Feminism, Musings, Running In Heels, Uncategorized

Six Lessons Lana Al-Resheed Taught Me Without Even Realizing It

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Mentors are not magic. Your mentor is not your Professor Dumbledore. Your mentor is a human being. They are allowed to have flaws and personality quirks and you are allowed to not like those things about them, and vice versa.

I personally grew up in a family of overachievers and in an environment that inadvertently taught me (or tried to teach me) that I should enter into all things either a) knowing everything or b) pretending to know everything. The more I grew up the more I resented this kind of intimidating and isolated attitude especially when it came to work or school. As a result, I tend to seek out indirect guidance and education from anyone around me who I think is a little extra special, regardless of whether or not they are my superiors in a professional environment. In hindsight, I’ve found that this one trait alone has given me such an overwhelmingly HUGE advantage in my careers as an academic, a writer, and as an editor/publisher. Because I’ve always unconsciously tried to soak up as much professional knowledge as I can from literally every single person around me, I think I can now safely say that I have a very extensive, advanced knowledge base in my chosen fields that most people who are my age don’t have and that usually only develop over a period of much longer, more complex work experiences.

Most recently, I’ve had the crazy lucky fortune of working super closely with known marketing badass and general all around awesome lady-person Lana Al-Resheed who, if you recall, was my debut Running in Heels interview over a year ago. The actual story of how Lana and I met, got in contact with each other, and eventually started working together would have never EVER happened without this humble blog. If you think about it, it’s a pretty strong and beautiful indication of who Lana Al-Resheed is as a person and how much risk and support she is willing to put into someone she believes in and feels a special connection to–even if it was someone she hardly knew like me. The story of how Lana and I came into each other’s lives is one of my favorite stories to ever tell just because it sounds so wonderfully unreal and miraculously fated by God. But it IS real and it’s goddamned beautiful.

Even after having worked with her for almost an entire year now I still don’t know what the exact reasons were for her choosing me and believing in me as much as she did (I don’t even think she knows exactly). All I know is that Lana loves it when she sees things that other people don’t see and she has told me that ‘you are something I saw that no one else saw.’ And, because of that, all I know is that I am lucky and so is she.

From my own experience, mentoring relationships usually end up being some of the most rewarding and meaningful relationships for both the mentor and the mentored, and they almost always develop into lifelong, family-tight bonds, even after the fact.

So, since I think that everyone on Earth needs to, at some point in their professional lives, find their own personal ‘Lana’ (even the Lanas of the world need their own Lanas), here is but a short list of some of the most important lessons that Lana Al-Resheed has taught me without even realizing it. (I actually tried to see if she realized it and asked her to list six of what she thought were her most important lessons for me and she didn’t mention ANY of these, which is, of course, proof that wisdom, authenticity, and versatility are second nature to Lana Al-Resheed.)

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Feminism, Kuwait, Running In Heels

Running In Heels: Noaf Hussein (The Kuwaiti Coddington)

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I present to you Running In Heels: a new feature series on the many women in Kuwait who are worthy of our appreciation. Women you may know, women you should know, and women you’ll definitely be hearing more about in the future. All beautiful, vibrant, game-changing women who have caught my attention and that I think definitely deserve yours as well.

Many months ago, I first made mention of Noaf Hussein and her unabashedly quirky yet decadent talents in a post about a show she put on in Al-Sadu House. I compared her to a “Khaleeji cross between Alice in Wonderland, Amelie Poulain, and Marie Antoinette.” (And, yes, I am plagiarizing myself. I don’t mind.) Even before I had ever been given the opportunity to attend one of her extravaganzas, the fact that Noaf Hussein was presenting something entirely new was always astonishingly clear to me.

Now, a lot of you may be quick to jump out and say: What ‘something?‘ Its event planning and art directing and branding. Literally every other person in Kuwait is doing the exact same thing all over Kuwait all day long. Big-freaking-whoop.

And to that I say: true. But few of these people have ever been bold enough to infuse their own identity into their work and, by doing so, re-package marketing and branding as an entirely personal and unique endeavor in a way that has yet to be seen before. And, that right there is where you immediately think: of course, she means Pretty Little Things.

