Zeena is a textile designer, illustrator, book author, and an art director for a children’s book publisher based in East London. Since a very young age, she always knew what she wanted: to have her own brand. And even though her course to achieve that was organic, she always pushed herself further and welcomed any kind of new career opportunities with open arms.
Her journey started at university, where she studied art and textile design and fell in love with prints, pattern making, and bright colors. Once graduated, she started working in a textile studio, focusing on print design, and in general, she started thinking of how to create and grow her own business. Even if her family was really supportive and a fount of inspiration – her dad had his own business too -, they always kept her feet on the ground. ‘My mum is really creative. My dad always makes things, fixes things, and my sister works in TV. But they were more realistic about the difficulties of having your own business.’ To achieve her goals, she had to convince herself to take risks.
She decided to craft bespoke cushions using her own print designs. Between researches, samplings, and suppliers (mostly eco-producers), the responsibility of having her own brand started to arise ‘trying to keep costs down was a really tricky part of the business, especially when you are working with sustainable materials and small orders’ she says. It didn’t take too long for her to see that running a business was not exactly what she planned: ‘I was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that I started producing. I really didn’t want to make 1000 cushions.’ While working on growing the business, she was supporting herself by doing a lot of freelance printing work and designing book covers, and that is when the idea of writing a book came up. With a great degree of certainty and her social media visibility, she was approached by a publisher, and her idea soon became a reality.
Publishing a book was a career-defining step for Zeena. ‘It was a lot of work, but it was amazing. It’s the moment everyone takes you seriously.’ With a book out and her 30th birthday approaching, a new professional opportunity appeared: to work as an art director. Once again, her strong will to grow out of her comfort zone guided her to accept this new challenge. ‘I thought – well I haven’t done this so why don’t I just give it a try. And actually, it was a really lovely decision.’
This new position enabled her to work in a multidisciplinary environment and to collaborate with other specialists – which she kindly calls her ‘bits in the puzzle’. ‘An art director guides the visual style of whatever the campaign will be, and makes sure everything works well with the concept.’ Her creative inspirations arrive from multiple places. ‘I go to Pinterest to find something vintage, something that is not somebody else’s works. But at the heart of my work is nature, I love botanic drawings and lately, I am obsessed with flowers and color palettes derived from simply observing nature.’
When it comes to managing her day-to-day, her biggest obstacles is work-life balance. ‘I struggle finding times in the day to do other things. I always want to do everything. I have a very big to-do-list.’ However, her solution to an extremely busy day is quite simple: ‘I try to get three big things off in a day, otherwise, I can be overwhelmed by the amount of stuff.’
As for the future, Zeena knows that the entrepreneurial bug will never abandon her. She has in her blood and in her mind the excitement of creating and developing her own products, either in big collections or limited editions. But, for the moment, she feels there is no rush for a full-time commitment. ‘I know when the time comes I will just go and do it!’
— as told to Karbatin
Zeena Shah photographed by Patricha Humm in London.