Shayba Muhammad, founder of Mahnal Jewelry wants wearers to go beyond the appreciation of adornment and to feel empowered. She creates her jewelry in hopes of women not masking or hiding anything about themselves but instead celebrating their differences. Shayba works to translate the meaning of Mahnal, “attainment, achievement, success,” into every piece she creates.

Why did you decide to open your business?

I was making jewelry before I even opened, and that stage was kind of more experimental, kind of figuring out like what’s the identity that I want this entity to have and what mission I want to accomplish through making jewelry. Like what’s the story, what’s the narrative behind it? I experimented with a lot of different things. I was making all kinds of accessories. I always want to be intentional with what I create and make sure that I put a message behind what I create because to me, I feel like art is communication.

And through Mahnal I said, okay, this is exactly what I want to be. This is why I’m starting, which is to celebrate the imperfections that we perceive about ourselves as women. To use the jewelry as a celebration of that, not to hide or mask ourselves in an attempt to hide that and I really try to translate that and take that all the way through the process of creation. So, when I’m creating these pieces, the names that I have come up with are always inspired by values that I feel like are going to be a good reminder that I want women to have. I do everything by hand because I wanted to sort of have those same imperfections and just the little things that give it character to me, make it more beautiful. So that was another reason I decided to start Mahnal.

When did you technically open your business?

I opened in 2016, and then my husband and I decided we wanted to have a baby and so I stopped shortly after, just to enjoy my pregnancy. After he was born, I focused on being a new mom, at that point you can’t really do much. So, I took a break from it all and I didn’t really jump back in until the holiday season of 2017. Since then it’s just been a full year.

What’s your favorite thing about your company?

I feel like I have a medium to express myself and just having that conversation with my customers and my audience, especially on social media. I really loved that, if I’m trying to decide between two pieces of jewelry I can say “which one do you guys like?” Having more people will say “we like this one” is cool. Just having that conversation, and even through the narrative behind each piece of jewelry that I’m making, the messages I put in there, I love to share that with the audience and see how other people feel about it and get their reaction. So I really just like the process of communication that it allows.

Is it just you doing everything for your company?

Yes, it’s just me.

What do you like and dislike about that?

I love the creative freedom! I’ve had my hands literally touching everything, so it is all just coming straight from me. From the photography, from the production to everything that you see. But the kinds of that is you are really, really busy all the time. So, you know, as a law, as an artist, it’s like I’m cool with that because I just love all these different ways and I get to create.

But the business side of me is like, okay, I know that’s not really sustainable. It’s not efficient. And so, you know, naturally that with whatever you choose to do, there’s going to be a give and take.

Who typically buys Mahnal?

Definitely women between the ages of 22 to 36 or 38. I’ve noticed they come from vastly diverse walks of life. I have moms, I have students, I have women who love to support local and I have women internationally, who are regular customers! I even have a lot of people from France that seem to really love all the jewelry and, one thing that I do notice is that with most of these women they have an appreciation for culture and they have an appreciation for art and art history and even if they’re not able to be creative in their own lives, they just have an appreciation for the creative mind and a love for art. That’s one thing that I feel like kind of brings it all together.

Have there been any challenges that you’ve had to overcome with your company?

Absolutely. Many challenges – if you do not have challenges every day, you’re not actually having a business. I would say just touching on the fact that I do everything myself, that’s a challenge just because I want to transition some of these processes so that I can become a scalable business, but I’m just figuring that out and it’s something that is a process of trial and error, and just figuring out what exactly it is that I’m going to hold onto and continue to do myself, and really just making those kinds of executive decisions is my challenge right now.

Why is St Louis a good area for you?

I’d say for a lot of reasons, St. Louis is really unique and I personally wouldn’t want to be in another city, because the environment here is really blossoming and growing and just really lively right now. I think that’s really exciting because there are so many opportunities for small business owners to take advantage of. Also, the art scene in St Louis separately exists on its own and is blossoming and growing. I just feel like there’s so much growth, there’s so much collaboration between businesses and maybe social media has allowed that too. I just feel like it’s an exciting time to be here right now. There’s so much happening.

What makes you so passionate about your company?

I’m really passionate about making the art that I’m passionate about. I’m passionate about seeing women purchase my jewelry and wear my jewelry. It is really exciting, and I feel like all of these things, I’m making my jewelry, I’m having a business, things that I love about the process, all of these different little things add up to motivators and make me feel more passionate. I felt like it’s hard to kind of nail down one thing. So, interacting with the customers, the women who wear the jewelry, creating the jewelry, doing visuals, the photography, all of these things I love. So that’s where the passion comes from.

If you could describe your company in one word, what would it be?

I would say classic. I’ll say classic because of the designs. With the designs, I have tried to make sure that there’s something that will stay on time and won’t go away next year because the trends have changed or the fashion has changed. I definitely try to make pieces that I feel like are classic easy staples you can keep around for years and years. But also classic because of the values that I try to imbue a or tell the story of through Mahnal. I’m inspired a lot by art history, and I’m inspired a lot by older cultures, so really this idea of timelessness. But translating that into something that’s modern at the same time, something that makes sense today and is still relevant. I definitely feel like classic feels like they are always relevant.

How did you come up with the name of your company?

I actually came up with a name because there is a Muslim a blogger on YouTube and her name is Mahnal.  Also, I used to know a girl, her name was Mahnel, which was an Egyptian name. Fast forward years later and I’m in this sort of transitory period between doing the experimental jewelry and really wanting to make something cohesive and give them an identity. I just happened upon this young lady on YouTube and I heard her name and something about that just spoke to me. I looked it up and,  saw that it means attainment, achievement, success. I feel like the meaning is something, that when I tell women about this when they’re wearing the jewelry, it connects, you know what I mean? I knew I wanted it to be an Arabic name. So that’s how I happened upon the name, and I just fell in love with it.

What do you see for the future of your company moving forward?

For the future of Mahnal, I definitely see myself bringing on employees locally to sort of delegate out some of those tasks that I mentioned earlier. That’s one element, but also moving into some sort of a creative space where I can have the production, but also maybe a small storefront on the front end of the store where people can come in and shop. I would definitely like a showroom or a store front with production in the back and then having a team of people then begin to work with them. Instead of just taking it beyond just the local market or the national market, we’re really having a global connection. I don’t anticipate being huge and I don’t expect or even want to be a household name brand, but I definitely want to be able to connect on a larger scale.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I have a program that I’ve been working on called The Maker’s Program and I actually just got funding through a startup competition, it’s an art and education council. I’m thinking that later on sometime next year, towards the end of 2019 that I would like to bring these two things together into a shared space. So, I would like to have my studio and maybe some workshops for The Makers Program as well, and make it really a space that just celebrates art, celebrates, you know, telling their stories through art and communication, and supporting local artists too. As a local artist in St. Louis, I have identified certain struggles that I feel like if I had had help with these things I could have grown more a lot sooner, had I had this particular guidance and resources I would’ve needed at that time. That’s the reason that I created The Makers Program- I have a stake in the health of art in St. Louis.


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