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Dubai-based designer, Khalid Shafar, is leading the way in forging a contemporary design identity for the UAE.



April 22nd, 2014

In a city better known for constructing man-made islands and indoor snowfields than for its cultural innovations, a new generation of creative talent is embracing industrial design as a profession. And, Khalid Shafar is, without doubt, the face of this new generation.

Octa Coffee II

Until recently, 34-year-old Shafar was the only designer in the UAE to treat industrial design as a profession rather than a hobby. Others, however, have followed his lead. Today, his passion lies not only in pioneering a new local design aesthetic, but also in educating emerging designers on turning design into a full-time career. “The topic of design entrepreneurship is a hot topic,” he says. “I think it is important to give examples to emerging talents of how you can take design from a passion to a career. I was the first in the UAE to make design a career.”

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It wasn’t always this way, however. Although Shafar trained as an interior designer, he didn’t feel design was a viable career in Dubai. So, until 2010, he worked in marketing and communications for an investment group. When the bubble burst in Dubai, Shafar followed his design dreams and enrolled in a furniture design course in New Zealand. “Until recently, there weren’t any industrial design courses in the whole Arab world,” he says. “I wanted to focus on furniture. [The course] allowed me to understand the making process – I want to produce things that are functional, not just conceptual.”

Octa Lamp I

In 2012, just prior to the first edition of Design Days Dubai, Shafar returned to Dubai to open a studio, workshop and gallery (named KASA) in the Ras Al Khor industrial area.

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From ‘The Palm’ series and ‘Fallen Palm’ bench of his first collection to his most recent ‘Decohaus’ collection, Shafar’s work represents an emerging contemporary identity for design in the Middle East. Local materials and crafted details root each piece firmly in its context, and the forms make subtle reference to location. Yet, far from re-hashing the traditions of the UAE, Shafar’s work offers a genuinely new interpretation.

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“I was brought back by the sense of movement here,” he says. “I am a local designer, and I don’t want to see the design fairs here filled with only international work. The general level of our local design is not yet mature – that is quickly changing, but it needs strong voices to talk about it and show work.”

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Mandi Keighran is Editor-at-large for Indesign, based in London.

Khalid Shafar

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