Full disclosure: when I was preparing this story, I was sitting on the couch next to my husband, perusing the KUSHAAN website with approximately 32 tabs open, consisting of all my favourited products...
With a glance over my shoulder, I could sense my husband rolling his eyes at my potential acquisition of more cushions. As women, we often get a bad rap for adorning our couches and cushions with a comical number of decorative pillows (and yes, I am guilty). But when they are as stunning, unique and well-crafted as KUSHAAN’s … Not only are they impossible to resist, but they’re also a fast, inexpensive and dramatic way to transform the look of a room.
The brainchild of Dubai-based mother-of-four, Kate Keenan, KUSHAAN draws inspiration from global treasures such as antique Iznik tiles, exceptional Indian craftsmanship and embellishment, heirloom European ceramics and the colours of Morocco.
Handwoven, hand embroidered and distinctly unique, the brand’s collection is the antithesis of mass-produced goods, by supporting global local artisans and their trades.
We caught up with Kate to find out about the collection, how she manages the business with four children and her tips for styling a space.
Photography | Abbi Kemp
Tell us a little about KUSHAAN...
KUSHAAN is a textile company that specializes in master woven ikat from Uzbekistan, a highly skilled dying and weaving technique that has been used throughout central Asia for centuries. We also stock a range of exquisite hand embroidered suzani panels. These sumptuous, artisan-made textiles are then crafted into handmade cushions for homeowners and designers alike. KUSHAAN also supplies the handwoven ikat by the meter to the interior design trade.
What did your career involve prior to KUSHAAN?
My background was in photography – from organizing photo shoots for GQ magazine to managing a photographic studio to running my own commercial photographic business that focused on family portraiture. Although it was a wonderfully flexible career that I could pour my energies into it in between moving countries or having babies, I think I always knew deep down it wasn’t the right path for me. It certainly never gave me the same feelings of satisfaction that I get from running KUSHAAN. The serendipity of life is amazing though as the photographic skills I gained throughout those years have been so useful in setting up KUSHAAN as I am able to take all the photographs for Instagram and other marketing purposes.
What sparked the inspiration to launch your own business?
After I had my fourth child I ‘retired’ from photography as I eventually came to terms with the fact that it just wasn’t for me. I was searching for what to do and I really delved inside to find where my passions lay as I knew any successful business would have to be driven by passion. I have always had a big obsession for textiles which had nearly pushed me in the direction of Interior Design years earlier. I have also always been creatively so inspired by the incredible aesthetics of artisan cultures in faraway lands such as Turkey, India and Iran. I went to a friend and mentor with two business ideas. She had some great advice and was pivotal in me choosing this path.
My initial startup idea involved designing my own prints, however as I dove more and more into the world of ikat I could see so many possibilities for this gorgeous textile. Although I have some beautiful print designs in development these have been put on hold as I could see the potential and the benefits of the brand staying focused. I am also loving not just the product but the very act of building a business. Creating a valuable resource for designers and homeowners alike is a big driver for me.
How did you make the transition into your own business?
I just launched straight into it headfirst which I actually think is the right tactic. It was so exciting for me to feel so driven and being able to build a business doing something I loved. The unwavering support from my husband was also pivotal in getting KUSHAAN off the ground. Especially as I am running this business solo at this stage, it has given me such confidence to have that constant support.
Many think that running a business while raising a family is an ideal scenario - with flexibility and autonomy. Have you found this to be the case?
I do feel very grateful to be able to be at home with kids after school in the afternoons and not feel like I am missing out on too much. On good days when I have super productive mornings and manage to switch off to be present with the kids in the afternoons – it feels great. Not all days have that balance but it’s something I aim for each and every day. I started the business when all the kids were at school – just- and this has made a huge difference. I am not sure how productive I would have been if they were still crawling around my ankles. That would be tough!
How do you manage the juggle between building a business and raising a family?
I do have days when I feel that I am not giving the business or the kids 100% but my motivation to push the business forward has never waned as I have a real passion for the textiles. One of the big pluses of living in Dubai is affordable help which has allowed me to divide my time between the kids and the business.
Your textiles are beautiful. How do you go about sourcing them?
Thank you! I absolutely love working with such a unique and special textile. Discovering the complicated processes that are involved to create the finished ikat or adras has been an extremely satisfying part of starting startup. They are a sustainable and ‘slow’ textile that is hand made at every stage – something special to hold on to in this heavily manufactured world. I make regular trips to Turkey and Uzbekistan to source the most beautiful ikat to add to the collection. Often weavers can work from the family home and I love visiting them there to see them work their magic on the loom. Sometimes the artisans work up 6 or 8 pedals with their feet and both hands all simultaneously on the loom – it is an amazingly impressive spectacle to see.
How do you incorporate the textiles into your home?
I love a bit of a mashup! The huge color and pattern selection of the ikats lend themselves to mixing and matching. I love to use textiles from other fabric houses, especially prints as I have always been a little obsessed with gorgeous prints! I am currently doing a rehaul of our guest bedroom and I am going to upholster the headboard in one of my green and white ikats and have paired it with a Schumacher print and a stripe for cushions on the bed and then a beautiful linen for the valance. I think I will use another ikat to upholster a bench seat for the end of the bed. I also have my sofas filled with a mix of the silk and handcut silk velvet ikat cushions in various colours and sizes – they look gorgeous all mixed together.
What tips do you have for readers who would like to change up their decor for the new year?
Go for it! Everything costs money and sometimes you have to wait for the right time but if you can make changes then you won’t regret it. Our homes are our sanctuaries, it’s where we repair from this crazy world and spend all that important time with the ones we cherish. I think it is so beneficial to put energy into making our homes a wonderful place to be. Doing one room at a time is a good idea so it’s not too overwhelming energy-wise and financially.
What’s next for KUSHAAN?
I am currently designing and finishing off the samples for the new collection of our handcrafted cushions. I will also be moving the website to e-commerce this year which is an exciting step in becoming more accessible to homeowners globally.
Another exciting development is the expansion of the ‘to-the-trade side’ of the business with distributors now in Australia and five US states and further discussions ongoing. I love working with interior designers and helping them source something extra special for their projects and having global distributors is startup artisan-made way for them to discover KUSHAAN textiles.