Brandie Janow is an American based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia since 2008 and can be described as a creative force to be reckoned with. Apart from being a design strategist, she is also a content creator and an advocate for cultural awareness. In addition to her full time job at design consultancy Adhlal, she has also been chosen as the Chairwoman on the first ever Index Saudi Design Talks for 2023 and has been appointed the face for future events. Brandi is a huge advocate of community building and founded the Riyadh Coffee Club, a unique community of coffee lovers who meet monthly. If that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Brandi also owns Smuug, an accessories brand with designs that illustrate everyday Saudi symbols and characteristics with a modern twist.
Focused on strengthening and building communities, Brandi is excited to not only witness but also be part of the evolving social landscape in Saudi. We recently spoke to her about the Saudi design ecosystem, mentoring creatives, and much more.
Saira Malik (S.M.): Tell us about how you started working in the creative industry?
Brandie Janow (B.J.): I am originally from a small southern town in east Tennessee. Following this, I attended a private design university in Chicago and completed my last year of study in Atlanta. I will keep this one simple. I did not choose the creative life, it chose me.
(S.M.): What’s the story behind your brand Smuug, how did you start it?
(B.J.): I was immersed in everything I saw when I first moved to Saudi Arabia. In my capacity as a creative, it was my duty to share the architectural, cultural, and historical aspects with everyone. Through creativity, Smuug strives to bring the beauty of the Kingdom to the world. We are currently undertaking a business update with the same idea but with a global approach.
(S.M.): Can you talk about your work with Adhlal?
(B.J.): I was the first employee hired by Adhlal several years ago. As a result, I am equally committed to the company as HRH Princess Nourah AlFaisal, its founder. As a result of being that first hire, I have been able to develop my expertise in a wide range of topics and gain a tremendous amount of knowledge. As a design strategist for Adhlal, I am responsible for a number of community projects, including our Mentor program and Majlis. On behalf of the organisation, I curate and design workshops and deliver public speaking events. I strive to make everything I do a bridge that helps us and our community connect in some way.
(S.M.): What do you like most about your role as a design mentor?
(B.J.): I truly love serving as a mentor. It is quite inspiring for another individual to learn about you and select you as a guide and support for their path. When I began my mentorship endeavour, I wanted to help young designers avoid making the mistakes that I did. However, in the process I have learned a great deal about myself. As a mentor, I have learned how to be a valuable resource and to be able to assist others effectively. Occasionally, I mentor designers who are older than me because they have seen something in me that they wish to learn from. Every mentee I have met has had a unique story and need and that is really the beauty of it.
(S.M.): How do you think good design can solve social, economic, and environmental problems, and promote positive change in Saudi?
(B.J.): As new advancements and technology are created, the design industry is changing right before our eyes. More disciplines are being added every day. Social design is a good example, which focuses on complex human issues by placing social concerns at the centre. Service design, on the other hand, is the process of organizing and planning people, infrastructure, communication, and material components of a service. This is for the purpose of improving quality and the interaction between the service provider and its customers. These two design disciplines are both of global importance and will lead to positive change in the world.
(S.M.): You are also the founder of the Riyadh Coffee Club, how did that come about and what is unique about it?
(B.J.): In 2018, I founded Riyadh Coffee Club in order to explore the cafes in the city with others who may be interested in doing the same. Despite the fact that I am not an expert in the field of coffee, I am a community builder, and that is exactly what RCC is all about. Together, we have travelled throughout the city and learned so much. Supporting local businesses is something I strongly believe in. I am delighted that we can support them in some small way. In addition, we can meet people who are experts in the coffee industry who help us understand how significant that cup of coffee we take for granted is.
(S.M.): What type of support do you think the Saudi young creatives and local homegrown businesses need?
(B.J.): In my experience as a small business owner, a major problem we face in Saudi Arabia is the lack of support for small businesses. In addition to the pricing of small businesses themselves. It can cause a great deal of difficulty when you do not have benchmarks. Education and the dissemination of knowledge are fundamental to change, and I am a firm believer in this. Small businesses impact their communities in a variety of ways, from interpersonal relationships with local government to economic development. We need better support in regards to manufacturers, quality control, and pricing in order to get the support that we all need.
(S.M.): In your opinion, what are the challenges facing the regional design industry?
(B.J.): The biggest setback that we are currently facing is the lack of recognition for the industry itself and the immense value that it holds. We have stable governance and a growing economy and I am certain that in the future people will begin to seek out and buy Saudi design. To reach our development goals, we realize that we need to focus on value-added products and on industries that are more talent- and people-focused. Most Saudi designers strongly reference national heritage in their work so in some ways past cultural narratives were good because it helped designers develop a local style. We are in a different place than the rest of the world and this distant perspective gives us an unusual point of view, a different take. The Saudi youth make up a huge part of our society and are a global generation. Our influences are becoming more and more similar; it is an unconscious globalization and it will be interesting to see how this affects Saudi's distinct design language.
(S.M.): What advice would you give to aspiring creatives in Saudi?
(B.J.): As a creative, you should always be true to yourself, be entrepreneurial, and work hard to build your personal brand equity. Professional success requires a high level of commitment and hard work. It is my privilege to mentor and support any of you who request my assistance.
– Saira Malik
Images courtesy of Brandie Janow