Because in a super short amount of time (little over a year) and through PLT, Noaf Hussein was figuratively able to do just that. Re-configure all that you thought a marketing campaign, an event set-up, or a fashion shoot could do for you as more than just a mere on-looker but also as an active participant in a strange, new experience. An experience where at every turn waits a dainty detail; whimsical expression; and, of course, a dangling fairy-light.

Pretty Little Things is, in itself, a world. A world that Noaf has decided to single-handedly and entirely fashion into a temporary oasis of quirky, whimsical, unusual, and, yes, very pretty things. And that is by no means an easy feat.

It is not at all a far-fetched claim to say that Noaf Hussein has all the makings to be Kuwait’s–indeed, the Arab world’s–version of legendary Vogue fashion editor Grace Coddington (if you haven’t watched ‘The September Issue’ yet THEN WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?). Just like Grace, Noaf is the kind of woman who, through her eye for unusual beauty and supreme self-assurance, is able to transform a rather routine and insignificant space or idea into something wondrous and one-of-a-kind. She’s the woman who sees beauty in the most unlikely way and then has the confidence to re-capture it for the whole world to see and enjoy. She’s setting a precedent for art, for marketing, and for independent women who are more than comfortable exhibiting their own identity and welcoming others into that special world.

Please enjoy this interview and this insight into the wildly wonderful, organic, and sharp-witted Noaf Hussein who, for all you and I know, could very well be the Kuwaiti Coddington.

Why ‘Pretty Little Things?’

I’m literally obsessed with pretty things. Literally. Anything that has nice packaging; anything that looks visually attractive; even things that I don’t need but I find beautiful, I will buy because I just like the way they look. From the grocery store to vintage stores to random emporiums. I love beautiful, whimsical things with a passion.

Your design aesthetic has always come off as a little whimsy and eclectically chic. Any particular inspiration?

I’ve thought about this recently and I’ve traced it back to when I was a kid. I always used to go to books for my escape. Even now, as an adult, I always want to be transported to a different world and I still feel that need for escapism to another place. A place where its prettier, it smells better, things taste better, the air is different. And that’s the vibe I try to pull off. But it’s never one thing, its continually changing. I’m always looking to other inspirations and chances for that wonderful escape. But, yes, it started with books when I was quite young.

Where did the idea to start such a different and, in many ways, untapped approach to event planning and marketing aesthetic come from?

Honestly, it was a little accidental. The first show I did was in December of 2011 and it was only five brands in a house I rented and it started as a way for one of my clients to market her brand without being a part of a generic show. So I created Pretty Little Things just as a way to impress a client and I never thought that I’d do it again. Because before that time I’d never really worked in events let alone done one for myself, so Pretty Little Things came about in a hurry and in just over 3 weeks time. I honestly never thought I would continue with it at all but when I saw people’s reactions to it—people who weren’t my mom and weren’t my friends—and saw the people that would show up, I was surprised and started to see it outside of myself. So when more people started telling me that it was really great and that they were having a lot of fun, I would be like ‘Oh, really? I just had this checklist and I finished it. You think it’s cool? Ok. Thank you. Did my mom send you to say that?’ Then I thought, ‘Maybe this is something really worth pursuing.’ So I did.

Your success has really been astoundingly fast and you’ve grown so quickly over such a short period of time. You’ve got a massive following and an impressive roster of clients, and rightly so. Care to share the magical formula?

You know, every single thing that I’ve done in my career so far has grown organically. Even with Pretty Little Things—it just happened on its own really. And I’ve realized that once you try to turn it into a formula the magic is gone. It is so magical because it’s so spontaneous. It’s like: you walk onto a random street, you hear music, and you just start dancing. It’s like that.

Where do you get the confidence to singularly present a brand and an idea that is, for its setting, quite different and on such a huge scale?

My home is a household of scientists. Both my parents have PhDs in the sciences, my brother is a chemical engineer, and so, even when I went into something completely different—PR—I was always raised with a sense of surrounding achievement. Everyone in my family, including me, was raised as an achiever. And, because I didn’t end up being a science major, perhaps it turned me personally into an over-achiever because I wanted to prove myself even with a PR degree. What I think a lot of households in Kuwait lack is support for what you want to do and my family was very good in that regard. I was never made to feel like I was less important because I wasn’t a scientist. My decision to leave my corporate job was never deeply doubted by my parents. They trusted me and raised me to be fearless.

