Samer Saab & Unbranded Designs


I met Samer by chance while I was having coffee with a friend at 1871, a Chicago based entrepreneurial hub for digital start ups. My friend had just bought a house and we were talking about furnishing ideas. Samer came up in conversation so we managed to do an intro and a card exchange since he was busy with a mentorship program for young aspiring Chicago school goers. Coming from the Middle East, our culture there was slightly less progressive, less casual about mentorship programs and how here, in western society people manage to fit mentorship and other community development work seamlessly into your work schedule. That left me even more curious to who Samer is and what his company was all about.
Samer and I chatted briefly a few days later about his startup, Unbranded Designs. Throughout conversation, I was really interested to know more about Samer and how he came to putting together his start up with his colleagues. Samer was born and raised near Flint, MI in a town called Fenton, where he lived his entire childhood, except for a few years in Lebanon as a baby (my parents are Lebanese). He earned a pair of engineering degrees from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and then moved to Chicago in 2008. He spent 4 years working for a management consulting firm before deciding to leave his job and taking a risk to start a company with his friends. 
“It was never a question of if I would start a company or not, but rather when. I come from a family of entrepreneurs: my parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins on both sides of the family are all entrepreneurs, not only here and in Lebanon but across the US and Middle East.”  Here is a quick chat with Samer about him, his life in Chicago and Unbranded designs.
Who has inspired you, growing up?
I’m most inspired by my uncle Ghassan Saab who came to the US in ’66 to work for a construction company. He bought the company 5 years later and has been running it ever since. Along the way he has invested in numerous companies and more importantly has become a major philanthropist in the city and the state. He received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and was the first immigrant to receive the Philanthropist of the Year in the state of Michigan. He is also the reason our family was able to come to the US. He is my dad’s older brother and helped him get started in Flint, escaping the war in Lebanon. He has had a major influence on my life and continues to inspire me.
What is Unbranded?
Unbranded was formed has a company in May 2012 but the true origin began the previous year when my co-founder, best friend, and roommate Sameer Dohadwala and I were helping a friend move up some stairs. We were frustrated by the immobility of furniture and decided right then that there was a market for portable furniture (portable meaning assemble, disassemble, lightweight, etc). We bought grid paper, visited Home Depot for construction consultations and created a complete disaster. Undeterred we began searching for designers who were actually skilled in furniture design and fabrication. We found tons of designers capable of helping us. More interestingly, we saw that each designer had books, computers, and garages full of designs we would never have seen had we not stumbled on their shop.
We also stumbled on a problem facing all designers: they don’t have the resources or skills to be able to market themselves, sell, scale manufacturing, and handle all business operations, while being a designer. Therefore, most of these guys just end up doing custom jobs. It was then that we realized we could apply our skills in marketing, sales, and operations to partner with designers to create a great company. When we realized we could centralize the entire global community using technology, we knew we were onto a major opportunity.
What was the process & challenge of setting up a company?
Over time we’ve evolved. In the summer of 2012 while we were in the Chicago Lean Startup Challenge we learned lots about designers and the residential market. After 14 weeks we’d beaten out 110 tech startups for the top prize, validated we had a real opportunity and started plowing forward. We’ve evolved over time, moving from a residential b2c focus to more of a b2b solution. We’ve recently been running design challenges to solve specific market problems with our community’s innovative solutions. The consistent focus has remained though: building a great community of designers by bringing them opportunities to design products that can get made, build their brand, and launch their careers.


Why interiors? Tell me about your passion for the industry.
I definitely have a passion for the industry but this company was started because we found a need in the market. We were inspired to create our own piece of furniture, realized it was extremely difficult to do so, and then found a number of talented designers, right here in Chicago. These designers though don’t have opportunities to showcase that talent or really take turn their ideas into major-market items. That’s when we decided to start Unbranded Designs. We wanted to bring opportunities for design, production, and marketing to the independent design community and unleash their amazing designs to the market.

Would you say you’re an artist at heart or a creative?
At heart would be the only place you could call me an artist. Unbranded Designs was started precisely because my co-founders and I are NOT designers. We lack the talents to do what the amazing designers in our community do everyday, but that’s why we appreciate their work even more! But personally speaking, growing up I’ve never considered myself much of a creative. I’ve always been more analytical and scientific versus the other end of the spectrum. I’ve always been amazed by the creative ability by artists, inventors, and entrepreneurs. Though it probably wasn’t fair to myself, I never expected that I would be able to approach the level of any of these types. I think that’s one of the reasons I really enjoy building Unbranded Designs. We’re building an innovative company while working with a global community of creative types, all interested in creating innovative products. I am now constantly surrounded by creativity.



