A few months ago, we were introduced to a local brand called Esskayarr (pronounced Ess-Kay-Arr). This little shop of dreams create some of the most amazing artwork in the form of calendars and notebooks. We had the pleasure of meeting the creative brain behind the local brand, Nisa. A lovely and inspirational person who we are blessed to now call a friend.
Read on below to discover her personal journey from madrasah to art school to creating Esskayarr.
Tell us the story of how Esskayarr began?
I grew up as a Madrasah student for 12 years. Learning Islamic studies and, Quran reading and memorization. As a primary and secondary school student, I always enjoyed art. After my GCE ‘O’ Levels, I made a change in my educational path to learn management studies in Singapore Institute of Management even though I did not know what was it all about. I had to study numbers which was my number one enemy. haha.
I graduated with a diploma at the age of 20 and I started a Quran Academy that is now known as Yameen Quran Academy, together with my then fiancé (now husband) focusing on Quran reading for working adults. Also, with the encouragement of my father, I furthered my studies in University of London taking Business Management (in SIM University).
I flunked, twice. Although the cut of point was 34%, I did not make it. My father asked me what was it that I wanted to learn since I have already flunked twice. I knew at that point of time, numbers and I did not click. I was searching for something that was very “relatable and applicable”. So I applied for Social Work courses. I went for the admission interview with the Dean and got through. I excelled in my studies and I enjoyed going to school and my favourite module was Psychology.
In Yameen, my role was to teach and manage the backend of the company. My main job was to teach, plan courses and events which included designing marketing collaterals. So when people asked what I did, my official profession would be a Quran teacher in short. But not for long.
One day as I was designing an upcoming course for Yameen, my husband asked me a question, “Have you ever thought of becoming a graphic designer?” I was stunned by that question. It felt like a huge ball in my throat. I did not know how to react. I have always had major love for art and design. But, I didn’t know that I had a choice in making it as a career because all this time my father had always been the main reference to my career and educational path.
A very big part of me pushed me to pursue and there was this small part telling me to stay put and just continue doing what I had been doing. I gave myself a chance to try. At the very least, I knew that if it didn’t work out, I can safely say that I have tried.
I went online to ask my friends if anyone needed logo designing service and offered them as low as $100. I received 20 clients in a month. This included designing collaterals for the first Muslimah Marathon in Singapore. The result was very promising and I had a grip with the journey that I had embarked on. I still had not told my father about the “career switch” that I made.
One day, I collated all the logos and posters and put them nicely in an album. That was when I decided to finally inform my father. I knew that I did not have to since my responsibility was to my husband. But being the main supporter and contributor in my education, I knew that I needed to seek his blessings before I continued further. It was nerve wrecking. I called him and there was dead silence. After explaining (while crying) to my father, he then said, “Okay.” I felt a weight was lifted off me and I could feel myself flying.
That’s when Esskayarr officially began.
From a Madrasah background to this? Why the change and how has it been?
Being in Madrasah was a foundation for myself by my parents.
By nature, I am a very curious person. I always have questions in my head. I was even labelled “weird” for having “different” thoughts from others. In the initial stages, I did have plans to further my Islamic studies after my Pre-University level in Syria or Egypt.
The moment I successfully got into Pre U 1, I had this sudden urge to explore a different route. I did not know what it was. But I told my father that I wanted to go into the mainstream line.
I must say that the journey was not easy at first. Being introduced to “new” things and people. In Madrasah, we were guided by Islamic rules like taking care of our dressing, speech, action and there is a time assigned for everyone to Solat Jama’ah. So when you’re out there, there is no-one to remind you but yourself. You learn to answer questions from people from other groups of faith pertaining to your hijab, your dietary preference or your Ibadah.
It was a 180˚-turn. I experienced a culture shock when I entered the mainstream education. I guess it was due to the fact that I had spent 12 years and I felt safe and comfortable under the wings of my Asatizah. You know they are always there to answer your spiritual curiosity.
Silly thinking about it, I had difficulty at first and kept saying “Because we were told to do so”. Slowly, I learn to pick up social skills and take every opportunity to spread love and share with them the beauty of Islam. There were moments when I experienced social challenges or “peer pressure”. Today, I appreciate every conversation with friends from different groups of faith and one of my best friends is one of them.
"The angle I am approaching is mainly to assist women to be more kind to themselves. God has put women in a very high level. Yet, at times, we find ourselves at the lowest point."
So could we say that you’re now doing da’wah through art?
Today, I enjoy meeting people from different backgrounds, cultures and faiths. Along the way, I believe that my form of da’wah is when I dedicate each and every artwork to them.
Personally, da’wah should not be only to our “kind” of people. You do not go to Masjid and do your da’wah. You go out, meet people and have conversations with them, be friends with them and foster a relationship with them.
The myth about doing Da’wah is when you try to talk about your religion on the first conversation you have with a person and EXPECT them to accept whatever you say. I believe that Hidayah is from God. He is the one who triggers or moves the heart of mankind.
The angle I am approaching is mainly to assist women to be more kind to themselves. God has put women in a very high level. Yet, at times, we find ourselves at the lowest point. We need to learn to give and forgive. Not just to the people around us, but to ourselves, too. We cannot possibly give others when inside we are empty ourselves. We need to nourish ourselves emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. They say the best project to work on is ourselves.
I hope through what I am doing today, I am able to help more people in achieving confidence through art and colours. More importantly, what we need today is more Love and Kindness. I also realise slowly, when my view on certain aspects evolve, so does my artwork.
How has the response been so far?
Alhamdulillah, I am honoured and humbled by the response received by supporters. It’s heartwarming when customers use our products and they feel inspired or it gives them a moment to reflect. There were times when some even were facing challenges and the moment they see the Calendar artwork, it inspires them to stay strong or have faith in God.
Esskayarr also takes part in offline events to launch new products or spread awareness of our movement. Customers from different countries and faiths also come out to support us.
We are grateful that our products have reached countries like Belgium, London, Australia, Qatar, Brunei, Malaysia and New Zealand.
Through your own experience, what advice would you give young people who may want to make that difficult career change?
Firstly, find out the cause or the reason as to why you would like to embark on the journey. Know what you can do to help the society through your talent or passion. Because at the end of the day, it is not all about you. For as long as we live, we live to serve God and mankind.
Secondly, learn to meet people. That is when you learn and discover the needs of people.
Thirdly, seek for a mentor in your industry. You will learn and get tips from real life experience from the experts.
To get your hands on Esskayarr’s products, visit www.esskayarr.sg/shop. International shipping available.
Follow them on social media too to keep updated on their latest releases and promos: