My Morning Routine: Hedayat Islam, co-founder of Eklego and founder fo Jam Space UK
Hedayat Islam, co-founder of Eklego and founder of Jam Space UK: My Morning Routine looks each week at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Speaking to us this week is Hedayat Islam, who is the co-founder of Eklego — an award-winning Cairo-based architecture, interior, and furniture design firm, with a team of over 70 people — and the founder of Jam Space UK.
My name is Hedayat Islam and I’ve been an interior and product designer for the past twenty years. I studied interior design in New York before moving back to Egypt, where I co-founded Eklego Design with my partner and architect Dina El Khachab. I moved to London six years ago, where I founded and run Jam Space UK — an interior design company which is based in London, but has its roots firmly in Egypt.
I still work with Eklego on interior design projects and product design, while Dina works on separate projects and manages the company’s day-to-day operations. With Jam Space, I work on projects in London, and we’re also about to launch our wallpaper and fabric collection at Eklego and Shewekar’s showrooms in Zamalek. This is a pattern-intensive collection, which celebrates Egypt’s rich ornamental history, and it’s accompanied by a small selection of home accessories.
My schedule is a busy one, but I love what I do. On a daily basis, I balance work on my projects for Eklego, as well as my products and the day-to-day running of Jam Space. Along with this I have three daughters, who are of course my top focus and priority.
Mornings start early. I’m up at 6 am, preparing breakfast and lunch boxes for my kids, and getting them ready for the day before seeing them off by 7:30 am. Then I start writing my to-do lists, planning the day, and seeing how I can divide it up to be as efficient as possible. You can imagine the whirlwind that comes from working in two separate countries, so I need to plan well. I then unwind and clear my mind by exercising or going for a run. My actual workday then starts with conversations with the Cairo team, followed by the team I work with in London. Our focus varies from day to day, depending on our projects and priorities at the time, but it’s essentially a process of gradually ticking items off my to-do list.
My favorite new hobby is sculpting, and I’ve managed to carve out one day in the week to practice it. Between 4 and 5 pm I start winding the day down, depending on what time the kids come home.
I enjoy watching films and reading novels when I can make time for it. I loved the movie ‘Yesterday,’ which is a comedy by director Danny Boyle about a songwriter who wakes up one day to find that no one else on Earth remembers The Beatles. It’s a comedy but it also poses some unexpectedly profound questions about honesty and success. I also recently really enjoyed reading The Beekeeper of Aleppo, which is a beautiful but sad novel about the war in Syria, displacement, and what the idea of home means.
Eklego Design has its conceptual origins in my time as a student. When I was studying interior design in New York, my roommate was studying at NYU. She received a journal entitled ‘Eklego.’ Something about the word struck me, so I looked it up and it translated into the meaning “to pick out, choose, select for oneself.” When Dina and I first met, we decided we liked the name and went on to use it as our company name. We began by working out of my grandmother’s dining room. We started operations as an architecture and interior design service in 2000, but by 2005 we had decided to add a retail arm to incorporate the pieces we were designing and manufacturing locally. In 2008, our third partner, Heba El Gabaly, joined us. I moved to London in 2014, and Dina and Heba have continued to expand and oversee the daily management of Eklego.
I believe that Eklego offers something unmatched in the market, especially for people who appreciate good design and believe in local design and production. Our niche is that we can offer a one-stop design solution for both homes and commercial spaces, and one that combines distinctive, modern designs with an awareness of Egypt’s artistic and architectural heritage.
People often don’t understand how much time it takes to come up with a good design. It is one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to our business.
I believe that the more we start drawing on local resources and materials in Egypt, the stronger our industry will be. Mohamed Said, the founder of Ebony and Ivory, introduced me several years ago to a professor who has managed to turn environmentally damaging burned palm trimmings into a viable alternative to cheap, low-grade imported wood. If this project takes off (we have 13 mn palm trees in Egypt), then it will be a complete game changer for the furniture industry.
In my free time I love to read, go to exhibitions, and take long walks with my husband. I also try to go to see some theater every now and then, and I’ve been taking sculpting more seriously lately too.
I try to stay organized — the key word being “try” — by constantly writing and updating to-do lists. I also divide my week into different days. So, for example, Mondays are for reviewing emails, corresponding with work colleagues, and writing the weekly to-do list. Tuesdays I try to dedicate to creativity, visiting museums and exhibitions to seek inspiration for products and projects. Wednesdays and Thursdays are all about wrapping up the week, and finally Friday is my enjoyment day, where I sculpt in stone from 10 am to 4 pm.
The best piece of business advice I’ve ever been given was that you should do what you love with passion, focus on doing it well, and everything else will follow. It was very wise advice, given to me by the father of one of my best friends, and it had a very formative impact on my life. And of course, both of my parents instilled a strong work ethic in my sister and me, as they led by example when we were growing up.