You know, people are always surprised when they know how much work goes into the shows and they always make the mistake of saying ‘Thank you, PLT team’ when, really, there is no team. It’s just me. But when you think about it, it seems like too much work for one person. And it probably is but I never thought about it. I was always raised with the idea that if you really want to do something you just do it. No fear; just jump.

So I guess that’s my motto. I don’t think, I just do. No fear.

What do you think are the key issues facing branding innovation in Kuwait?

You know, I’ve experienced a lot of it even with agency work. Because then you end up having corporate clients. And one of the main issues with many corporate clients is that they’re very careful and its harder to push boundaries with them because they already have guidelines set. They want things a certain way. I don’t want to talk down to anyone but, really, a lot of people in charge don’t really understand good or innovative design. They just want to do what’s safe and do their job. It’s a mostly traditional approach that we have but Kuwait has been making marketing strides in the last couple of years, but it’s still not easy. We’re still a young country and we’re still trying to get comfortable with all the other aspects of our identity.

Also, marketing is just one of those things that includes a lot of opinions—which is one of the reasons corporate didn’t work for me. It has a deep structure. And structure, by its very form, kills creativity. There has to be at least 5 people’s opinions consulted, the idea gets changed and stripped down because they always want to be safe and want to be a part of the safe structure, and in the end you wind up with a fraction of the original idea. They don’t want to do something until someone else has tried. That’s partly because it’s more difficult for a corporation to take the blame for something going wrong as opposed to an individual. It hits them harder.

But that’s the main issue: a lack of faith in the unusual and the never-been-done.

What are some of the greater challenges of having to navigate around such a huge career title all on your own?

The nature of my work makes it so that every single project poses its own set of challenges, since I do more than one thing. I host events, I art direct for magazines, I do a million things and I’m passionate about them all but ‘Pretty Little Things’ is my own baby. It gives me a different kind of stomach ache. Every project is a challenge because you deal with different people and then you add the dimension of venues so its never really a consistent outcome. It’s a moving show and every show that happens is perfect enough given the circumstances I’ve had but it’s never completely ideal. Every single time I finish a project I sit down and I say ‘had I known what I know now through this experience I would’ve done so-and-so in a different way.’

But I’m lucky that, at this point in my career, I’ve done enough stuff for my clients to really trust me. And I never want to tell someone that I know better than them—because I don’t, I just know what I like. So whenever someone comes to me with an idea I accept it and then I also say, ‘but what do you think of this?’ That’s because when most people go to someone else to market their business, they’re usually open to ideas. So it becomes a conversation and it’s taught me people skills. In the end you might end up with a better idea because you incorporated both your elements and someone else’s. It’s a dance.

If you had to come up with a new Kuwaiti brand what would it be?

We’re innovators. Even on the smallest levels, we’re a nation of enterprisers. We have the freedom and the ability to do a lot. If Kuwait is known for anything, that would be it. Our innovation has created a footprint in the region. We have our issues, but we’re the cool kids. People are really open to innovation here. So if I was going to brand Kuwait somehow I think I would try to make it revolve around that subculture. I would show how alive it is. Kuwait has soul—real, innovative soul—and that’s our brand.

Do you think there are areas where women in Kuwait need to be better represented?

Kuwait is one of those places where any area is yours for the taking. I don’t know if this is very naïve of me to say, but I’ve never experienced it. I’ve never felt held back because I was a woman. My aunt was the under-secretary of the Minister of Education and my mother has always been a very strong figure in my life and she has a PhD and two masters. She had three kids when she got her PhD. She wrote 7 books. She represented Kuwait in all these conferences. No other woman in the region has a PhD in her specialty, actually. So I’ve never felt like I couldn’t do something because I am a woman. I know people go through it all the time and it’s horrible. I’m sure it happens every day and it’s something we all need to discuss. But I just haven’t seen it happen to me and maybe that’s because I work alone for the most part.

What you do in one word.

