Oevaali Art Shop — a continuing cultural journey

A ‘simple’ idea between two Maldivian sisters, is now blooming in the international, and local, market.

Source: FB Oevaali

Source: FB Oevaali

The name Oevaali has become well-known among the locals and tourists, for the unique products and artworks created by the amazing artists of Oevaali Art Shop. Founded in 2015, Oevaali Art Shop began as a simple idea between two Maldivian sisters Raniya & Raya Mansoor — and started up as a Partnership with Imma Rasheed and Ali Ajikko.

Having found themselves living together in Singapore after many years, the sisters reconnected with their love for art. From this, combined with being away from home, the sisters began a small collection of art pieces paying tribute to the oceanic wonders of Maldives. Countless kitchen table meetings later, along with art and design work completely taking over their apartment, www.oevaaliartshop.com was launched as an online store, with worldwide delivery.

MFR sat with Raniya and Raya Mansoor to learn more about their journey. 

Maldives Financial Review: Tell us about Oevaali Art Shop and the initial journey.

Raya Mansoor: From being simply an idea between sisters in 2015, all four Partners now have completely transitioned into this venture, with fully operational eCommerce and Retail outlets and worldwide delivery to serve our individual local and international customers; a wonderful all-Maldivian full-time team supporting daily operations; and strong brand presence all around the archipelago, starting with a vibrant portfolio of over 50 corporate clients engaging our services for bespoke merchandise, or as resort boutique stockists.

We officially launched in 2015 with mostly original paintings, which required time, rather than a huge financial investment. The sales of our ocean-inspired paintings released on the day of the launch surprisingly became the first and main source of funding for us to begin.

Raniya Mansoor: I can recall every initial step that led us here. Our first Exhibition, The Island Collection at the close of 2015 showcased and sold those very first paintings we made, which gave us our first real financial boost. Back then, I juggled business development alongside a full-time job, and Raya did the same as a full-time undergraduate student, and we chased a dream! We grew ourselves ground up. With no external investors or bank loans, Oevaali Art Shop’s growth is completely organic, fuelled by passion, dedication, and hard work. We raised finance by continuous investment of every small payment we received back into the business.

MFR: What are your main goals in the industry?

Raniya: Building brand-value and trust in the industry has always been a key priority, and this is what our overarching goals always comes back to. I firmly believe that if what we offer is strong, business will naturally come. While we have an eye on new opportunities, leads, and strong sales and marketing plans at all times, at the core of it all, we are passionately Maldivian artists and designers, and our primary focus is creating, and creating with purpose and heart. Our goal in this industry is to design a life we love, aligned with Maldivian identity and heritage, with excellence at the forefront as a market leader and trusted partner for art, design, retail, and bespoke services in the Maldives. 

Raya: Sudden growth and expansion should not be forced on a business. It needs to come naturally, and is a beautiful process with hard work and passion. Natural growth and expansion require the trust of your most valuable asset - the clients, a whole lot of learning, and an excellent plan to sustain the business. These initial years are what is going to shape our business and make a worthy impression.

MFR: What are your products? How do you produce and sell?

  • Started with Fine Art which remains at the centre of our model — Art for Interiors is a key product/service along with a selection of art pieces that can be directly purchased
  • Bespoke merchandising services for companies and resorts looking at custom and exclusive concepts and designs for gifting/boutique offerings
  • Studio crafted, hand-poured all-natural coconut-soy candle and fragrance collection
  • The jewellery line; a popular choice with local and international clients, and with resort clients — new designs are always in progress as we always look into pieces that complements our Maldivian identity and style
  • A vibrant collection of lifestyle accessories designed with Maldivian inspiration and elements at the forefront
  • Gifting services for all products — with our 'Little Black Box' concept
  • All products designed in-house

Raya: We have been actively working with individual clients. These projects start with a detailed discussion to capture and understand their interpretation of a memory. We then provide rough sketches during the approval stage, with regular updates of the whole process, all done within a managed timeline with an exact date of completion. Our “Art for Interiors” service has been popular with locals and resorts. Customers are welcomed at our online store and at our shop in Malé.

We also have a sales team dedicated to servicing key corporate accounts, who play a large role in diversifying our presence across the Maldives.

Raniya: One of my most recent projects in 2021 was a collection of Resin & Ink paintings, handcrafted exclusively for 81 guest rooms at Seaside Finolhu Maldives, a five-star luxury resort with a bold and chic new design concept. We specialise in creating site or occasion-specific artwork and welcome the opportunity to work with interior designers and architects, resorts & hotels, individuals, and curators to fill spaces with colours of the Maldives.

MFR: How did you reach the international market?

Raniya: Our reach is largely attributed to a carefully planned cross-platform marketing strategy, followed up by robust sales and conversion strategy, and a focus on great customer service. Our main international customer base is two distinct groups. One regular group is visitors and tourists to the Maldives who have connected with the islands and that then naturally led them to us. The second consistent group is lovers of fine art, oceans, marine life, and the beach-side who find us online. 

One of my most memorable conversations with an international customer was a Norwegian father, who simply found us online, purchased our Manta Ray pendant for his ocean loving daughter as a Christmas gift last year; and he actually wrote us a heartwarming email describing her reaction after opening the gift. We then ended up exchanging a few emails discussing the possibilities of their future family vacation in the Maldives, and I introduced him to the wonders of Hanifaru Bay and some of our client resorts as a starting point for planning. They promised to visit our store as soon as they arrived. We enjoy our conversations with our international customers, and often see them returning time and time again. It’s, once again, the shared appreciation of island life and the ocean that connects us.

MFR: What are some of the hurdles faced in establishing the business? 

Raniya: Thinking back, before we made our products available in Malé, our main purchase channel was our online store; we spent a lot of time guiding customers through the online purchasing process and building trust as a local company — requesting card information and such sensitive details for online payments. We truly appreciate our first customers for trusting us then and staying with us since, we wouldn’t be here without them.

A similar hurdle was also in building trust in us as a local company as we started reaching out to hoteliers, resorts and businesses with our stockists catalogs and bespoke design offerings. We will always appreciate the first companies who saw the potential of these partnerships from the get-go, signed us on and have stayed with us since. 

As we live and learn to operate within the pandemic and get a better grip on things, I hope to see a deeper, industry and business activity specific understanding from the government on what it’s various policies for COVID-19 might mean for different types of SMEs in the short and long term.

That being said, we recognise and appreciate that we are heard too. A good example is the Authentic Maldives outlet by the BCC, which opened its doors at Velana International Airport Maldives Duty Free in January 2020. The work Authentic Maldives does in this industry, and the genuine passion it has for building up and sustaining Maldivian artisans, designers and makers shine brightly through as a long-missing link - connecting our vibrant tourism industry to authentic art and design, products, and crafts by Maldivians, and being a strong advocate for channeling those benefits directly into Maldivian communities.

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