It takes courage to quit a high paying job to chase an entrepreneurial dream. More so, if the goal; a personal milestone, to preserve the country’s historical identity and showcase its culture through an unlikely business.
That’s what makes Mohammad Kazim so special. The 35-year-old Emirati resigned from a cushy government job in 2013 and joined hands with friend Muneera Al Tamimi from Saudi Arabia to launch Tamashee – a luxury footwear brand aesthetically rooted in the fascinating history of the Arabian peninsula.
“The idea was to revive traditional GCC sandals (zbairiya, madas or nadjeya) by giving it a contemporary twist while preserving its strong Arab cultural identity,” recalls the mild-mannered Emirati who has a masters degree in clinical engineering from the US.
“Not everyone could afford a footwear back in the day. Those who could, wore open toe leather sandals which came to the region from India,” says Kazim, who has done extensive research on the subject. “Over time, the top of these sandals would invariably come off due to wear and tear. They were sent to a small town in Saudi Arabia for repairs. Here, craftsmen using camel hides would stitch back the top piece to the base using metal rings.
Occasionally, they also added their own geometrical patterns to the finished product. This spawned a new kind of footwear which later became known as zbayriya,” said Kazim whose grandfather Abdulla Kazim was a famous pearl merchant in Dubai and among the first ones to own a house in Bastakiya. “All nobles and merchants wore zbariyas until the Fifties when it was replaced by wedge sandals commonly known as naal,” he added.
“As wedge sandals became popular, the zbariyas slowly faded away into oblivion, and along with it, a part of our history. So we made it our avowed mission to bring zbariyas back into public consciousness. But reviving a footwear that had fallen out of favour was not easy. We travelled the world to collaborate with manufacturers and pattern makers to make the footwear appealing to modern tastes.
“We reinvented the footwear, adding colour and comfort by incorporating traditional motifs from the region,” he said, showing a viper-skin sandal-inspired by a snake cult which once inhabited wadi Mai in Fujairah.
Tamashee’s new collections are influenced by archaeology, rock art and ancient inscriptions of the Arabian Peninsula.
The Islamic calendar is imprinted inside the right foot of every Tamashee sandal.
Other signature elements include turquoise colored heel and laser burn detailing. “Our research shows that turquoise was the dominant colour for men and women in the region so it made sense to reintroduce it,” he explains.
Kazim said their brand is driven by three social aspects: “Preserving Identity,” “Representing Culture” and a humanitraian component coined “Colouring Lives”.
“I donate these sandals to people of determination as often as I can,” he said.
Since its launch, Tamashee has grown from strength to strength. Despite their steep price (Dh800-Dh3,000), the footwear are sold off no sooner then they hit the shelves.
When he’s not busy at Tamashee, Kazim doubles up as a tour guide for the region. “It’s an honour to be a licensed tour guide. I think it’s my moral obligation to tell our story to the world,” he says.
“Our region is abundant with beauty and consists of intricate layers of culture and history. “For years we were made to believe that we have nothing, but the fact is that we have so much to offer. In fact, we have barely scratched the surface of our infinite wealth of history and heritage. Being a coastal region we have been at the crossroads of civilization for centuries. I guess that’s why we have always been open-minded.