Laith Abu Taleb and Aysha Salman managed to fulfil most people’s dreams by turning a hobby into a full-time job, Waragami. During their time at university together, both Abu Taleb and Salman enjoyed the Japanese art of paper folding, origami, as well as quilling, which relies on the use of paper strips to create decorative art.
But practicing an art as simple as origami, which mostly requires pieces of paper, proved to be an arduous task. “Every time we wanted to do this we needed to order the equipment we needed either from Amazon or eBay. So they used to be very expensive in addition to the long shipping times. Sometimes the deliveries used to get mixed up, with us ordering a specific shade of green but receiving another,” explained Abu Taleb.
So when their friends started asking if they would teach them and order papers for them, both Abu Taleb and Salman believed it was time they turned their little hobby into a bigger scale undertaking.
Indeed, shortly after they graduated from university, they set up a company in September 2016 that produces origami and quilling kits. “What we offer are boxes that contain all the material anyone would need to practice these two paper arts, in addition to booklets that help people practice these arts without the need for an instructor.” The kits are suitable for all age groups between 3 and 80, he added, as well as different levels—beginner, intermediate and advanced.
Furthermore, they target people from all backgrounds, including refugees and people with learning disabilities. “We want to use art to bring all people together,” explained Abu Taleb, adding that achieving that was not as easy as it may sound.
According to the 23-year-old, it is unfortunate that people in the Arab still view art as luxury, and not as a necessity in their every-day lives. “Each person needs a hobby to break the daily routine and one of our main challenges was that people lacked the awareness on the importance of art,” he said. This also included the families who wanted them to get regular jobs that secured a salary at the end of each month.
Nonetheless, both were very determined and went ahead with their plan. What gave them the necessary push was received an investment from Oasis500 that was followed by funding from other parties, including the EU. This much-needed funding helped them launch their product across 22 locations in Amman and two places in Irbid. They also sell through Amazon.
What distinguishes Waragami from what is available on Amazon, says Abu Taleb, is that each Waragami box provides the buyer with everything they need to practice the two arts, whereas one needs to order from different places to collect the needed equipment. But what Abu Taleb is particularly proud of is that compared to other products online, the Waragami box is the cheapest on Amazon at $27 compared to a price tag of approximately $50 when ordering from other suppliers.
Currently Abu Taleb is using the local market as a testing ground and hopes that he can go on to distribute the Waragami product in the south of Jordan and then across the border. To achieve that they have already struck a deal with a vendor in Saudi Arabia to introduce their product in the Saudi market, which could help them gain a foothold in the lucrative Gulf market.
They are also launching the second version of their kits, which will be followed by a major marketing strategy for Amazon, a YouTube channel and a mobile application. In parallel, they are also contemplating the idea of creating kits for centers that care for children with autism and Down syndrome.
Similar to Tamatem, Waragami applied to the EY award last year but failed to win any accolades because their business idea wasn’t fully realized. “It became a challenge for me to reapply this year with a solid product. And indeed, in one year to be able to launch a product that helps the community, including people with disabilities and to enter refugee camps, and launch the product through Amazon, is quite an achievement,” said Abu Taleb. “Our aim to become the paper version of Lego so that art is present in every house,” he added.
*This is the last piece in a three-part feature of EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. Click here to read the second piece.