Today on A Well-Designed Business, I am joined by Sara Hamza, a Danish-Egyptian designer and the founder of Nina June, a custom furniture and styling brand. Based in Cairo, Egypt, Sara operates her business from a place of compassion, genuinely seeking to know and understand her clients so she can serve them better.
Sara is sharing how being diagnosed with RA as a teenager impacted her life and career, how she currently defines success, and what listening to the podcast for the past few years has taught her.
[6:33] Sara talks about how she operates her design business in Egypt and how the podcast has helped answer many questions she has along the way.
[12:17] LuAnn and Sara discuss why connecting to your clients with compassion is important, and how Sara’s medical history has informed this lesson in her business.
[19:34] Sara explains how being diagnosed with RA forced her to make difficult choices, prioritize her activities, and delegate from a young age, which all serve her in her business now.
[24:49] Sara tells LuAnn that she learned to define her own success by listening to the podcast.
[32:31] Sara describes her furniture lines and what she offers at Nina June.
[36:22] LuAnn and Sara discuss how her Danish and Egyptian roots contribute to her character and influence her designs.
[49:36] LuAnn and Sara talk about the importance of wellness, in life and in order to sustain a successful business.
“Compassion means that you're actually willing to do something about it, versus empathy—where you just feel with a person.” – Sara Hamza
“People really pick up when someone is genuine, and when someone is reliable and trustworthy. And when your client sits in front of you and feels that—you're booked on the spot.” – Sara Hamza
“We're not looking for something so far away—we're looking for something that's truly part of us…What is my real “why” here?” – LuAnn Nigara
“I think much of the maturity that I've obtained the last three years is because I had to look inward.” – Sara Hamza
“If we want to change ten things, we have to start with actually changing one thing.” – LuAnn Nigara
Sara Hamza landed her first job, painting seashells for a gift shop, when she was just 12 years old—it was the spark that kindled her desire for a creative career. At the time, she had no idea which area her artistic flair would lead her but throughout her rigid education, she craved an outlet that would release her imagination.
Born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1985 to an Egyptian father and Danish mother, she lived a family-oriented daily life that would seem unsophisticated compared to life in other capital cities. After completing German school, she studied architecture at the Fine Arts University in Cairo while applying for a Design and Innovation course in Denmark.
Perhaps she is an overachiever, because not only did Sara complete her design course, but also began her first design-related job whilst studying. Coordinating between a Danish designer and an Egyptian manufacturer, she got her first opportunity to visit a tradeshow in Stockholm, an experience that filled her with awe and strengthened her ambition even further.
Following her graduation, Sara returned to Cairo where she was fortunate enough to get a job with award-winning designer Karim Mekhtigian at Alchemy. She worked there for three years, garnering experience, and pursuing other design enterprises, such as the design and manufacture of her well-known flip-flop brand Shibshibi.
Sara decided it was time to stand alone so she left Alchemy spending some time designing her own home and taking on projects for acquaintances and a growing number of clients. Increasingly, she took the time to sit with clients and understand their backgrounds, struggles and dreams before designing for them. It became a truly satisfying part of her work and she found that knowledge of a client’s story gave her an instinct for what they would find both comfortable and comforting in her designs. Alongside the projects for her new clients, she took on designing a furniture collection for a well-known brand, C-Reality. At Egypt’s largest trade show, her collection was received well by the crowd and fellow designers—an immense thrill for Sara.
Since then, Sara has taken part in several design workshops, including the D+I workshop, which was one of the first design workshops in Egypt, where she exhibited her ‘drop table-lamp’ at one of Egypt’s most historic neighborhoods, Moez street.
In 2013, she started her second brand, House of Vintage. It evolved from an idea inspired by her love of mid-century Scandinavian furniture which she enjoyed rooting out at markets in Denmark, Sweden and Germany. She began to ship her finds to Egypt, refurbishing and selling them. This business kept her busy while her next idea for what she really wished to do germinated and she got the courage to begin her own brand of furniture design and home styling.
Nina June’s first collection was well-received when it launched in November 2019. It combined a perfect blend: Scandinavian look and feel, vintage touches, and the warmth of Egypt. The Nina June style was a celebration of simplicity and cosiness, with just a breath of luxury that pampered its clients, so when Coronavirus hit Egypt straight after the launch in January 2020 it seemed that everyone would be home forever. However, contrary to all expectations, Sara was able to take part in a pro bono program, where designers performed free online home makeovers for people who would not normally think, or indeed be able to afford, to have their homes redesigned. It was this step which promoted her home-styling career.
The Nina June brand is all about collaboration and since February 2020, when Sara launched her wood workshop and office with her new partner, the brand has collaborated with wallpaper designers, metal sculptors, pattern artists and mosaic artists, to name but a few. She can offer furniture production services to designers, directly to customers, or a full home-package consultation. The individual creative vision of so many artists and their ability to discuss and benefit from each other’s knowledge and ideas stimulates the brand keeping it fresh and inspired. Today the workshop houses eight carpenters with a team of six in the office and it is still growing.
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