Young entrepreneur Aminath Shareehan Ibrahim sits down with The Edition to discuss her creative brand 'Thakethi'.
In the afternoon of a scorching hot Uthura Thursday, I climbed up the deck of Jazz Café to meet Aminath Shareehan Ibrahim, the genius and young entrepreneur behind the creative brand 'Thakethi'.
This was not going to be my first encounter with her effervescent personality. We have been well acquainted with each other since our days of prepubescent assimilation to the same grade school in Henveiru. It feels like just yesterday that I found myself in the school library, while Shareehan discussed a book she had just read with me, as I listened on intently.
The winds have definitely changed from then to today. No longer the quiet girl in the library with green ribbon in her hair, a ‘head-to-toe-confident’ Shareehan came prepared for her exclusive with The Edition. As for me, my job will still be to 'listen intently', though now I will be getting paid to do so!
I ordered my cappuccino and proceeded to take a seat at the table under the fastest spinning ceiling fan the deck had to offer when Shareehan, too, climbed up to the deck and approached the table. It was a happy reunion for both of us as we said a Duchenne-smiled hello to each other and sat down together to start our little chat.
I really don't have a clue why I got into design apart from several practical reasons, because I think I'm very much motivated by practicality.
'Thakethi' was kind of an evolution from the days of my Diploma in Visual Communication in Malaysia. As part of my program, I worked with someone who was very prominent in design in Malaysia. He is a designer by trade and knew a lot about the history of design. At the time that I was working with him, he was compiling the Malaysian contribution to a book which was to be published by a broader Southeast Asian Organization. And I ended up doing a lot of research on Malaysian culture for him.
This sparked an interest and a love for Maldivian stories as well. I think we have such a rich culture and an eventful history but most of it undocumented. The little that is, is mostly documented by foreigners.
A lot of stories are passed down amidst Maldivians orally. With this interest, I decided to base my final project on a local Southern folklore surrounding ‘Bodu Maloodhu’. In creating my final project, I knew, then and there, that I wanted to make beautiful Dhivehi books that are appealing to everyone.
Well, a year or two later, I was talking to my siblings asking them 'Do you know this story, do you know that story' and it turned out that they did not have an idea. Nor were they very interested in finding out more about it themselves. I realized that this lack of interest was due to a lack of love for the Dhivehi language. It is tied to one another very much.
So I wanted to make books for orally passed down tales such as 'Foolhudhiguhandi' and other similar tales, in a way that will not be scary for children. I wanted to locally cultivate these stories without necessarily trying to sell it to foreigners.
However, when I tackled the job of writing these stories, I realized that I too had the same problem. I did not know most of these stories, neither did I have too much love for the Dhivehi language either. So I wanted to start from the basics.
Considering the basics, I realized I should start with a board-book. And as it turned out there were none available in Dhivehi. I thought to myself, 'Oh I should start with that one!'
My plan was to create 'per level' books that were visually appealing to children as well, in a way that encourages a growing child's love for Dhivehi, the way they do for English. If we have books of exceptional quality in English, why shouldn’t we have the equivalent in Dhivehi?
My first books that were published are 'HaaShaviyani Dhaskuramaa' and 'EkehDheyhThineh Gunamaa'.
The first print of 'EkehDheyhThineh Gunamaa' did not have the numbers in writing in Dhivehi. However, after several suggestions made by buyers and after thinking about it myself, I figured these books should serve as texts to be read to young children by their parents and be of use in teaching the language to these kids. So, I decided to insert the numbers in writing to the second print of these books.
As for sales, both prints were very well received. I was really surprised by it actually. I got a lot of good comments and a lot of constructive feedback. As I said before, I edited the second print according to feedback. I was pleasantly surprised to see people with teaching backgrounds, who are now parents, coming up to me with advice on ways to enrich my books. It was as though, all of a sudden, I was made aware of a lot of things that they were in need of. Suddenly it felt like a big responsibility.
Let's say for example, a picture book. It has a writer, an illustrator, a language expert and an editor. Sometimes the writer of the story may not be an expert with language. So as a form of a quality check we make sure that we have someone who knows the language thoroughly. And finally, the editor. This is the key person in gelling it all together. It is a team of people that work on one single book.
My initial products, such as the first two board books were done single handedly by myself. However, going forward, I want to collaborate as much as I can for projects. I believe that a team effort produces a more quality product.
