“The summer of 2010 was a time when I had to “detox” some aspects of my life that wore me down for two years. During those two years, I had my first child; started a career in academia; but, none of that can be compared to being a soldier of a very important case: I had watched my youngest sister fight viciously a rare form of pancreatic cancer and complicated organ transplant procedures until she lost that battle on February 10th, 2010 at the tender age of 18. Later on that year, I decided to challenge myself, despite being emotionally and physically broken, and plan every summer from there on where I’d be following a passion of mine, developing a new interest, and checking another item on my “Must Do” list of life. I have always believed that life is too short, and that investing in one’s self should be everyone’s mission in life.” – Hanouf Aljuhail, creator of House of Butterflies.
Hippocrates (460 BC-370 BC) once said: “Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” Hanouf Aljuhail’s heartbreaking journey from the bedside of her ailing sister, Heba Aljuhail, to the creator of House of Butterflies – has been all about finding an opportunity in times of great loss and defeat.
When I met Hanouf in July this year, I was deeply moved by the remarkable grace and composure with which she narrated the touching personal tragedy that has motivated the creation of the visionary House of Butterflies – a place where colour, joy and inspiration reside. “When I received the final call from my father from the USA, where Heba was being treated, I made the journey knowing all too well that my baby sister would not be there when I reached,” shares Hanouf, recalling the last few days in her sister’s life. “And yet, I made the trip.” At the time, Hanouf became the strength and comfort to her grieving family, but the fateful day had left a void inside her heart.
Burdened by grief and disillusionment, Hanouf set out on her own to find her healing. She spent the summer living on a Spanish farm – away from family and friends – just watching the locals in olive-picking season, and getting to know the simplest organic forms of life. The simplicity of their life brought some peace to her aching heart. “I was looking for an inspiration,” confides Hanouf. Weeks after that, and while walking through a beach town in the south of France called Juan Le Pin, she accidentally found her ‘inspiration’ in a tiny, colorful store. “There was this bag that was unique in structure, design and appearance. I was puzzled and I could not figure out what I’ll be using it for, but I knew that I ‘had’ to have it,” she recalls, laughing softly.
However, once back to Kuwait, the colourful bag occupied a corner in Hanouf’s house for months – never being used, and yet not completely forgotten. “Then one day, I was taking a trip to the dessert with my daughter and other family members, and decided to pack all my stuff in that bag. Instantly, everyone wanted to know from where I had bought the bag – and that’s how my quest began.”
Hanouf’s research took her back to France and initiated a contact with the founder of the idea, Franck Boueri. “Through writing we discovered that Franck and I shared the same interests and goals. He welcomed the notion of exporting an initial shipment to Kuwait, and testing out the products’ popularity.”
She learned that the products were organic in nature, made from 80% recycled material and produced by co-op communities in developing countries. “When I read the email, I knew that I had found an answer to my search for inspiration that year,” says Hanouf. Being an advocate of eco-friendly lifestyle, Hanouf could not have asked for anything better. “I had learned and lived the eco-friendly way of life during my graduate years in the lovely greens of Boulder, Colorado,” explains Hanouf. So, it was natural for her to be elated when she found out that the project was a combination of environmentalism & social entrepreneurship. Although the concepts are relatively new in Kuwait, Hanouf knew she had to jump on the opportunity to spread the word through – what she hopes – would be very attractive, and possibly popular, products in Kuwait.
The original products and designs are of a company based in Nice, south-eastern France and marketed under the Trademark ‘La cerise Sur La Gateau’, which means the ‘icing or cherry on the cake’, a saying popular in describing perfection in French culture. The Production work is done in Asia, which is represented in the creation of the ‘concept’ of interlaced multi-coloured strips. The company contributes directly to socio-economic development of these communities by incorporating 100% local workforce in manufacturing. All products are fully hand made out of 80% recyclable materials.
According to Hanouf, House of Butterflies aspires to be multidimensional – environmental, social, and charitable in nature. The project allowed Hanouf to start a charitable foundation in honour of her late sister – “One that wasn’t conventional, but an original charitable effort to be introduced in our society,” explains Hanouf, without elaborating on her future plans for the aptly named House of Butterflies, as it represents the significance and cheerfulness of colours in life through it’s multi-hued products. “It is a family collaboration, but we aim to evolve into a common community practice in Kuwait,” she added.
The first batch of bags arrived in Kuwait in June 2011, and in less than 3 weeks, the entire shipment was a sel1-out! Hanouf relied on the website created by her husband, a Facebook page with product information and updates, and of course, the power of BBMs and Whatsapp message broadcasts. “My first success has been overwhelming. I have found tremendous support from family and friends who loved the project’s idea and the quality of the products, and therefore, became dedicated salespersons,” says Hanouf.
Hanouf chose BACCH (Bayt Abdullah Children’s Care and Hospice) to be one of the links to her project, since it was a favoured charity of her late sister, Heba. BACCH has been welcoming and appreciative of HOB for its support. For every KD 10 worth of sales, HOB will donate KD 1 to BACCH in honour of Heba Al-Juhail.
“It was during the most difficult moments in my life, when I was fortunate to have my daughter, Dahlia, who paints a smile on my face every day. Dahlia, like my late sister Heba, is a colourful free spirit, who loves life and finds joy in every moment. Butterfly is a creature that epitomizes colour, freedom and joy, and I chose the ‘House of’ phrase added to the title, because I have a vision of an actual place that would be community-centered in nature; a place where people come seeking inspiration,” shares Hanouf.
Hanouf has much bigger plans for HOB, which she hopes to share with us in the near future. Recently, House of Butterflies has become the sole Middle East agent of the original company ‘la cerise sur le gâteau’™ – the French company behind HOB products.
The project is entering a new phase of expansion, designing and production of new products, which will be introduced in Kuwait in January of 2012.
House of Butterflies not only brings colourful, eco-friendly products, but a heartfelt message to society.