Kiliim, Co-Founder & CEO
Ibrahim Shams, Co-Founder of Kiliim
Ibrahim Shams, Co-Founder & CEO of Kiliim, on his journey from engineer to entrepreneur and on the importance of reviving the ancient Egyptian craft of kilim weaving
“Everything in life, especially when you’re starting something new, has ups and downs. So do not get demotivated by the first obstacle you come across. Keep going, learn as much as you can and as quickly as you can, and then move forward.”
Q & A with Ibrahim Shams, Founder of Kiliim Rugs
1. Country of residence: Egypt
2. Place of birth: Cairo, Egypt
3. In under five sentences, define your business: Kiliim is a lifestyle brand that aims to revive and sustain the heritage of handwoven kilim rugs by offering our customers traditionally crafted, yet modernly designed kilim products.
4. What social or environmental impact is your business making? We decided to start our journey from Fowa, a small village that sits on the western banks of the Nile Delta in Kafr ElSheikh Governorate, 3 hours away from Cairo. Just a few decades ago, Fowa used to be a hub for kilim rug weaving and home to thousands of workshops, however with a declining tourism industry, the fast spread of cheaper machine made rugs, and a lack of design and innovation in traditional kilims, Fowa’s main industry began to fade.
– We started off with 4 craftsman now we have 15 working for us (7 of which had previously left the profession to work in other more financially rewarding jobs like plumbing, taxi driving or construction only to come back to work with us). We managed to raise their monthly income by about 50% while working in a decent working environment under the Fair Trade principals as we recently became a certified member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO).
5. What is the best part about the work you’re doing? Why? We partnered up with local craftsmen in Fowa and went on to found Kiliim, an online store and lifestyle brand that aims to revive and sustain the heritage of handmade kilim making by offering our customers traditionally crafted kilim products yet designed with modern motifs and colors to suit contemporary homes.
– We complete the craftsmen’s work: At Kiliim we let the craftsmen to do what they do best which is simply the skill and technique of weaving. We complete their work by offering modern designs that makes their final products more marketable to contemporary homes thus opening them up to new sales channels rather than being dependent on tourism, which is what led to the current deterioration of the craft.
– A storytelling brand working on a social cause: We don’t just offer a product like our competitors; we’ve created an upscale brand that emotionally engages our customers — we include them in the making process of our products, allowing them to join our mission to sustain and revive the craft. We also shed the light on the rich history of the craft, the village (Fowa) and the inspirations behind our designs. There’s an interesting story behind every piece and craftsman who created it!
– In the long term, we’re hoping to attract a new and younger generation of craftsmen with diversified backgrounds and hopefully expand to other crafts and governorates famous for their handicrafts industries in Upper Egypt. Hopefully these new generations will add new blood to the crafts and ensure their presence in Egypt’s future.
6. Out of all the products you produce, which is your favorite? Why? The Cottonscape collection (namely the Black Cascade design). We started a line made of premium quality Egyptian cotton, inspired by the country’s proudest producer of Egyptian Cotton that actually answered our customer’s demands — they kept asking for the introduction of a cotton line. It was also a challenge for many craftsmen to work with as it’s thinner and more delicate.
7. What book(s) are you currently reading? I recently started a book called The Tipping Point but I doubt I’ll finish it, I have this tendency to not finish books you know, hehe.
8. Quote you (try to) live by? He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.
9. Using one word, how would you describe yourself? Persistent
10. What is one random fact that most people don’t know about you? I have a 3 year old daughter who was actually the inspiration behind starting this company when me and wife wanted to buy her a kilim rug for her room.