I can do it in two: capture beauty.

Are you prepared for a day when Pretty Little Things might be over?

Yes, of course! I’m excited about it actually. Because maybe by then I’ll have already done all that I could with Pretty Little Things and it’ll be outdated. Maybe at that point something new will come along and I will have to join a new, exciting world of marketing innovation. Maybe I’ll be the one to create this new innovation! Who knows? What I’ve learned from all my experiences is that nothing is meant to last forever and that’s what’s so beautiful about it. You take what you can from each experience, you give it the time it needs, and then you move on. Change is organic and change is the only constant. You know there’s this quote I can’t exactly recall and it goes something like, “the tree that doesn’t bend with the wind breaks with the storm.” That’s kind of how I see my relationship with every new venture and that’s how I like it.

What are you most passionate about?

My work. Continually striving. Perfect isn’t perfect enough for me. I’m obsessed with finding my next perfect.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

I really like when people compliment my work or my work ethic. Even when I’m working all these long hours and I’m exhausted and I hate that I’ve put myself in a position to be so overworked all the time, when somebody praises my work its honestly the highest compliment. I don’t remember any one specific compliment though. Maybe I haven’t heard ‘The One Compliment’ yet, so I don’t know.

Your greatest quality?

Resilience.

Worst quality?

Impatience.

Real life heroes?

My mother! She’s retired now, but all she’s accomplished for the context of Kuwait back then is astonishing and inspiring. She thrived in a male-dominated field in a language that she never learned in school. Every single bit of my work ethic I’ve learned from my mother. She’s really made me the person I am today. She created such a culture of learning and instilled it in us as children. It’s because of her that I apply real work and education in everything I do. She set the path for my success and without her I would’ve never even known this path existed. She produced a winner. Pretty Little Things didn’t just happen; she’s the reason behind its success. She’s a warrior but a very gentle one. She gave me everything.

Your most complete idea of happiness?

In a park, sitting on a mat with a picnic basket filled with good food, with my feet up.

A talent you wish you had?

Sketching or illustrating. I want to be able to move people with illustration but I can’t draw to save my life.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a comfort. As someone who makes people feel welcome and at ease and at home.

I’d like to thank Noaf Hussein for giving me the time to merely peek into her ever-pretty, whimsical world. There are so many other facets of this girl that I didn’t get the chance to include in this interview (not the least of which is her avid love of food, and a particularly life-changing passage in Carol Birch’s ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’), but there’s only so much fabulousness that a humble blog post can take, after all. And Noaf Hussein’s fabulousness is damn-near limitless.

All my love!

Beautiful, Feminism, Kuwait, Musings, Running In Heels

Running in Heels: Lana Al-Resheed (The Game Changer)

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I present to you Running In Heels: a new feature series on the many women in Kuwait who are worthy of our appreciation. Women you may know, women you should know, and women you’ll definitely be hearing more about in the future. All beautiful, vibrant, game-changing women who have caught my attention and that I think definitely deserve yours as well.

Lana Al-Resheed is the kind of woman you wanted to be when you grew up. She’s a powerhouse in her chosen field, an innovator, a talent supporter and, ultimately, a game-changer.

When I first heard about Lana Al-Resheed it was in the summer of 2011, in an interview she gave to CityPages magazine (for which I used to write sporadically at the time), and I was immediately intrigued and excited to read about her success.

That’s because, whether she realizes it or not (I’m inclined to believe that she does), Lana Al-Rasheed has made an incredible jump for women in Kuwait. Lana was not only the first Kuwaiti to occupy the position of Assistant Director of Sales in Marketing in the hotel sector, but she was also the first Kuwaiti woman to do so. She then went on to be a Director of Marketing and PR and she co-founded The City, a nation-wide magazine that focuses on a number of issues and interests around Kuwait and boasts of an impressive writing staff.

