbulent time they aimed to create a space which offered some stability.
“We officially launched during (the pandemic) and we brainstormed for a name, we even asked our family members and friends for help,” Al-Shammari said. “We settled on Mustqr, which refers to stability and settlement.”
According to the co-founders, the name was derived from a word mentioned in various verses in the Holy Qur’an. It was also a word often used in physics as well as in psychology. It felt fitting.
Deliberately and delicately placed across the different parts of the co-working space are rocks. To them, a rock is symbolic. It is a grounded and tangible element from nature that is strong, unique and beautiful — exactly how Mustqr views its members.
“We started as just a place to support freelancers but as we made plans to expand, we figured out what our clients might want a more streamlined experience. So then we created membership packages,” Al-Shammari explained.
With a paid membership system, creatives could sign up for the category of their choice and build their network, all while working on their next idea. Their current five membership options are dedicated to graphic designers, photographers and videographers, fashion designers, interior designers and content writers and marketers.
Mustqr has been utilizing social media to help amplify their members. When a woman joins, they conduct a short video interview with and then tag the member’s account on Instagram to introduce them to the creative community. It has been one of their most successful tools to help their members go beyond the physical space and into the digital realm.
On the day of our visit, a model walked round with a flamboyant dress while its Saudi designer proudly looked on. Photographer Shams Tannab told Arab News about her experience shooting her mother’s designs: “A model recommended that we try here. The decor is fabulous— there are so many options for my model to capture the perfect pose with the perfect-colored background. Our brand, Jalwah, creates custom-made traditional wedding gowns from Qatif and Al-Ahsa.
“I have a studio in Qatif — which is a little bit far — so I wanted a place more convenient for my model. Mustqr has been great. They were professional, they sent me a contract via WhatsApp and we signed it. They also showed us photos of where we would be able to shoot. The space is great with good lighting and they have so many more shooting options than in my studio, which has limited backgrounds.”
The co-working space also hosts talks with artists and designers.
Jeddah-based artist Ethar Balkhair flew across the country to give her first ever talk, hosted at the space in late August. Balkhair has established herself in recent years as a savvy and artistic creative, whose Saudi-inspired illustrations have been used in such major campaigns such as Harvey Nichols, Sephora, the Diriyah Biennale, Tumi, and Nivea, to name a few.
Balkhair’s digital illustrations are playful and saturated with color and bold forms representing Saudi women and men — and animals — without clear facial features, in order to keep the drawings inclusive.
Speaking about her experience with Mustqr, she said: “I didn’t know about them but they reached out to me inviting me to talk and said ‘you are the first Saudi to consistently collaborate with global brands and you keep doing that and we think it would be nice if you shared your knowledge.’ At first, I was a bit hesitant. I said ‘not yet, but one day’ … They told me I could do it my way — it wouldn’t be a step-by-step lecture, but rather, me sharing my story. I didn’t want to have it filmed so I could test the experience and they were respectful of my request. My confidence soared after.”
To commemorate the talk, Balkhair made them fine prints of a tiger.
The co-working space includes private and shared offices, a meeting room, an exercise room, a library, a prayer room and a terrace.
“We want to support Saudi entrepreneurs. In Ramadan, when we noticed that the space was quieter, we moved all the furniture to the side and created a concept store within the space to support local Saudi business owners,” the founders noted.
“Now, every Ramadan, we want to activate the space and elevate our heritage and culture by providing this knowledge exchange. People met and collaborated — it was such immaculate vibes,” Al-Dajani added.
For more information, visit mustqr.org.
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