Everyday life in Pakistani society often involves frequent encounters with a wide array of cultures inherent to our region. Shaped and influenced over centuries by various civilizations, external factors, and sub-cultures, Pakistani culture encompasses a unique diversity that is admired by many around the globe. Indigenous handicrafts are a popular element of Pakistani culture that reflect our rich and diverse design heritage.
Sadly, this industry is slowly dying due to many factors; modernization & globalization, urban migration, international influences on buying behaviors and preferences, all contribute to this decline.
Compounding these are economic factors – as more consumers gravitate towards contemporary products and designs, interest in artisanry and artisan products decline (being considered less trendy).
As a result, children of artisans and traditional craftsmen opt out of the ‘family business’ and slowly the craft (and with it, many traditions and our cultural history) starts dying out.
A Pakistani startup Paimona wants to change that by bringing our artisan traditions back into the furniture and home furnishings industry, with a contemporary aesthetic. Paimona’s furniture range combines our rich design history with current design trends and aims to promote the “Made in Pakistan” label in international markets.
We reached out to Sana Khan Niazi (Founder & CEO) to talk about Paimona and her journey so far.
What is Paimona? What’s your story?
Paimona is a furniture design brand that is a bridge between local craft industry and the global design industry, effectively filling in the gap with education, innovation and design. Paimona in Dari (dialect of Pushto/Persian) means a chalice. The symbolism of a chalice represents a vessel; a temporary space that shifts a energy from one environment to another.
In the case of Paimona, energy on one side is the context of Pakistan’s traditional handicraft history and on the other side, the contemporary global design marketplace.
It all began with the realization that we, as a nation, are unable to define and translate our culture, craft and identity into meaningful produce such that we remain intact with our roots and benefit from having a rich and diverse history dating back to the Indus Valley civilization. It starts as simply as representing our craft through products in the global market.
The idea is to revive the craftsmen who are at the core of our traditions, equipped with the skills but lacking the resources and expertise to realize the dream. Essentially then, Paimona is a social enterprise whose core is to empower the craftsmen by teaching them how to use design thinking and innovation to contemporize their knowledge and expertise.
Do you really believe there is a demand for furniture that conveys Pakistan’s story?
Sana: More than the demand, there is a need to convey Pakistan’s story through Art – which is how we define our furniture. The modernization, as much as it is a blessing, fails to recognize the value of handcraft as a form of art. For this reason the contemporary design industry now is more and more focused on the artisan and the celebration of the handcrafted design object, within which Paimona is a catalyst.
Through its furniture, Paimona engages with this industry with a language translated and derived from a fading artisanal past.
How effective it is to convey the Pakistan’s story through furniture?
Sana: Pakistan has a rich history and heritage worth centuries and at the core of its traditions are its crafts that have lived with us till today. They tell stories about people who we do not know anything about but are a part of our ancestral past. They tell us how they lived, communicated, traveled. They tell us what problems they faced and how they tackled them using these crafts. They were inventors of the purest form. They lived in a world that did not provide even the basic technology to build upon. They created it themselves. And that is how they live with us still through their crafts.
Thousands of years later, they still hold relevance in our lives. That is what Paimona’s furniture represents. It’s effectiveness to tell Pakistan’s story lies in the crafts of centuries ago to live many more, in people’s homes and in their hearts.
Tell us about your product line
Sana: Paimona has its signature furniture line that is a statement of our everyday lives here in Pakistan. From the Chainak Chandelier, which represents the everlasting love for tea and the dhaba culture, to the Charpai Bench that is a rendition of comfort and beauty in our culture, each piece is a representation of what it means to be rooted in Pakistan’s diverse traditions.
Could you describe the process you follow and the efforts your team put in to create handcrafted furniture?