If you don’t realize why all these accomplishments are note-worthy and are making an active change in the role of women in Kuwait, then let me lay it down for you. In an economy in which only 4.58% of positions of enterprise leadership in Kuwait are headed by women, seeing Lana Al-Resheed excel as well as she has is nothing short of astounding. She has not only succeeded among men, but (and I’m sorry fellas) she’s outshining men at their own game. But Lana Al-Resheed isn’t doing this through any aggressive, destructive power play, instead she’s made her name and reached her position through a much more smart and fluid method. She’s excelling in a male-established, ever changing market by charismatically and sharply navigating her way through that well established system. She respects the system for what it is and then she adds to it her own contribution and her own name brand of achievements.

Women who prove they can win in this way are the most advancing and important women that our society has to offer. Because they’re the women who can change all of society’s perceptions about what a woman is really capable of. They’re the kinds of women who show that we don’t need to separate ourselves from a market that is too ‘aggressive,’ ‘competitive, or ‘fast-paced’ for a woman to take part in. Not only can we merely take part but we can also dominate and flourish in that very same kind of work dynamic.

That is who Lana Al-Resheed is. A game changer of the most subtle and clever kind. The kind that makes the ground shift beneath your feet but you don’t realize it because you’re too busy marveling at just how well she does it. Oh, but you better realize it.

Lana Al-Resheed gave me the pleasure of interviewing her to probe her mind on some key issues within the field and on some of her main, astounding, and various accomplishments. I also tried to reach an insight on who Lana Al-Resheed is on a more personal level with a few non-business questions as well. I hope you guys will enjoy reading into the intriguing experiences and opinions of this important woman in our society and that you will appreciate all that she’s contributed to women as capable, inspiring, and powerful members of Kuwait.

1. How did you first begin your career in marketing and why did you decide to follow this professional path permanently?

I love it. It is full of challenges. In the field of marketing, creativity is a must and you have to know the rules of the game. The rules change often, so you have to be up to date with the rules of the game. That’s how I like to look at it.

2. Not only were you the first Kuwaiti Assistant Director of Sales and Marketing in the hotel sector, but also the first Kuwaiti woman to occupy such a demanding job in this sector. How does this experience—both being the first Assistant Director and the first Kuwaiti woman in this job—give you an advantage? What were the challenges that you’ve faced and learned from in this unique sector of marketing, and as a woman as well?

It was coincidental! The market is very tough, but that tough market and experience is what gave me the biggest advantage in my career. I was learning as I went by. I feel that after the years I spent in marketing I can fairly say that I know quite a lot about the local market. I have met thousands of people — is it too much to say thousands? Honestly it feels like thousands of faces. I have made great memories, and it’s something that makes you smile when you realize you’ve helped in setting up many happy occasions and celebrations in your career. Weddings, anniversaries, dinner parties, award ceremonies, so much happiness and joy.

Overall there were many ups and some downs. Perhaps the downs were also many. I don’t like to look at the downs a lot. I just focus on getting over them and then forgetting they ever existed. It’s very tiring when you focus on your failures, so I learn the lessons and move on.

3. Because of your joint work in both the hotel sector and in marketing, I was wondering what your thoughts were on Kuwaiti tourism: do you have any ideas as to how Kuwait can revitalize its global image and ignite some tourist interest in the future? Do you have any opinions on Kuwait’s current tourism status?

I think we can really achieve a lot if we put our heads into it. I don’t want to sound too cliche but I really must, so here goes: we have what it takes here in Kuwait, we’re just not focused. We have a lot of land that’s not occupied and we have a lovely coast. The weather is not that big of a deal if you think of indoor activities. I don’t want to say ‘look at Dubai!’, instead I’ll just say let’s look at successful examples here in Kuwait. The Avenues Mall is one great example.

But if I was to rate the current status of tourism in Kuwait I would say it is honestly a disaster. It still feels like we’re in the 1990’s. I’m talking about the government sector of course. The private sector isn’t doing that great either. Regarding plans, we all have lots and lots of plans. I think everyone in Kuwait has at least a dozen ideas about this subject.

4. Going from a top-level director in the hotel sector and marketing, starting The City magazine was quite a departure. What was your initial idea behind The City? Why did you decide a magazine was the best medium to get this idea across?

I guess the fast success of theCITY Magazine answers this question.

5. What new and interesting challenges or experiences does working on a magazine offer you? How does it help expand your already vast knowledge of the marketing field?