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Maldives overcomes Islamic opposition and appoints two women as Supreme Court judges

Maldives overcomes Islamic opposition and appoints two women as Supreme Court judges


Male, September 5 (Maldives Independent): In a historic vote on Tuesday, parliament confirmed the president’s nominations of former judges Dr Azmiralda Zahir and Aisha Shujune Mohamed as the first female justices of the Supreme Court.

Both nominees were approved with 62 votes in favour. Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed Abdulla cast the sole dissenting vote while Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim abstained.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party controls 65 seats in the 87-member People’s Majlis.

Shujune, who resigned from the civil court in 2014, was among the first two female judges appointed to the bench in 2007. Dr Azmiralda was the most senior female judge in the country until her resignation from the High Court in May 2016.

President Solih’s nomination of the pair last month sparked a backlash from religious scholars who contended that Islam prohibits women from serving as judges.

Clerics condemned the move on Twitter and some shared an opinion issued by the fatwa council, in which the advisory body backed the view that women cannot pass judgment on criminal matters or property disputes. There was a consensus among scholars of all sects of Islam that judges must be male, they said. Some scholars from the Hanafi sect say women can adjudicate civil matters and family disputes but most scholars do not agree with any exceptions, the council noted.




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‘Sweetness In The Belly’: First Clip Of Refugee Story Starring Dakota Fanning As Brit Raised Muslim In Africa – Toronto

[WATCH] �Sweetness In The Belly� Clip:

UPDATED with Dakota Fanning post: Dakota Fanning posted on Instagram on Wednesday to clarify the background of her character in Sweetness In the Belly, her latest film that is set to bow at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival (check out her post below). Deadline previously updated the headline of this story to clarify the nature of her role.

PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE, 7:52 AM: “You are full of surprises,” Wunmi Mosaku’s (Lovecraft Country) character tells Dakota Fanning’s Lilly in the first clip of their Toronto Film Festival-bound drama Sweetness In the Belly, which itself has an intriguing premise.


Unspooling in the festival’s Discovery strand, Fanning stars as Lilly Abdal, who was orphaned in Africa as a child (of English parents) and escaped to the UK as a refugee, fleeing civil war in Ethiopia. In London, she embraces the Muslim immigrant community, attempting to reunite people with their scattered families. However, her mission isn’t purely selfless: a passionate lost love affair is revealed between her and an idealistic doctor.


Zee Mehari’s (Difret) feature, also starring Yahya Abdul Mateen – II, Kunal Nayyar and Peter Bankole, is based on the fiction novel by Camilla Gibb and is adapted for the screen by Laura Phillips (Combat Hospital). Director Mehari is Ethiopian and the actors speak a combination of English, Amharic and Arabic in the film.

Pic was developed by Sienna Films and is produced by Jennifer Kawaja and Julia Sereny (How She Move) together with Alan Moloney (Brooklyn) and Susan Mullen (Brooklyn) of Parallel Films. Mehret Mandefro (Difret) and Adrian Sturges (The Enfield Haunting) are executive producers along with Laura Bickford (Traffic) and Fiona Druckenmiller (Beasts of No Nation).

HanWay Films is handling worldwide sales. Entertainment One will distribute in Canada. It was produced with the support of Telefilm Canada, Screen Ireland, the Ontario Media Development Corporation and Eurimages.

Fanning recently starred in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywoodand TV drama The Alienist.

Andreas Wiseman


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Not just Sanskrit, Gujarati owes a lot to Arabic and Persian too

The Hindu literati claimed the purity of the language in the ancient age and its deterioration during the Muslim period.

Gujarati is a family of languages. Some of these are written in Arabic script and spoken in both India and Pakistan.

Growing up in Gujarat, I was taught that Gujarati language traces its origin to Sanskrit language. That Gujarati is taught to be written in a variant of Devanagari script today, seemed to me like a natural extension of this origin story.

But this story omits many waves of significant influences that other languages, like Arabic and Persian, have had on Gujarati.

Political choice

We grow up linking the spoken language with a particular script to an extent that, over the years, this link seems ‘natural’. But the popularisation of a particular script over another is a political decision, driven by the context in which the language is standardised.

One striking example is the Turkish language script reform under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1932, when ‘official’ Turkish language ceased to be written in the Ottoman Turkish alphabet (a Perso-Arabic variant) and was replaced instead with Latin alphabet.

One of the goals of this reform was to remove influences of Arabic and Persian languages, both associated with the clergy in the Ottoman Empire.

