Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Conversation with Fouz & Noufa Al Sabah

Recently re-launched after an ambitious makeover, Khaleejesque is considered one of the most influential Ezines to have emerged from the Gulf. The Polyglot spoke to the site’s founders about their plans to capture the region’s creative pulse.

The original idea behind Khaleejesque was to create a platform to showcase art, culture and design trends emerging from the Gulf. Do you see the site’s role expanding to include Arab countries outside the Gulf region?

Noufa: We’d love to expand further on down the road, but right now we are focusing on the Gulf. It has a lot to offer and a lot is going on, yet the word is not getting out as things aren’t as heavily promoted. That is what we aim to do.

Fouz: We do include stories, people and features about other Arab countries at the moment, since these topics naturally relate to people from the Gulf region. We’ll hopefully broaden our focus to include other Arab countries as well as soon as we expand our team.

It’s often said the internet can serve as a powerful tool to break misconceptions and bridge culture. Although your primary audience is in the Gulf, what do you hope someone in London or New York takes from the site?

Noufa: Surprisingly, we’ve noticed an increase in international visitors to Khaleejesque, especially towards articles covering culture and traditions in the region, such as our exposé on the “Dishdasha/Thoub” (Men’s traditional dress in Gulf). We’ve found that our international readers want to know more about our culture, from local eyes as opposed to Western viewers that document those things.

After being online for a couple years, why did you feel now was the right time to relaunch the website, and what are some of the things you’ve tried to accomplish with the redesign?

Fouz: We launched in June 2009 with a very basic site and initially really wanted to get going with Khaleejesque as quickly as we could. The old website was limiting us in terms of technical/creative/editorial expansion and many people were mistaking us for a blog, which is why we felt the need to update the website as soon as possible.

We wanted to enhance the Khaleejesque experience with the redesign, by making it much more easier to navigate, interact with and most importantly be visually pleasing. We always make sure we have quality content and naturally it deserves to be presented on a quality site.

Are there any challenges to running a Ezine like Khaleejesque?

Noufa: Yes, loads. Getting the right talented freelancer network is one of the hardest aspects of running an Ezine. Since we are based in Kuwait, we need people to be our eyes and ears in the other 5 countries that make up the Gulf region. Having the right people is crucial.

If you could pick one story on Khaleejesque that touched you or are most proud of what would it be?

Fouz: it’s difficult picking just one since I’m honestly proud of each story that gets published on the site, whether they’re exclusive interviews or special features. On the other hand, I’m extremely proud of our fashion editorials. It was a challenge persuading fashion stores to lend us their products at first, but by our second editorial we’ve been getting phenomenal feedback and a lot of interested designers and stores wanting to be featured in our future editorials. The fashion editorials literally take months to plan and it’s amazing to see the final result. It’s also fun to see how surprised people get when they find out that a young local team could create such professional editorials.

The world has become increasingly global, and you’re finding a larger number of people from the Middle East living and working all over the glode. Does Khaleejesque offer a place for them as well and would you include their stories in the future?

Noufa: Yes, we always like spotlighting different personalities, be they local or regional. We’ve recently featured Rana Salam, a successful Arab graphic designer working abroad and making her mark in the world of Graphic Design in the UK.

In the last couple of years we’ve seen a lot of fashion/lifestyle magazines emerge in the region, yet none of them have really created a strong enough presence but have remained niche publications. Why do think that is?

Fouz: I don’t think being a niche publication is necessarily a negative thing, since catering to a larger audience might compromise the publications vision and affect its content. However I do believe a niche publication can create a strong, wider presence if the quality of its content is outstanding and it constantly delivers something unique to the scene.
Kuwait has a long history of female activism, such as electing women to parliament, and Sheikha Hussa Al Sabah’s work promoting Arab and Islamic culture around the world. Do you see yourselves as having a role in that movement, and using your site to promote talented women from the region?

Noufa: Yes, we’ve basically created a portal that shares what’s happening in the Gulf to local, regional and international viewers. Apart from exporting and shedding light on local as well as regional talent and initiatives to a bigger audience, we’ve helped promote them further. It’s not just about sharing ideas and insight from this region; it’s about educating locals and foreigners alike on what we as a region have to offer, be it from men or women.

Is there a particular country in the Middle East that you would like to explore more?

Noufa: Saudi Arabia, it has so much to offer such as its fascinating arts and culture scene. But our constant struggle to retain freelance writers from there seems to always end in vain.

Fouz: Oman has a rich heritage that I’d love to discover. The Omani culture is very vibrant, still deep-rooted within society and not widely exposed, which is why I think there are so many stories waiting to be told from there.

Finally, where do you see Khaleejesque 10 years from now?

Noufa: Bigger, better and maybe in print. Although our online presence allows us to reach a much larger audience, it’s always nice to have a hard copy of something.

Fouz: We’re always brainstorming so the possibilities are endless when it comes to the future of Khaleejesque. I’d love for Khaleejesque to be a well-respected source for Arab culture, a forerunner in the online publishing industry and a future hub for all creatives in the region.

Images courtesy of Khaleejesque

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Biba Al-Sabah said...

We love khaleejesque! proud of you my lovely cousin! xx

Boodlz said...

Great interview! Really proud of the of the work they have done and everything they accomplished! I wish them the very best and more success in the future!

Anonymous said...

good job guys, keep it up

Fouz said...

Thanks for the support Bibi and Boodlz!

And a big thank you for the feature Alex!