Working in a magazine is extremely hard and very challenging. We have to think of a lot of things on a daily basis. For every issue we need to come up with new highlights and people to feature in the magazine and interview. So far we’ve been lucky and the number of writers continues to grow steadily, so that’s really good and comforting for us.

6. What do you hope to accomplish through The City magazine in the long run?

To see the magazine on shelves in bookstores abroad. I want the whole world to see the Kuwaiti achievers that we feature in the magazine.

7. As a woman who has made such great and notable progress in so many sectors of your field, how do you think your achievements might have changed the way society views the abilities of a woman?

I never paid attention to what people said. From the first day, I promised myself that I will focus on my job and that I don’t really care what society thinks in its backward mentality. In all honesty a lot of people around me were supportive, because they know that work is work, and I truly believe that great work shines and shows the world who you really are.

8. Do you think there are areas where women in Kuwait need to be better represented?

Women are doing fine. I think we all need to get our work done perfectly, whether men or women. We in this part of the world tend to talk more than we achieve, and I think it’s about time that we change this.

9. What do you think is your greatest quality?

I know what I want.

10. Your greatest fault?

I worry too much.

11. What is your most complete idea of happiness?

Peace of mind.

12. Who are your real-life heroes?

My father, the love of my life. And also my partner in theCITY Magazine, Khaled Al-Qahtani.

13. Your favorite thing to do?

Traveling, painting.

14. A talent you wish you had?

I’ve always wanted to be a horse rider and win medals but never did.

15. How would you like to be remembered?

Helpful.

I’d really like to thank Lana Al-Resheed for contributing to this post and for providing such interesting and important insight on her unique experience and on herself. Be sure to stay tuned to Running in Heels as I’ve got some more downright awesome women in store within the few coming days inshallah. I know that today is International Women’s Day so I’d really like to wish all my fellow womankind nothing but unity, respect, peace, and endless success. We kick butt and we know it.

All my love!

Beautiful, Feminism, Kuwait, Running In Heels

Running In Heels: A Feature Series on Women In Kuwait

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So about a week ago I had an idea. I thought that I really wanted to do something on this blog to celebrate Kuwait in February–our happiest and most jubilant month of the year. And then I had an even better idea. I wanted to do something to celebrate Kuwait all year round. And, immediately, the idea was crystal clear to me: this had to be about women. The way that I knew I could best celebrate Kuwait in all her flickering glory was by celebrating her women. (C’mon! Even Kuwait is a woman! This idea is without fail.)

I decided that I absolutely needed to talk about and give mad props to all the hundreds of thousands–probably even millions (hello! Half the population!)–of women in Kuwait who are, by all means, kicking heads and taking names. At the very least, I could try my best to pretty much just thank as many of them for being made of 90% awesome (10% vital organs, cause they are humans, after all).

I could never call myself an all and out feminist if I didn’t take the time to bring that virtue back around to the only place I’ve ever called home: Kuwait. So many women in Kuwait (both Kuwaiti and otherwise) need to be celebrated for striving to break barriers (and actually breaking them!) which have previously stood in the way of other women, and are now making way for future ladies to continue this important work in our society.

Women in Kuwait need to be celebrated for, essentially, running in heels. Not only running, but also winning, and crossing that finish line every single time.

Now, I know that many important, wonderful women don’t prefer to wear heels at all (I, the lanky white girl, being one of them). To me, wearing a heel is about as comfortable as sticking my foot in a sharp, metal vice. I hardly ever, ever do it. The point is that many of these women are willing to wear this punishment footwear (according to me), and that they are actively running the whole freaking world anyway (Somewhere in East Hollywood Beyonce is extremely happy with us).

But, it really doesn’t matter if these righteous women are kicking butt in heels, flats, or scuba flippers. It doesn’t really matter what their favorite mode of footwear is. That’s why God gave us free will and Vogue magazine. Really, at the end of the day, feminism is much less about what you put on your feet than what you put in your head.

So, I present to you Running In Heels: a new feature series on the many women in Kuwait who are worthy of our appreciation. Women you may know, women you should know, and women you’ll definitely be hearing more about in the future. All beautiful, vibrant, game-changing women who have caught my attention and that I think definitely deserve yours as well.

All my love!