Bokja Design: A Story of Beautiful Contradictions

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by ELIZA SCARBOROUGH – December 24, 2017

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From the Turkish word describing a cherished piece of fabric wrapping a woman’s most precious possessions, Bokja bloomed in the year 2000 out of the creative minds and the common love of fabrics of Huda Baroudi and Maria Hibri. Ever since, the company has grown into a brand with a vision, a voice, and a passion for Beirut’s beauty and contradictions. The fully hand-made products are crafted by at least fourteen hands, and are constantly telling a story inspired by the surroundings of the motivated women behind the project.

A tell-all of the design’s aesthetics, to the designers’ views on craftsmanship, to their source of inspiration and their fondness of Beirut city; here the creative duo Huda Baroudi and Maria Hibri share it all.

Tell us a little bit more about how the Bokja Design concept was created and what influenced you both to become part of the design industry?

We established Bokja in the year 2000; it was the fruit of our common love for antique tapestries, textiles, and design. Throughout the years we collected precious fabrics from the Levant region, cities along the Silk Road and eventually from all over the world. From there on, we began developing Bokja’s trademark of textile layering and embroidery techniques. We are on an unwavering quest to preserve and reinvent traditions, while redefining them in a contemporary voice.

Why the name Bokja? Where did this passion for product design develop?

“Bokja” is a millennial Turkish word describing a cherished piece of fabric used to wrap a woman’s most precious possessions: her dowry, linens and clothes that were hand-embroidered by the women in the family to accompany her into her new life.

We are drawn to the charm of the way things used to be, when people cherished time, embraced luxury, and had a personal investment in their possessions. We believe that through the revival of our past, we are able to ensure a better tomorrow.

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Define your design aesthetics. What keeps up your continuous motivation that inspires your creations?

Our works are a mirror of the city we live and create in: Beirut. Bokja is a harmonious combination of striking opposites- past and present, beauty and ugliness, ordinary and exceptional. Our language of textiles tells the stories of what is happening around us, from headlines in the news, to political demonstrations and social affairs. Basically, what is on our minds will eventually end up on our designs.

How is your language connected with the materials you use? And how does the process flow?

It’s a process where serendipity and spontaneity play a big role. We are always very quick to produce in a free form kind of style, like improvised jazz music. We discovered a process where we could transform our fears and frustrations into aspirations. And from there onward we were hooked.

What’s it like being in the design industry? What are your thoughts on the revival of artisan and handcraftsmanship, especially in Lebanon?

We are in the artisanship and design industry; it feels like being in the right place at the right time. We try to be relevant and connected to our instinct. We believe in traditional skills and their big addition to any contemporary project. At Bokja we help preserve the artistry of craft artisans and by doing so we maintain history. Hand products are far superior to any machinery type production; they slow down the process to a rhythm that is resonating very positively now in the world.

What are the main elements you love about your studio?

The team! Whether it’s the artisans in our atelier or our studio team, we love their commitment to the creative chaos that is Bokja.

Most of your designs come with a story; tell us more about how important history and culture is when it comes to designing an object?

Story telling is essential; we have been called the Shehrazad of the Middle East. We get inspired by all that is around us. Being in Lebanon, and part of today’s world, is an incredible mix of frustration and inspiration. This energy translates into our designs.

You have collaborated with numerous designers locally and internationally, who is someone you wish to collaborate with that you haven’t yet?

The Campana brothers! The Brazilian duo celebrate design and culture, while simultaneously expressing their roots through colour, textures, and creative chaos, resulting in a triumph of simple solutions.

What is your take on modern design in the Middle East? Especially in Lebanon?

Lebanon’s design scene is budding. So much talent can be found all over. Recently a lot of people were forced to come home because of the worldwide situation, and these new arrivals help create an intense and exciting climate.

Tell us why should people come to Bokja Design?

People should come to Bokja to experience the immersive imaginative experience. The human element, the honesty, the boldness, and the quirkiness.

Name one object that will always put a smile on your face?

The fish!

Name an artist that you always go back to for inspiration.

Li Edelkoort, the world famous trend forecaster. She may not be an artist, but we go to her to show us the way.

Name three things that you could never live without.

Maria: The sun, the sea, and threads.

Huda: Chaos, laughter, and old fabrics.

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