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As pottery conscious craftsmanship gains popularity around the world, entrepreneur Reema Abu Hassan aims to instill a love for the art in Qatar through his business, Clay Encounters. As an architect by training, Hassan first encountered his love for pottery during a ceramics class during his final year of study at the American University of Sharjah. “I was drawn to the touch of clay and watching it transform into a functional object,” she recalls. With her background in architecture, digital fabrication, theory, design and ceramics, the interdisciplinary designer went on to work as an architect at the Office of Metropolitan Architecture in Dubai as well as at its head office in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Reema, Abu Hassan

Reema, Abu Hassan, CEO and Founder, Clay Encounters

But after returning to Doha, Hassan quit his job as an architect and decided to pursue his passion for ceramics. “I wanted to create, but I couldn’t find the space to do it,” says Hassan. “Qatar’s art and design scene at the time was developing slowly, but there was a lack of creative studio-type spaces. I saw an opportunity to reintroduce pottery craftsmanship and provide space for people to be in a creative space focused on making. And as she embarked on a two-year full-time Masters of Fine Arts program at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (where she teaches today), Hassan considered the potential of starting a business with such a concept in mind.

In seven months, on August 1, 2018, Hassan opened the doors of Clay Encounters, a ceramic studio and design boutique located at The Pearl in the Qanat district of Doha. Hassan purposefully created it as a small space to evoke the feeling of a family business, saying, “People could feel the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the studio… Everything I did came from one place. love and passion for crafts, and I believe people have felt it. It is therefore no wonder that the studio quickly gained popularity and built up a community around it. Designed to create a collective space that brings together people from Qatar and beyond, Clay Encounters offers ceramic classes for adults, children and families, with its three-day class being the most popular.

“The course gives the community a chance to learn the basics and join our studio family as open members,” says Hassan. The studio also offers open studio subscriptions, if you just need a creative space to craft clay items, as well as host private events, birthdays, celebrations, and reunions, all of which focus on one act. creative creation. “We have built a great community around the studio through our membership program, and the members have become the heart and soul of the space,” said Hassan. The shop’s handcrafted ceramics, which are mainly sold on its website, have also seen an increase in demand. “I think the workshops have made the country aware of handmade objects and people understand their value,” she explains. “Our products typically sell out in less than an hour, and I am very grateful for the support we have received since our opening.”

Source: Clay Encounters

Aside from its classes and open studio membership as a source of income, Clay Encounters also has The Artisanry as a vertical to accept design commissions and orders for custom sets and ceramics for cafes, shops, museums, homes and institutions. He also introduced the Design Lab, which allows the team to be more experimental and to collaborate with designers and exhibitions to make objects and other design-based activities. Since then, she has forged several fruitful partnerships with companies such as Qatar Museums, Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, Qatar Airways, Al Jazeera, etc.

The brand has also exhibited internationally at world-renowned exhibitions such as Maison & Objet in Paris, the Venice Biennale and the Salone del Mobile in Milan. Hassan’s research work as a professor also aligns with the studio’s research component of incorporating digital tools into analog ways of making ceramics. Products made at Clay Encounters are heavily impacted by digital technology, according to Hassan. This resulted in an ongoing collaboration between the studio’s design boutique, Qatar Museums, and Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, with its finished products sold to the Qatar National Museum.

Clay Encounters’ multiple sources of income proved to be very useful during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, where Hassan notes that in addition to being a chance to reflect, it also enabled him and her ‘team, to realize the value of their craftsmanship expertise. Indeed, it was at this time that the team completely turned to the manufacture of its artisanal creations, because it could not accommodate workshops involving the public. “We sold hundreds of handcrafted ceramics in the first few months of our closure,” recalls Hassan.

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Source: Clay Encounters

“We have also collaborated on many design projects with local and international designers. The pandemic is basically what helped us identify the value of adding The Artisanry and The Design Lab. But while grateful for the growth of Clay Encounters in the recent past, Hassan doesn’t like to rush things and is happy to let the business grow at her own pace. “I started small and let the growth of the studio fund the growth of the space, and it happened quite organically,” she says. At the same time, Hassan reveals that his company has been approached with offers of funds and partnerships to expand it across the country, and this is something that is definitely on the cards for Clay Encounters going forward.

As a small business, Clay Encounters seems to take a slow, steady approach to growing, and Hassan confirms that this is something she’s stuck with since starting the business. “The biggest challenge was to start small and resist the immediate growth of my business,” she notes. “I had a lot of ideas that I wanted to explore; However, I was also aware that I had to create a community before expanding. Another factor that Hassan and his team wanted to focus on was designing the studio and its workshops according to the local context. “I had the privilege of visiting many pottery and design studios around the world, and I knew I had to adapt the standard ceramic studio setup to make it a success in Qatar,” she explains. .

“I like to think of Clay Encounters as a ceramic design studio designed specifically for the diverse community and context. It’s special, unique and successful because of it, and I’m constantly refining everything we do at the studio. As a successful independent studio, Hassan plans to maintain the autonomy of Clay Encounters, while simultaneously developing the studio’s design lab. In addition to this, as a professor focusing on design research through manufacturing, Hassan is also keen to engage in more design research at the studio, while also considering the potential to expand the space as the space progresses. as demand increases.

Source: Clay Encounters

As Hassan is someone with an artistic bent who has started a business, I ask her how she views her entrepreneurial journey, and she replies: “The process of starting a business is never easy, because it is a very steep learning curve process. I learned so much about entrepreneurship very quickly, and I wasn’t afraid of failure because I believed so much in my concept and my business. Hassan also admits that she was fortunate to have been supported in her efforts by other women in business in Qatar.

“There is a willingness among women entrepreneurs in Qatar to help each other out, and I have made many friends over the past few years,” she says. “I have worked with many women entrepreneurs, because there is a motivation that constantly inspires me. The misconception is that as a female entrepreneur, things are more difficult, and I think it couldn’t be more wrong. Women in Qatar are widely supported and we have many great female role models that we admire and who have a huge impact on the local community. “

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‘TREP TALK: Q&A with Reema Abu Hassan, Founding Director, Clay Encounters

What have been your biggest lessons from the challenges you have faced as an entrepreneur?

“Being an entrepreneur is a challenge, but it’s also one of the most rewarding things you can do. One of the most important things I have had to learn is that no one knows how your business really works more than you do, so you have to trust your instincts. Most importantly, if you love what you are doing, if you strive for it and have a passion for it, then you will be successful! Many people have told me that my passion and the passion of my team made them fall in love with the pottery and the workshop. The community can spot passion, and people will always be drawn to a business that operates from a place of passion and focuses on community engagement.

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