Sanskritisation, in search of ‘pure’ Gujarati

Like in the case of the Turkish language, Gujarati underwent a process of standardisation. The use of a variant of Devanagari script was made in order to align with the idea of Gujarati as “the accomplished daughter of Sanskrit,” in the words of missionary Joseph Van S. Taylor.

The language reform in Gujarati took place in parallel with that among many other languages in pre-Independence India. During this time, writes Clair Tisdal, "three main varieties" of Gujarati were found: "Hindi Gujarati", "Parsi Gujarati", and "Muhammadan Gujarati".

Both Parsi Gujarati and Muhammadan Gujarati were seen as “corrupt” by the Hindu high-caste intellectuals in that period. These intellectuals (consisting mostly of Brahmins and Baniyas) would go on to determine what constitutes “pure” Gujarati.

Given that there were competing claims as to what constitutes “pure” Gujarati language, the upper-caste intellectuals sought refuge in a constructed past. As Riho Isaka writes, “the Hindu literati claimed the ‘purity’ of their language in the ancient age and its deterioration during the ‘Muslim period’.”

During this standardisation that took place between the 19th and early 20th century, words from ‘foreign’ languages like Arabic, Persian, and English that were commonly used in spoken Gujarati were replaced with those derived from Sanskrit. Gujarati hence underwent a process of Sanskritisation.

Language of Gandhi, Jinnah

The politics of pre-Independence nationalism played an important role in the Sanskritisation of Gujarati, which was the first-language of both Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi, the fathers of the two partitioned nations. Their respective relation with the language has a lot to say about the politics of language(s) in the pre- and post-Partition era.

Gandhi played a significant role in the standardisation of Gujarati. Through Gujarat Vidhyapith (an institution he helped set up), Gandhi led the publication of Jodanikosh in 1929. According to V. Sebastian, Jodanikosh “was the first dictionary which sought to standardize Gujarati orthography with a set of 33 rules.”

Over time, multiple updated editions of the dictionary were published and its rules adopted in schools to teach a standardised Gujarati. The standardised orthography was intertwined with Sanskrit to an extent that, as Somabhai Patel writes, “[i]f you want to know Gujarati spelling, then you should know Sanskrit spelling because without Sanskrit knowledge, you are not going to write ‘correct’ Gujarati.”

On the other hand, Muhammad Ali Jinnah came to be associated with Urdu, the language that was linked with Islam because of the use of Nastaliq (Arabic) script and which was to become an official language of Pakistan.

Jinnah was born “Mahomedali Jinnahbhai” and raised in a Gujarati-Ismaili family. According to historian Faisal Devji, “while his knowledge of Urdu, the official language of Muslim nationalism, was poor, Jinnah apparently spoke Gujarati and Kutchi beautifully if never in public.”

Disassociation of Muslims

Shreya Parikh


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The Silence Is the Loudest Sound

The Indian government has confined about seven million Kashmiris to their homes and imposed a complete communications blackout.

Blockades on the streets of Srinagar, the largest city in Jammu and Kashmir, on Aug. 11.

NEW DELHI — As India celebrates her 73rd year of independence from British rule, ragged children thread their way through traffic in Delhi, selling outsized national flags and souvenirs that say, “Mera Bharat Mahan.” My India is Great. Quite honestly, it’s hard to feel that way right now, because it looks very much as though our government has gone rogue.

Last week it unilaterally breached the fundamental conditions of the Instrument of Accession, by which the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India in 1947. In preparation for this, at midnight on Aug. 4, it turned all of Kashmir into a giant prison camp. Seven million Kashmiris were barricaded in their homes, internet connections were cut and their phones went dead.

On Aug. 5, India’s home minister proposed in Parliament that Article 370 of the Indian Constitution (the article that outlines the legal obligations that arise from the Instrument of Accession) be overturned. The opposition parties rolled over. By the next evening the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019 had been passed by the upper as well as the lower house.


The act strips the State of Jammu and Kashmir of its special status — which includes its right to have its own constitution and its own flag. It also strips it of statehood and partitions it into two Union territories. The first, Jammu and Kashmir, will be administered directly by the central government in New Delhi, although it will continue to have a locally elected legislative assembly but one with drastically reduced powers. The second, Ladakh, will be administered directly from New Delhi and will not have a legislative assembly.

The passing of the act was welcomed in Parliament by the very British tradition of desk-thumping. There was a distinct whiff of colonialism in the air. The masters were pleased that a recalcitrant colony had finally, formally, been brought under the crown. For its own good. Of course.

Indian citizens can now buy land and settle in their new domain. The new territories are open for business. Already India’s richest industrialist, Mukesh Ambani, of Reliance Industries, has promised several “announcements.” What this might mean to the fragile Himalayan ecology of Ladakh and Kashmir, the land of vast glaciers, high-altitude lakes and five major rivers, barely bears consideration.

