Mitra & Maryam founded OKA Ceramics in January 2020, and it has quickly become a hot spot for budding ceramicists all over Dubai. A first of it's kind mixed-use studio in Al Quoz (it has its own studio rentals, a florist and coffeee shop), the studio is the perfect spot to spend a day in and just disconnect from the outside world. In our latest edition of 'In the studio', we speak on the founding of OKA Ceramics and how it's fast become a refuge for people to disconnect from the outside world.
Q: Tell us the story behind the founding of OKA Ceramics.
Mitra: I came to Dubai to help my son set up a coffee shop, I was working on all the lights and interiors with him. I had planned to go back to Australia, but then Maryam's brother Khalid lifted up an Arabic coffee cup made by me and said 'Let's do this, let's open a ceramics studio.' And that's how I got here. I have been a ceramicist for 12 years and had my own studio in Australia before and I studied ceramics for three years before I started out. I also worked a lot with special needs adults and kids and have held several exhibitions. The name 'Oka' comes from 'Okra', which is a type of orange pigment in the soil you see in Australia.
Q: What were some of the initial ideas you had while designing the studio? How did it translate into how it is today?
Mitra: Because I've worked in a studio for so long, I knew exactly what I wanted. I designed it with my son, so there was another bunch of ideas to make use of the space. So we added shipping containers to create an artist in residence space to bring the studio alive. I wanted it to be a place for people to come and forget the world for a moment, which a lot of people say to me, it is. We opened in January 2020 and it's been fantastic. It's been amazing, actually, more than I ever thought it would be. The thing I always say to people is like we are not a factory, we cannot do hundreds and hundreds of things. So we are we more individualized - for people, which I think is much more unique.
Maryam: We love hearing this word - a haven.
Mitra: It provides an escape for atleast half an hour for people to finish their work and when they're finished, they haven't thought about anything else but that. It's like a little holiday for your mind. I just wanted to create a hub for people to come hang out. So there's a place for coffee and lunch and different things you can do here. You can even rent the space for events, even the studios above. We also have an in-house florist. You can also come and get a day pass where you if you are already experience, can just come for the day and stay all day. There's also a membership we can have. We also make things on a commission basis for hotels, cafes and individuals.
Maryam: It's easy to spot just looking at the finishing of the product. Just when you see it, you know that it's done with so much passion.
Q: What are the inspirations for your ceramics?
Mitra: I do everything very intuitively, I don't really have a plan most of the time, which some people feel that's not a good thing. My plan is comes on the day and a lot of my inspiration...I would say almost everything is it is from nature. I might pick something up at the beach, like the other day I picked up this thing, looked just like one of my vases and I thought - I'll make that. So, nature - mainly.
Q: What kind of people come to OKA Ceramics?
Mitra: People come from all walks of life. We have people coming in for birthdays, team building, and children's parties. We even did a Valentine's day event. It's a very broad and diverse group. People keep saying they feel very homely here. That's what I wanted - I wanted everyone to feel comfortable and be themselves
Maryam: You know - I think when we started, the timing was very right, especially before the pandemic. And when the pandemic hit, you can see that people when they come here...they're really just into whatever they're doing. And I think it's just them being switched off, but at the same time switched up and creative. I like this. I love this vibe - when I come in and see families gathering or so once I saw the mother of one of the artists here, and I sat with her and I talked to her and she's like, "oh, I'm here with my friend and I love being around my daughter." And it just feels so nice that this has been created and seeing family together.
Q: You started in January 2020 but then were asked to shut down at the outset of the pandemic. How did you manage?
Mitra: Well, my son's fiancee and I had this idea of making home kits, so I was here all the time because we organized a pick-up service where people could order online or have the kits delivered to them along with a video on Instagram on how to make it. So that went really well. People were very grateful for that because they were all stuck at home right here. And we sold many of these, because people thought it was a good idea.
Q: How do you source your materials?
Mitra: The material is not locally sourced because the clay we need to do to fire the ceramic is a high fire and is dishwasher safe and that doesn't exist here. I have actually been looking for the clay like that. Someone brought me some samples not too long ago from Syria. You do get clay here but, for low fire - it would only work for plant pots.
Q: What are some of the products that you're working on that you're really excited about?
Mitra: I'm currently working on some big lights for a cabana in an Italian lounge concept. I'm also in the process of getting the Arabic coffee cups ready. I do a new collection for every Ramadan - it's very popular.
Maryam: We sell out every year, I have people calling me and they keep following up to see if there are any more even after they sell out!
Q: What are three of your favorite design spaces?
Mitra: Amongst Few in Jumeirah- not just because my son co-founded it but they are amazing. They put so much attention to detail..it's incredible, everything just works. Every time I go, no matter where I sit there is something new. There's so many facets to them because they have their own clothing brand, a barber shop upstairs, a recording studio...all in the same villa.
I also love 21 grams. I love just the feeling when you go in there - the way Stasha has designed it. It's small, but it's design-wise clean and interesting.
Maryam: It feels luxurious - when you enter in there- you get a premium feeling. You can see how she's collected everything - even to the flowers.
Mitra: You can actually feel the passion, her passion when you walk in. I also like the Courtyard - I don't want to say a specific store. The way the courtyard is, you walk in and you feel like you're not in Dubai...not just Dubai, you're not in a city. And I love the waterways all the way through. When you go there, it's like it actually provides you with inspiration.