What started as a pandemic pastime – learning how to handweave rugs – is now the thriving Ghazlah Studio, making a splash in Riyadh with its offbeat designs.
Old friends Bassam Alkhulifi and Saud Alrasheed spent their pandemic self-isolation period in their respective homes in Riyadh, staring at their interiors, trying to come up with ideas to occupy their free time. They decided to embark on a redecoration process. “We wanted to find unique new rugs for our home but couldn’t find anything locally that we liked, so we decided to make them,” explains Alrasheed.
As far as quarantine hobbies go, carpet weaving has a steep learning curve. Neither Alkhulifi, an artist and designer by trade, nor Alrasheed, an avid art collector, had any experience in weaving. Still, they were undeterred. Alkhulifi sketched out some ideas for visually popping rugs. Together, they took six months to learn how to conceive designs, source materials, and weave the rugs, which they hand-tufted using 100% acrylic yarn and a “cut and loop” technique. It’s a departure from traditional Arabian carpets that date back to Ancient Egypt 2 700 years ago, and which were most commonly made with sheep’s wool. Over the centuries, rug weaving traditions and techniques were passed down from one generation to the next, with a single rug taking months or even years to complete. Oriental designs reached Europe via the Silk Road, where Italian noblemen would showcase tapestries not just on the floors but on the walls of their homes.
While the duo’s venture started as a pandemic pastime, the pair’s creations have since gained traction, leading to Alkhulifi and Alrasheed developing the concept into a commercial project. They recently launched Ghazlah, a boutique collection of bright and cheerful rugs that can double as works of art. The debut collection is entitled Color as a Scene and is meant to elicit a collective of emotions in the viewer at a time when many people’s sentiments are conflicted due to the pandemic. “Whenever I walk into a room, I look at the objects and think these items witness a lot of scenes.
They are capturing a lot of moments, be they sad, happy, or bored moments, by yourself or with friends. I want to splash all these emotions on the piece itself,” explains Alkhulifi.
The rugs are meant to be experiential, says the brand’s creative director, Somayyah Alzahrani. “It’s letting people live the moment through the pieces; to look at a one and perceive whatever emotions they have for that color, using all of the patterns and the splashes, and the systematic lines of black and white. They are made for the audience.”
The timely collection has resonated with the Riyadh glitterati. A launch event held in August drew a crowd of figures from the local fashion and art scenes, as well as members of the royal family. All 13 unique pieces in the debut collection sold. “The night of the launch, I only slept two hours. We were in shock. We were not expecting that. We thought that maybe we would not sell anything,” recalls Alrasheed. “My phone wouldn’t stop ringing, everyone was calling me. A week after the launch, we had an interview on TV. My friends started sending me Snapchats of my picture on TV. Some of them didn’t even know I was working on this before that. We felt really proud.”
For both those attending the event and the creators, the launch was a bright spot in a bleak year. “One of the people who came was Turkish and he told us he’s been in Riyadh for 10 days and it was all very beige, and that he was so glad he came to our gallery because it’s colorful and it made him happy,” relates Alzahrani. “It wasn’t the intention to be happy and colorful. Colorful, yes, but not necessarily happy. It’s up to the audience to decide whether it’s happy or not.”
In Ghazlah’s Riyadh workshop, the walls are covered with neatly organized shelves with spools of yarn in every color and some of Alkhulifi’s paintings and rugs that are still in progress. Alrasheed gestures around the space, “This place is full of rugs that we made but decided not to sell. Why? Because we love them. I’m trying to push Alkhulifi to sell them, but he won’t.”
They may not be able to hold out for much longer. Word has spread and Ghazlah has received an influx of orders from Kuwait, Cairo, and the UAE. Their second collection is almost ready, and they plan to reveal future collections twice a year, in time with the fashion calendar. There are also plans to design a furniture collection. Alrasheed is even more ambitious. “I want us to do four collections a year,” the creator says. “The first year was a learning process, we can do so much more.” The pair has been so busy with their passion project turned business venture, they overlooked one key thing, “It’s funny, until now we still have not made a rug for our rooms,” Alrasheed says with a smile.
Originally published in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of Vogue Living Arabia