Nothing escapes the watchful eye of Manar Moursi, the brains and the heart behind Studio Meem. You’ll recall that she recently displayed her sassy Off the Gireed furniture line at the Design is a Verb exhibition at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Arts Center and continues to work with local artisans to produce unique, sustainable products that also celebrate Egypt’s cultural heritage.
We recently caught up with Manar at the Ataba market in order to get a sense of how traditional palm fiber crates are used in the street. A bustling, chaotic place that links contemporary and medieval Cairo, Ataba is most famous for its booksellers and open air food market. In between the mayhem we found gireed crates used in a variety of industrious ways, although ugly plastic crates are beginning to encroach on this sacred territory as well.
For someone who has graduated from two of the most elite American universities – UVA and Princeton – Manar couldn’t possibly be more humble.
As she led us through the crowded warren of Ataba, keeping the peace between the locals and the seemingly obtrusive camerawoman (that was me), she both noticed and praised every clever use of gireed crates we came across.
Woven mostly by men, these unique pieces are constructed from palm midrib, which is harvested during the pruning process of palm trees. Since there are roughly 20 million palm trees in Egypt, according to Moursi, it is one of the most renewable and sustainable materials available today.
Surprisingly sturdy and very flexible, gireed can be used in so many different applications and Manar is currently on a mission to learn the art of weaving herself.
“If you know how a thing is made,” she explained, “then you have a better sense of how the material can be used to realize different designs.”
But she hasn’t had an easy time of convincing craftsmen to teach her.
“Because you’re a woman, they think you’re not strong enough,” Manar jokes. “But one man agreed to teach me because he needs help. He is very busy but doesn’t have enough apprentices to help him.”
On the streets, the locals use gireed crates to stack fruits and vegetables, which are stronger than the crates used for lighter products such as bread. But Manar is always excited to see variations of the traditional grid or boxed design.
“Look at this one on wheels,” she exclaimed with subdued glee. I obediently snapped a shot, while the wheels in her design mind spun on. Manar often comes to the market to find inspiration for her own work.
“I’m always so intrigued by how creative the people are. When I go home and try to come up with my own designs, I can’t even come close.”
Of course this isn’t true. Despite having only founded Studio Meem last year, Manar has already put together a beautiful line of contemporary gireed pieces that make this street tool an affordable object of anyone’s desire – regardless of their demographic.
And instead of importing materials from abroad, driving up the carbon footprint of her products, she is supporting a local tradition that faces oblivion.
“More and more of these plastic crates are replacing gireed,” the Egyptian designer says with some remorse. “Even though the palm ones are so much healthier and more beautiful.”
We’re secretly hoping that as Manar and Studio Meem grow their reach, there will be a resurgence of interest in sustainable palm fiber products both in Egypt and beyond.
All images via Tafline Laylin