The usual process begins with the writing. Once the story is finalized, we move on to layout and illustration. After that is done, we print samples to make sure that everything looks good and then we go for production. It usually takes longer than one may expect. A single story book may take up to a year to make, because writing takes time, illustration takes time, production takes time, and getting funds for production takes even more time.
I am very thankful to my investors supporting my past projects; these books would not have seen light of day without the immense financial help from these people. We are keen to work with more investors in the future as well. In this window, I would like to acknowledge the help of my business partner Aishath Shaheen, who handles all matters to do with ‘Thakethi’s marketing and distribution.
‘Thakethi’ was founded by myself in 2016 and I was the sole proprietor of it until last February. From then onwards, Aishath Shaheen joined on as partner.
Now, the roles are divided among the two of us. As I mentioned, she will be handling the marketing and distribution side of things, while I handle the more creative side. She will be in charge of working with and getting more distributors for 'Thakethi'.
Quite honestly, the hardest part of the whole process is the distribution. We sell wholesale to bookshops as much as we can and we make sure that all the bookshops we cater to sell the books at the same retail price. We do not retail ourselves, but we try our best to bring it to our buyers via our pop-up shops.
I saw pop-up shops taking place in Malaysia and I thought it was a very good solution to small businesses who cannot afford their own outlets or organize a large event. These shops can even be part of a retail store.
However, because of the way things are organized in Malé, the most convenient places turned out to be the cafes. So I approached local restaurants and cafes to collaborate with and they were very open to it.
I think it is a good way for crafters or anybody with tiny businesses to get their things out in the market. I honestly don’t see any reason why people shouldn’t be doing it more often. We have already had five pop-up shop events.
I would also like to note that we are in the midst of planning our first pop-up shops in the Southern atolls of Addu, Fuvahmulah and Huvadhoo. We will be travelling to select islands from the 17th till 30th of January 2019 and will also be conducting a donation effort to the local schools.
The most recent additions to our collection would be the two story books, 'Guguri Buguri' and 'Shaviyani aai Sheenu'. 'Guguri Buguri' is written by myself, with illustrations by Iman. 'Shaviyani aai Sheenu' is written by Ahmed Mauroof Jameel and illustrated by myself. Both storybooks are targeted for kids and are already published and in stores now.
We also have the 'AlifuBaa Voshufilaa'. I wasn’t planning on doing any books in Arabic, however a lot of requests were made and I decided to comply. The ‘AlifuBaa Voshufilaa' has been launched and is in stores now. In addition, I will also be making 'HaaShaviyani' and ‘AlifuBaa’ posters.
We also have a very exciting project in talks. We plan to create a small series of picture books touching on the topic of emotions, for young children. The first emotion will be 'Hithaama' and the book is in the writing stage.
Additionally, we have a factual little book about Whale Sharks in the works now. It is going to be sort of a mini-encyclopedia for children. It is a perfect example of how different people can come together and collaborate on one project to produce something great. I really like the collaborative effort. That is ideally how projects should go. It shouldn't be one person's work, especially with books that are used in education. It should be a joint effort.
Well I am very much two-part. There's Shareehan with ‘Thakethi’ and then there is Shareehan as freelancer. So the book you would have seen would be by Shareehan as freelancer. As a freelancer I am very keen to take on illustration projects and I am actively doing some as well. These include projects of packaging, and occasionally layouts.
I really love Oliver Jeffers. He is very inspirational. As well as Shaun Tan, he is an Australian author and illustrator. And he takes picture books to a whole different level. It really is exceptional story telling.
As for books I just finished reading 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' by Khaled Hosseini, and I am slowly recovering from it.
‘Thakethi’ products are made with love. It is a collaborative effort with wonderful people working to achieve a quality final product. And it is made by somebody who, like your children, is also in the process of learning more about Dhivehi and learning to love the language.
I would also like to add, for any buyers interested to follow our brand and its products, they can follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. We are really active on social media.
We have also, recently, launched Viber and Telegram communities where we only post very important updates. So only new products and new distributors will be announced there. So anybody who is subscribed to these, will get updates. But if they want to see product photos or sneak-peeks they can follow us on social media.
With that, we ended our little chat and exited the cafe. Back into the scorching Uthura heat, until the next interview draws me forth!