The dissolution of the legal entity of the state also means the dissolution of Article 35A, which granted residents rights and privileges that made them stewards of their own territory. So, “being open for business,” it must be clarified, can also include Israeli-style settlements and Tibet-style population transfers.

For Kashmiris, in particular, this has been an old, primal fear. Their recurring nightmare (an inversion of the one being peddled by Donald Trump) of being swept away by a tidal wave of triumphant Indians wanting a little home in their sylvan valley could easily come true.

A supporter of India's revocation of Kashmir�s special status displaying an artist's rendering of a map of India decorated with a shawl of saffron, the dominant color in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party�s symbol.

Arundhati Roy/ The New York Times


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Malaysian women deserve better, advocacy group says after civil court shuts door on Sisters in Islam

Sivananthi asked how SIS is considered to be 'deviant' by pushing for policies that are today being implemented in other Islamic countries. — Picture by Ham Abu Bakar
Sivananthi asked how SIS is considered to be 'deviant' by pushing for policies that are today being implemented in other Islamic countries. — Picture by Ham Abu Bakar

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 30 — The Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (Arrow) today urged the civil courts to review the recent judgment on Muslim women rights advocacy group Sisters in Islam (SIS).

Arrow said the High Court’s dismissal of SIS’ challenge against a five-year fatwa labelling it an Islamic “deviant” organisation has severe repercussions for Malaysia in the advocacy and protection of women’s rights and their dignity.

“To reiterate what SIS has already said — after 62 years of independence, Malaysian women deserve better than this,” Arrow executive director Sivananthi Thanenthiran said in a statement.

Arrow, a Malaysia-based NGO which advocates women and youths rights, asked how SIS is considered to be “deviant” by pushing for policies that are today being implemented in other Islamic countries like Morocco and Tunisia as well as famed Islamic institutions like the  Al-Azhar University in Egypt.

“SIS is a civil society working towards advancing the rights of Muslim women in Malaysia within the framework of Islam, universal human rights principles, constitutional guarantees as well as live realities and experiences of women.

“SIS has also been advocating issues in relation to end child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), promoting gender equality in Muslim marriages and Islamic Family Laws, and taking a stance against gender based violence and moral policing,” Sivananthi said.

“By saying that the civil court has no jurisdiction relating to Shariah law, it is setting the stage for increasing crackdown on women’s rights organisations by fundamentalist and conservative groups,” she added.

Last Tuesday, High Court judge Datuk Nordin Hassan threw out SIS’ challenge of the fatwa saying the civil courts have no jurisdiction to decide on the case.

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Egypt govt prepares ceremony for Grand Egyptian Museum opening

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly on Tuesday met for the first time with the supreme committee formed to devise plans for the inauguration ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM).


Madbouly said that the committee is working to choose the most suitable day for the opening, to organize the event over the next several days, and to consult specialized international companies to organize a global opening ceremony that features the presence of presidents and kings from various countries of the world.

The Prime Minister pointed out that the political leadership attaches great importance to speed in opening the GEM. “The opening of the Grand Museum will be seen by billions across the world, so we began to move now to prepare for the opening ceremony and present a clear road map for the opening,” he said.

Egyptian Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anany said that the opening of the GEM will be the largest celebration ever organized by Egypt. A major international company specialized in organizing such grand celebrations will be contracted for this purpose in accordance with the schedule.

At the end of the meeting, the Prime Minister gave instructions to the committee members to coordinate between the ministries and concerned authorities at the highest level so that the opening of the GEM will impressively reflect the civilization and history of ancient Egypt.

He pointed out that this celebration is a great opportunity for marketing Egypt and promoting tourism.


Al-Masry Al-Youm


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I'm a Hijabi and I kissed a girl

Source : Pintrest

At 15 I fell in love with my best friend. Luckily she felt the same way about me. We went to the same school and hung out together all the time. Being raised in a conservative society we weren’t accustomed to hanging outdoors so we would often visit each other at home instead.

When the feelings I had for her dawned to me, I wasn’t ready to accept it. How could I accept myself feeling for someone of the same sex? That was wrong was it not? Or at least that’s what I grew up learning. Every time I allowed those feelings to get the best of me I fell into a pit of regret. All the hateful slurs I encountered on a daily basis on Islamic sites saying things like “they are disgusting” “they are inhumane” “it’s immoral” “it’s not normal” “they must be mentally fucked up” “Allah will burn them in the fire of Jahannam” and the fatwas released calling for the death penalties for them, made me more miserable and reluctant to accept what I was.  