Sana: For any furniture design to see the light of day, the most important bit is the research that is done to arrive at it. And I don’t mean typing in words on Google. Research for us means going out to the villages and towns or ‘culture centers’ as we like to call them where the craftsmen live and work. To explore the meaning and importance of each craft and how are they used in their daily lifestyle. This makes the basis of any design development. Every design has a story that is linked to the lives of the craftsman and people around them as well as the centuries old history of each craft.
Once designs and their processes are finalized, our craftsmen are trained during the making of the prototypes. It is always an exchange of information where we learn from each other’s expertise and contribute to the growth of our products, our philosophy and our people.
How would you ensure the survival of craftsmanship in a commercial market?
Sana: The concept is to gradually create awareness of the ever-changing design industry – the idea that nothing lasts forever. The problem to begin with was that with the skillsets they have, the craftsmen believed there was only one way to use them, the only way they knew.
Our job is to lead them to understand that while there skills may not be replaceable; the utility of those skills can grow with time and allow them to expand their abilities with knowledge of how to use them differently. Through employment with Paimona, we not only ensure livelihood for them but pay market competitive salaries for them to be able to provide a better quality of life for their families.
What strategies do you employ to promote Pakistani rural artisans and their work on a global scale, and contribute for their education and well-being?
Sana: We are planning to partake in international design shows as an introduction to Paimona’s work and highlight the lives of the artisans through our products and their stories. From there, we will move into multi-brand stores internationally for people around the world to become a part of Paimona’s journey.
What new products are coming in and how more artisans can become a part of Paimona?
Sana: We are working on a new line of home-accessories and furniture to launch early next year. We are also working on building a channel where artisans in remote areas can become a part of Paimona’s team without having to relocate to Karachi.
Would you consider a brick-and-mortar store for Paimona?
Sana: Eventually, Yes. That’s part of the plan.
What hurdles have you faced in taking the “Made in Pakistan” label to the global arena?
Sana: The biggest challenge we have faced is the lack of third-party investment to take the “Made in Pakistan” label to the global arena. It’s a huge operational and logistical cost which we are prepping to undertake at this point. Paimona has sustained on its own since inception, and we have been able to expand our operations locally quite successfully.
You launched an Indiegogo campaign last year for Paimona – how did that go? What were your learnings from this?
Sana: Yes, we launched a test run of the campaign. We managed to raise quite a bit of awareness locally which helped us a lot. However, we learnt that a completely different set of tools was required to create the awareness internationally and make the campaign completely successful. We may be looking at another campaign next year to use our learnings from the last one for a better result.
How was the incubation experience at Nest i/o?
Sana: The Nest i/o filled in a very important gap at a very early stage of my startup. A time when I hadn’t found my bearing and meeting the smallest expense is a big deal. Having found the Nest i/o gave me a platform, a network and a space to get a grip of the key elements of taking my startup to the next stage. It was where I launched my very first product line too.
You are also active in the standup comedy scene – are you passionate about performance arts?
Sana: Performing arts is very close to my heart. Before becoming a stand-up comic, I acted in theatre for quite a while as well. My stand up acts represent who I am as a person. And there is just something about performing in front of a live audience that is equivalent to a drug. That exchange of energy and excitement is what helps me cope with so many other things in life. Like Ellen DeGeneres once said in one of her performances: Why should I pay a stranger to listen to me talk when I can get strangers to pay to listen to me talk?
Any advice for young entrepreneurs, especially female entrepreneurs
Sana: Lots of advice actually! But let me stick to the most important one. When we start out, we have a ton of energy and enthusiasm and also a bit of impatience to make it big quick. Don’t be fooled by the stories you hear about young billionaires. They have had their share of hurdles to tackle and the time they took to overcome them. You just didn’t hear about that part. So if it’s taking you longer, don’t burn yourself out.
Understand that sometimes you have to take the longer route and it’s okay. You won’t be a failure just because you didn’t get their quick enough but never give up and never ever seize to learn, adapt and upgrade.
We wish Paimona all the best in its future endeavors