“It all happened from a ‘best friend breaking’ down phone call,” is how Noor Al Sabah describes the inception of her and co-founder Nur Kaoukji’s brand, ecru. She continues discussing the factors that led them to collaborate and create the startup that would ultimately find itself as a budding staple brand gracing wardrobes and homes nationwide. Nur jumps in on the story, and the two start a symphony of finishing one another’s sentences. Their interaction truly shows the quintessential poster of a beautiful friendship.
Nur and Noor are namesakes, having known one another since babyhood. “I was named after her!” Noor says gleefully; “But my mom is convinced that the spelling of my name in English is the more accurate [version].” Nur jumps in, with a laugh. Having grown up with one another, Nur and Noor have been through it all, and have seen it all. From their weekends spent watching 1950s movies together as young adolescents, to their shared university years spent in London, and the birth of ecru in 2013.
After university, Nur landed in Jaipur in 2006 when opportunity came knocking for her to accumulate a variety of skills with different textiles and media, from clothing, to jewelry and interiors. Though she loved the work she was doing, something was missing. Who else could understand this void better than Noor, who was going through a similar challenge in Kuwait?
“I had this need to express my creativity, and my job had no room for it.” And Nur felt like she wasn’t creating anything for herself. “She would say to me, ‘I’m surrounded by all these beautiful textiles, and I know I want to do something with this, but at what capacity?’”
The answer came to them when they decided to create a concept for themselves. “My father was very against us doing it,” Noor says seriously. “He said to me, ‘Noor, the two of you have a friendship that’s unattainable by many. Don’t ruin it by going into business together’.” But with a series of long and honest chats, the two were able to understand where their strengths and limits would lie, and Nur values its outcome.
“I think that our boundaries help. I have my way of running the India office, and [Noor] has her way of running the Kuwait office.” “And we respect the others’ strengths,” Noor pipes in. “Production is Nur’s forte, so I’ll never tell her how to run it – she knows what she’s doing. Just like the retail aspect is my forte – it’s what I have a lot of experience in. Nur never gets in the way of that.” “In short, you can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen,” Nur finishes off wisely.
As for the brand? They keep it simple, natural, and free of mass-production – an ethos that mirrors their identity. Even their name reflects on their ethos, as ecru is the raw form of any natural fabric. It’s a fabric they both love, and comes in all sorts of natural shades from greys, to beiges and off-whites. “It’s stripped down, which is essentially how we came up with the name. Going back to basics – the love of creation. That’s exactly what the ecru project was about in the first place.”
Over the years, the ladies have had the time of their lives building on the project and playing around with those fabrics. Taking inspiration and finding beauty in absolutely anything and everything, ecru’s collections throughout the past five years have been eclectic and inspired by tropics, classical Arabian prints hailing from Kuwait, Morocco and Syria, and motifs block printed from India, among other places.
“We also have little bits of our personalities in our pieces. When I had my baby [named Ghizlan, the Arabic plural for “gazelle”] Nur designed baby’s bedding that had a print of leaping gazelles. And it’s great because It’s a memory. I get to look back and see that I had my baby in 2016, and in 2018, she was in our collection.”
And this is just one of many Noor’s warm memories of Nur’s designs. All sorts of family incisions celebrating special moments in both of the women’s lives have graced themselves into the ecru collection (and their personal closets!) in the form of ecru’s offerings; baby’s clothing and bedding, home accents, pouches, pins and other accessories, and Nur’s clothing label, Noon. “It’s like a timeline of our friendship, as well as our lives.”
Concluding with a shared smile as they lounge in Nur’s colorful living room, it’s clear that the ecru brand is not the only beautiful thing that has come out of one of the purest friendships and partnerships we’ve ever had the joy of witnessing.
TRUTH OR DARE QUESTIONNAIRE
How would your mothers describe your friendship in one word?
How would you describe your mothers-in- law in one word?
What is the most ridiculous question your partner has ever asked you?
Nur: Insert something that ends with: “Please Nur, please… I know you’re going to hate this but…”
Noor: If I could carry her baby.
What is the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done together?
Both: We took a helicopter ride to one of the islands in Greece for 45 minutes.
What is the theme song of your friendship?
Both: Jungle Book’s “I Wanna Be Like You”
What word in the English or Arabic dictionary is most relevant to the other’s personality?
Where would you like to live? What is your dream retirement location?
Nur: Napoli, they have the best pizza.
Noor: We want to be in Italy! Together, by the sea!
If your partner could change their name, what do you think they would change it to?
Nur: Schatzi (from How to Marry A Millionaire.)
What animal best describes your partner?
What do you miss most about your childhood?
Both: Free time.
What do you think is the one thing your partner couldn’t live without?
Nur: A duvet/ quilt.
Noor: A visa to Europe.
How would you describe their handshake in one word?
Nur: I’ve never shaken her hand! That would be weird.
Noor: We don’t even hug.
What is your partner’s toughest character trait?
Nur: Her empathy. She’s too empathetic.
Noor: She can be a little impatient.
Who do you think his/her favorite historical figure is?
Noor: Billie Holiday.
What in the world does your partner least desire?
What do you think is lacking in the world, which if there was more of would make the world a better place?
What is it that you liked most about each other when you first met?
Nur: She doesn’t have an ounce of blasé in her body.
Noor: She makes me more courageous.
Fill in the blank: “_____ makes a lifelong friendship.”
ecru’s capsule store is located in Al Othman Boutique in Maryam Complex on Salem Al Mubarak Street, Salmiya. Follow them on Instagram @ecruonline for more information. Shop the collection online via their website at www.ecruonline.com. Featured image courtesy of ecru.