BEIRUT: Fabrics were her first love, but circumstances took textile designer Hala Habib’s life on a different trajectory. She became a business graduate and a full-time mother.
“I always wanted to study textiles, but we didn’t have it here in Lebanon and I couldn’t go abroad at the time, because it was during the Civil War,” she says.
Three decades later, her 2-year-old furniture design business, Barjis, is flourishing. Out of her shop in Ras Beirut, Habib sells chairs, benches, and, most importantly of all, pouffes furbished with her collage-style textiles.
“I started as the pouffe queen. Pouffes and cushions only,” she says. The furniture item has now become something of a trademark.
“I love working with pouffes. I’m a pouffe lover. I feel every house should have a pouffe in some corner,” she says. “You have a dead corner and you don’t know what to put in it? A pouffe.”
The business began as a hobby when, after a period seeking a new career path, Habib’s sister, an architect and interior designer, sent her a bag of fabric scraps.
“I couldn’t resist. I made like 30 pouffes from this one bag of fabric,” she says.
Her burgeoning business owes a lot to her family background, Habib says.
The shop she works in belonged to her father, and she says she got her attention to detail and knowledge of crafts from her mother, who liked to balance her job as the vice consulate at the Danish Embassy with home crafts.
“On the side she loved working, doing everything with her hands. Embroidery, our clothes,” Habib says. “It was in the house all the time, and with perfection. She was very meticulous, to the minute detail.”
She also owes a lot to her own sense of style, in particular her love of color, developed while on a trip to India three and a half years ago.
“It was fantastic how you see – I was watching once – women standing all together in an open air church. And the colors of all these saris ... you just fall in love,” she says. She now incorporates materials sourced in Asia into her designs, with Sri Lanka a particularly favorite market.
Barjis, which is named for the traditional board game played on fabric, which Habib says she’d like to see come back into fashion, has come far in its short life. Habib now ships to markets as diverse as Egypt, the United States and Switzerland, and will soon launch points of sale in Dubai, Oman and Jordan.
She also plans to branch out into creating her own furniture, and has begun to work with Palestinian embroiderers, and says it’s important to her that her work has a social element.
However, she hasn’t forgotten where she started, as a local neighborhood shop, where the majority of customers were passersby.
“I love that I can look at the buildings [around here] and know that there is a piece of me in them,” she says.