Abdalla Safwat is an Egyptian graphic designer who lives and works in Alexandria. His start-up “BINFIRNAS” is a research and experimentation design studio that aims to have a positive impact on the society by introducing creative products. He started by designing paper products. By now, he also offers bookbinding workshops in Cairo, Alexandria and Dubai. I got to know Abdalla through a friend on my trip to Egypt in October 2014. His positive, easy-going and authentic personality made me ask him for an interview for this blog.

1. Can you tell us something about you? What are you doing for a living?

I started a small stationery business a year and a half ago until I started heading more towards making handmade bookbinding and teaching it, which consumes now most of my working time.

2. You are CEO and co-founder of BINFIRNAS – Can you tell us more about it?

Binfirnas was founded to be a product design studio that has an educational vision, but it went more towards paper products like stationery and greeting cards. Now, I am perusing the educational part by giving workshops in bookbinding and hopefully more fields related to paper products later on.

3. When did you start with design? Have you always been a designer, or did it develop over time?

I graduated as an architect and as such I stumbled upon a lot of design fields, like graphic design and product design. However recently, I am more into whatever design I need for making a book.

4. What do you enjoy most about being a designer and being self-employed? What is most rewarding about your job?

Being a designer makes me always want to achieve really high standards of creativity and lead me to look into a lot of beautiful things; everyday looking for inspiration. Being self-employed is tough of course, but it is suitable for me as I cannot really follow orders from someone on top of me. I only like suggestions which doesn’t work if you are employed elsewhere.

5. Assuming it can be difficult being a designer and start-up in Alexandria/Cairo – what are the challenges?

Lack of good education and mentors; you have to reinvent the wheel all over. I cannot figure out a lot of things by myself and I don’t see a lot of examples to discuss the problems with, nor can find any training centers to give me the suitable education on how to start my business professionally, how to do anything related to be a start-up or a designer. Everything I do is due to self-exploration. Also there is not a place that I can start my work practically that would be affordable and provide me with what I need. This leads me to working at home, which doesn’t help to make a lot of work.

6. How would you describe Cairo & Alexandria in terms of creativity and entrepreneurialism? Is there an entrepreneurial culture? Are people creative, or encouraged to be creative and entrepreneurial in Egypt?

Recently, there has been small movements towards entrepreneurship; it is mostly headed towards IT and engineering though. In terms of creativity, you can’t find a lot of creative people who you can meet with, only like my case, small unknown in their homes every here and there. Creativity and design is not something everyone appreciate and supports here unfortunately.

7. You recently started also giving bookbinding workshops. Please tell us more about them!

My bookbinding workshops usually are 3-4 days with an average of 5 participants. In January, I gave three workshops in Dubai, which were very successful. Those were just 1 day workshops as the audience was different (they were the busy kind that can only free 1 day in their schedule). I am planning more workshops in the future.

8. What advice or which tips would you give to aspiring designers, start-ups and entrepreneurs? 

Find a mentor and read a lot about the field you want to enter.  It will make your life so much easier and you will know whether you are following the right direction or not.

9. Is there anything else you want to share? Anything that might be interesting for the readers? 

I am planning on increasing the products designed by BINFIRNAS and I’m also getting into new fields. I can’t wait to give more workshops in Egypt, and if there is a possibility, also abroad – so stay tuned 🙂

To learn more about the designer, or to buy products, visit BINFIRNAS on Facebook. To sign up for bookbinding workshops, as a local or even as a tourist, have a look at BINFIRNAS Workshops.