We knew her as an ambitious Kuwaiti girl who entered our homes through social network programs, and with no time, took over our hearts with her passion for work, success, love and life. Honest, polite and bold, she’s straightforward, shares her thoughts with us and tries to spread confidence and positivity around her. Areej had a terrible accident that obliged her to suspend her usual activities for a while, but now she is back on our magazine cover, to tell us more about herself.
Who is Areej Al Kharafi? Tell us about yourself as you see yourself, and not as people know and expect you to be.
I am myself. I’m a normal person who lives as per her own standards and aspires to always be better. What people see in me is what I am in reality. Simply: What you see is what you get.
Tell us about your childhood and your early life?
I am the oldest of my siblings… I was a naughty little girl… A leader by nature… I always led the children’s group and chose the games we should play.
When you were a child, what job or field did you think you would be doing?
I thought I would be a lawyer, perhaps because I heard a lot from my family that I would make a great lawyer for my ability to discuss and persuade.
What is your greatest passion in life? What philosophy do you live on?
I believe in optimism and the positive outlook on life: “Today is better than yesterday and next year is better than this year.” I also believe that continuous development will make us better people. In my opinion, the sincere effort is never lost, and the serious endeavor must make us proud and happy with our achievements.
How did your name become popular?
From my work in my shops, where I used new ways to market and offer goods differently, from the social network programs and other channels that made me closer to people. This difference in communication methods distinguished us from others and linked my work with my name that became popular in early 2007.
What message you always pass to your followers?
My message is always positive and contains many inner thoughts that I build through observing people and community around me. I wanted from the beginning to be an example for the next generation. Every message has an impact and this impact even if it affects one person; I consider it a great responsibility.
What is success for you? How can we reach it in the fields we choose?
Success for me is the quality of life we live in and how we enjoy it. Success is being proud and having a constant desire to develop for the best and not for the purpose of reaching a final destination. We are on this earth to make it better than ever. One of the success signs is that you go to work every day in a happy mood, to work in a field you love and try to be creative. As for my answer to the question of how to reach success, I summarize it with one word: “perseverance”, with it we reach all our goals.
You have your own business and activities in Retail, how did you start in this area? What is the main idea behind Fortune Cookie?
We started in 2007 through a website that was selling our various goods. The customers’ frequent wish to see and check the goods before purchasing them made us think about opening a shop that displays all the goods. The first store was very small with an area of 9 square meters, but it realized our goal, what made us open our second shop with an area of 75 square meters. The initial idea was to open a renewed and different place with nice things, accessories and ideas that connect with our reality and relate to our social life. The merchandise is replenished from time to time and we offer in our store different designs to different designers. That is how “The Fortune Cookie” was launched.
How does “The Other Project” differ from your first place?
The Other Project is a bigger place with a largest area of 180 square meters, and a wider range of brands and designers. The goods there are more varied: home accessories, jewelries, clothes, bags and others.
You have a large base of followers, and you are keen on sharing your thoughts and daily life with them. What is the purpose of this sharing?
I am a businesswoman, a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend. I make sure through social media and my constant contact with people, to show the importance of every aspect of my life and my constant pursuit of excellence in it: how I organize my time while preserving a certain privacy.
What do you think of the social media celebrities’ phenomenon? Do you see that they have changed the advertising formula in Kuwait?
Certainly, they have changed it and dramatically. This applies to the whole world not just to Kuwait. Today, stars, celebrities and bloggers are asked to participate in advertising through social channels because they have simply reached people’s hearts and gained their trust. Business people have built a direct interaction with their customers, and today the public can easily and quickly give its feedbacks on any company’s services and ads, what naturally contributes to the change and development towards the better. In the past, any ad used to be general and non-specialized, whether it was published in a newspaper, magazine or on television. Today, we can customize our ads and choose our specific target, what gives the advertiser a greater power and influence.
Do you support the opinions that denounce these young celebrities and consider them bubbles that will soon vanish?
The idea of bubbles is an old global phenomenon that is not limited to social media. There are singers and actors who became bubbles because they did not offer a static content and did not have a clear plan or goal. This applies to the famous media people: Some of them will be bubbles and others will have a future, and social media is only their beginning.