I remember our first kiss, it was magical but back then I didn’t allow myself to feel anything except for guilt and regret. I cried myself to sleep the next few nights feeling like I had terribly sinned. I grew up hating myself for being what I am. I prayed more every night in the hope that Allah would forgive me and then cried myself to sleep because I really couldn’t shake my feelings away. I missed her but I was stuck between my religion and my relationship with her. She understood my situation and in spite of my indecisiveness, held on for as long as she could. She knew she loved me and somehow that was enough for her. I wish I had the courage to realize that she was enough for me too. But instead, I put an end to our relationship and started publicly endorsing homophobia in an attempt to shun out the fact that I, myself was part of the LGBT community. I was a lesbian. I advocated against the LGBT community on social media platforms as well twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Faithless Hijabi


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How Barbers Are Getting Black Men Talking About Mental Health

Lorenzo Lewis and The Confess Project are making Black barbershops safe spaces to open up about depression, anxiety and trauma.

Left: Stephan “Step the Barber” Swearingen poses for a photo at Plush Midtown. Right: Oladi Falade, a regula

Huffpost/ Christopher A. Daniel


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Pitcher and Dust: Growing up Lower Class in Garhi Shahu, Lahore

When I was little my father cried watching a TV drama “Matti aur Mashkeeza” (Pitcher and Dust) about an old couple whose job was to water the searing dusty streets of Peshawar every morning. This was before streets went concrete. Gallons of water in a camel skin sack would hang from the old couple’s shoulders as they splashed the streets at dawn to make them cooler. The drama showed their love, scarcity of money and their profession being phased out because of municipal development. My father, whom I had rarely seen cry, cried at the show. “Such stories are rare on television,” he said.

I was born in Garhi Shahu. It is a neighborhood close to the Lahore Railway station. Garhi Shahu was called Mohallah Sayedan under the Mughals before it was permanently named after a gangster, Shahu. In my childhood, stories of Shahu’s anarchic lootings was a way to scare kids during late night power-cuts.

Lahore Railway Station (1940s) .               Lahore Railway Station (1940s)


The British laid a railway track in the area as part of growing India’s railway network to exploit its raw materials, and Garhi Shahu expanded for workers of the colonizer’s Railways, The North Western State Railway.

Top professionals and Christian missionaries living in the area were Goan Christians of Portuguese descent. Low-wage workers on the other hand were Punjabi Muslims and rural Christians--Dalits who embraced the Christian missionary promise to escape their untouchable status. They could not however escape casteism built into Punjab’s profession-based social system that designated them only to municipal jobs such as street cleaning.

After the British fled, and a new government stepped into the colonist’s shoes, The North Western State Railway became Pakistan Western Railway and my grandfather — hired as a mechanic under the Raj — retired as an engine driver.

With his retirement fund he added four rooms on his short four marlaproperty. Two of those rooms became my home, when I was born to his son, thirty-three at the time, arranged married to an eighteen year old Pashtun girl, my mom.

Ami and Abu on their first date after marriage (Jallo Park, Lahore) (1987)

My own earliest memory of Garhi Shahu is around 1992, a few months before my grandma passed on. I remember grandma putting on a shuttlecock burqa to roam the Main Bazaar. Her children — my aunts and uncles — would gather in the house and blame each other loudly for having lost her. She had alzheimer’s. They had written our address on daadi’s wrist.

Somewhere in between their chai breaks, Sardaran Bibi would walk back home on her own and more often would be brought back by people who heard the missing person announcement in the masjid. A few years later, when I would watch the missing people announcement before the evening Punjabi news bulletin on Pakistan Television (PTV) in Lahore, and then on Doordarshan (DD) broadcasting from a tower twenty miles away in Amritsar, I would think of grandma. “Talash-e-gumshuda”(Search-for-the-missing) in Punjabi the announcer would say on PTV and “Gwache barey Ghoshna Suno” (Listen to the missing people announcement) in Punjabi on DD. Both state-run channels on either side of the Pakistan-India border ran a slideshow of passport-sized photos: “kanak pinna” (wheatish) boys and girls, often not of sound mind, poor and lost in melas (fairs).

My uncle whom we called ‘I’ (pronounced lived in the other two rooms with his son. Aping his father’s career out of convenience, joined the yet again rebranded railways, now Pakistan Railways (PR) as a technician and ended up retiring as one. With his retirement fund he bought a Rickshaw and drove it six days a week, 7am — 2pm. Friday was a holiday. As we grew older,’s son took over his morning shifts and Sunday became a holiday.

Saad Khan


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