Yara Tiass is a Syrian-born entrepreneur who was deeply impacted by the devastation in her home country. After completing an MBA in Paris, she moved to Dubai in 2015 to start a small grassroots initiative with her friends through which they could help support Syrian refugee children via art and educational projects. But soon, she found herself channeling that passion as an entrepreneur, motivating her to start and grow her own company committed to helping build sustainable communities. Today, she is the founder of a jewelry brand called uSfuur, which, in addition to producing beautifully crafted gold pieces, works in partnership with a charity organization to support Syrian refugee communities through art-therapy, education and community-based projects.
In this interview with Tharawat Magazine, uSfuur founder Yara Tiass shares her experience as an entrepreneur and how her brand is supporting Syrian refugee children, one piece of jewelry at a time.
What is uSfuur and how did you go about building the company?
I think what compelled me to start uSfuur was the urge to express my creativity through arts and craft; I found jewelry to be a beautiful medium whereby one can express and manifest their identity in different forms. As a result, I started uSfuur and I fell in love with it.
uSfuur is an emerging jewelry brand for a cause where with every purchase, we help support a refugee child in need by donating a percentage to our charity programs with displaced Syrian children. uSfuur translates to the word “bird” in Arabic, and it symbolizes freedom, peace, strength, and hope. As our region is engulfed in distress, the company’s mission is to shine a little light and spread a message of hope, which is exemplified by the fact that our main icon is a uSfuur.
It’s a year and a few months old, so still a very young brand. I am constantly experimenting with new and different design realms, but the bird icon is always present in each and every piece as it is the cornerstone of the brand. Its operations revolve around design and technical work, marketing and social media, and business development, logistics, and retailing. There is so much creativity in the brand, from design work to events to photoshoots, which I love.
How is uSfuur different from other jewelry brands and where does the inspiration for its pieces come from?
What is unique about the brand is the bird symbol and the message it entails: every piece gives back to help support a child in need – as a result, there is a very strong social purpose incorporated into the business model. The inspiration for our pieces comes from a variety of sources from art to fashion to design. I look at trends and get inspired but I also don’t feel the need to follow them all the time, which is exciting and challenging simultaneously. I like for the pieces to be attractive, simple, elegant and comfortable to wear.
Why is the social purpose so ingrained into the company’s fabric?
I took up the cause of supporting Syrian refugee communities because it complements my other passion, which is contributing and making a positive difference through the fields of arts and humanities. I also felt that the cause would be a beautiful addition to the brand because people are drawn to a product when they know that a part of it goes to something bigger than themselves; it becomes meaningful. Our focus on this sustainability was built into the company when we first started because we wanted to make it a socially conscious business, so the element of giving is very much intertwined with every piece that we produce.
What kind of tangible impact has your company had on the lives of the Syrian refugees?
Our greatest and most direct contributions can be seen in our partnership with Makani, a charitable organization that operates a learning center in Reyhanli, Turkey. The center supports displaced Syrian children by providing them with access to education, arts and crafts, and recreational activities to create a safe haven where they can heal, learn, and grow. By supporting Makani financially with every uSfuur piece that we sell, we make a direct contribution to embolden the charity and its programs in inspiring and empowering displaced Syrian children. We hope that in the long run, we will also reach a level where we can actually work with displaced or unprivileged communities and include them in the jewelry making process; that would be really incredible.
As an entrepreneur, what were the greatest challenges you faced getting to where you are today?
There are challenges on a daily basis and I found myself constantly worrying, especially given that the brand is still very young; you need to make sure it’s relevant to the market while being different. One of the greatest challenges for me has been to try and find ways to scale the business without relying on a continuous source of funding. But the most beautiful moments are when you realize that there is so much potential in what you do and that people from all around the world love and relate to the brand. They feel a special connection to the bird in particular, and that is encouraging.
Tell us what it is like being an entrepreneur in such a volatile region as the Middle East. What does it take to succeed here?
It’s tough but really exciting at the same time. Being in Dubai, in a safe and stable haven amidst all the distress that we’re seeing in the Middle East, is really great and inspiring because you meet and work with people from different cultures with so much to offer so there’s really room to learn and grow. Of course, it involves a lot of all the usual stuff like hard work, endurance, and a vision of where you’re going and where you want to be in the next few years. But being surrounded by people who love and believe in what you do adds a tremendous element of joy and is so empowering.
What is uSfuur’s plans for growth?
The plan is to grow online by selling via our website and via different online stores but also to stock in prominent boutiques around the region and beyond. We also have plans in terms of developing the designs, making them more sophisticated by adding different materials, gemstones, and diamonds. Another thing would be to collaborate with inspiring people in the fields of art and fashion. I love to collaborate with creative and talented minds so this is something that’s constantly on my mind.
What is your ultimate vision and goal for uSfuur?
My ultimate goal is for it to become an international company where people from different backgrounds and cultures relate to the brand and are familiar with the cause behind it. I hope that, through uSfuur, we will also be able to expand our humanitarian efforts to reach out to many more displaced children in need. It would be incredible if one day, we are able to support humanitarian causes all across the Middle East.
What advice do you have for fellow business leaders and entrepreneurs looking to grow?
To keep persevering and keep themselves motivated even when things seem messy or too hard to achieve. It’s important to keep learning and trying out new things to feed our creative minds – I believe being creative and original is important even more so in a volatile region. It’s also important to always be curious and maximize our potential. I believe in the power of collaboration and think we can create beautiful things when we merge our talents. And finally, listen and ask for feedback; there’s a lot of amazing people out there who love to support a great idea and want to see it grow.