You are known to be deep away from gossip, how do you see fame and how did you exploit it in a way that goes along with your ideas and principles?
From my point of view, fame should not be a goal but rather a means of delivering a message. The message has many forms, such as trying to be an example at work and when dealing with people, or spreading the concept of volunteering, donating and helping others: Personally I talked about many charitable institutions to encourage people to participate. There are also awareness messages related to important topics such as dyslexia: I discussed this matter with people after I went through a personal experience of discovering the symptom and treating it: A personal journey that led me to find out the problem.
Is there a dark side to fame? How?
The fame is really a two-edged sword with lots of positive aspects. For me, the negative side of fame is the lack of privacy.
What impact or influence would Areej Al Kharafi want to leave in this world?
I want to leave the good impact on people and have an impact on girls in particular. Empowering them and increasing their self confidence. Many girls have tremendous abilities and potentials but need guidance and encouragement. I would really like to actively contribute to their lives and help them show up their abilities. I will be happy to influence their lives positively.
What do you think of the boom in youth projects and the huge successes of young people in the field of self-employment in Kuwait?
I see it as a very healthy subject, a pride for Kuwait as a fertile country and a great environment that encourages and supports young people in every project, small or big. When young people’s capabilities are well and correctly employed, they can produce projects full of creativity and innovation, what in return enriches the society, expands its culture and improves its taste.
In your view, how can the government help and encourage these initiatives more?
As a project owner, I know that time is worth money, so you have to reduce the amount of procedures required, shorten the time of reviews and simplify the administrative complications that cost us a lot of time leading to a huge financial loss. It is very important to have a system that supports the fast issuing of licenses, renewing of work visas, bringing in workers and other formalities that are considered a first step to establishing a project. We need a system that does not take more than two days to complete all required formalities.
You have a business partnership with your husband Thamer al-Abd al-Jalil, do you recommend working with a life partner or is it difficult?
In marriage you always look for someone who complements you, look for special qualities in him that are important for you in your married life. The same idea applies to work and business, too, if the husband effectively complements you with qualities and characteristics that are consistent with your ideas, concepts and principles at work, so why not considering him a successful partner in business too? However, any couple who intends to build a partnership should be aware of the importance of separating their business partnership from their relationship at home. At home, we are a couple with common routine and special and clear roles. At work, the discussion method differs. We divide the tasks and settle our differences and agreements. It is necessary to have two different personalities, one for work and one for home.
Tell us about Hotel Calcutta? From the idea to the execution
My husband and I spent 4 years in India where we got used to the rich culture of India in all its aspects. The Indian cuisine and the local dishes were naturally the first thing we evaluated during our stay there. We discovered that there are lots of Indian specialties that have not yet been served at Kuwait’s restaurants. This is how we started. We always thought about establishing a restaurant so we decided that the Indian restaurant will be our starting point in the F&B field. Inspired by the British Raj or the British Colonization of India, the restaurant’s decor came in the form of an old hotel where Indian arts were blended with some Ancient British aspects. As for the reason behind naming the restaurant Hotel Calcutta: Calcutta was the capital of India at the time and Hotel means restaurant. Today we are very glad to offer Indian food in a different concept.
Why did you want to enter the F&B field? A field known for its rigidity and severe competition
We have a good taste in food and whenever we travel, we insist on visiting and trying the best and most distinctive restaurants. In Kuwait, restaurants and cafes are the first places where people meet and spend times; that is why there is plenty of space to always offer something new in this field.
Is there a new project on the way?
There are always new projects; the wheel of action never stops.
You lately disappeared for a while. Why?
The reason is that I had a car accident that caused me multiple fractures. I was unable to walk for 4 months and had difficulty walking for almost a year. To this day I still suffer from bad effects on my health in general. I talked about the accident in detail on my Instagram account. Many accounts on Twitter retweeted my story and it was also forwarded on WhatsApp. I talked about how the accident happened in seconds and it was all because I was using my mobile phone while driving. Having the courage to tell the truth and recognizing my mistake formed an unintended awareness campaign, and this is something that made me very happy.
Where do you see Areej Al-Kharafi 10 years from today?
I really don’t know, I wish I know the answer…