This spot needs to be added to your winter hitlist. Join The HUNTR’s contributing editor Zeashan as he chats to the NOT A SPACE founder Najla Al Ansari and shows us a gorgeous glimpse inside the new Al Faya pop-up…
Najla Al Ansari is the face behind NOT A SPACE, one of Sharjah’s most exciting initiatives. An entrepreneur juggling multiple projects and businesses simultaneously, Najla is in pursuit of different ways to create exciting experiences for the community. Her team of community builders creates unconventional spaces out of its primary location in Muweilah, Sharjah, which houses a cafe and community space, barbershop, and parlour.
During the 2020/21 winter months, NOT A SPACE has also taken over a spot in Al Faya (near Mleiha) in Sharjah, where the team has built a beautiful campsite-esque pop-up that is now open daily from 6 am to 2 am until the end of March 2021.
Should you plan on making the road trip, Najla recommends arriving just before 4 pm so you can catch some of the daylight before the sun starts to set. 6 am for the sunrise is equally as beautiful. But as the evening light falls, the place really comes alive with families and friends occupying the bean bags and tables – ready for the performances to begin. Throughout the season, the NOT A SPACE team is offering a series of musical and dance performances from local artists. The night The HUNTR visited we saw a riveting fire performance, followed by a DJ session and an acoustic covers jam, ending with a blissful oud performance late into the night.
The idea behind the project comes from Najla’s vision for making ‘not so ordinary’ experiences, and this unique approach allows for the brand to cater to the local community in more ways than one.
“I am always looking for the next best idea to share with the community,” says Najla, “I was born in the UAE and I live here in Sharjah. I am an individual who loves life, everything about life, and the stories of the people in it. I love to create experiences that are not so ordinary. I am someone who’s looking to take a risk with my social experiments and I love going the extra mile for people to get a good reaction from them.”
When NOT A SPACE opened its flagship shops in Muweilah, an outsider would need to think twice before being able to define what the brand was building. Najla says this decision was conscious – to take essential services, and serve a twist to make it an exciting space for the community it serves – “Things have changed in the world we interact with today. The way we experience things has changed. People want experiences, they want to be part of a community and that’s what we’re trying to build. That’s how ‘NOT’ came up. It is not just one space, it’s more than that. In fact, even the three dots on our logo represents that there is always more that we have to offer…”
“My brother, Hamed, and I travel a lot and we enjoy seeking out different experiences and stories from around the world. It is also important for us to bring these stories back with us. I want to be able to curate these experiences for those here in our community, but in a way that makes sense for our way of life here. I’ve been in the business for the last nine years. Travelling also helped me understand what is missing in the world that I could create. I haven’t seen anywhere where there’s a barbershop, a parlour, and a specialty coffee shop all linked together. Here, with any haircut or service, you get a free coffee. That’s the kind of stuff we want to make. At our barbershop or the salon, you can find people organizing dances or hosting events. It’s a multidisciplinary space where you find so much more than what you would expect.”
“We’re more than the services that we offer. This space is also for hosting events, for instance – a big one we did at our stores in Muweilah before the pandemic was a pop-up exhibition featuring all kinds of local talent from neighboring communities.”
Najla explains what NOT A SPACE offers to its people beyond the Muweilah outlets (cafe, barbershop, and parlour) or the Al Faya Pop-up: “It’s primarily a hub – we are a space to help people to find new friends, attend or run their own events, and support local artists’ talent. We bring people together for music, art, sports, and really anything that the community needs. We want to be a place to foster friendships and connections in the local community.”
“People might ask ‘if it’s not a barbershop or a salon or a cafe then what is it?’ We tell them to come and experience it for themselves. People will take what they’re offered. You go somewhere, you like it, you’ll come back. The risk we were taking was that we were doing something that wasn’t offered anywhere else, so we didn’t know how it would be received. But until we tried it, we wouldn’t know. So we had to do it and find out. The reception has been positive, which has been great. You hear it from our people – they come in and are impressed. They tell us that they haven’t been to spaces like ours before, and you see that they keep coming back. I’ve heard the word ‘vibes’ being used a lot. They just keep saying that our spaces and staff have a lot of ‘positive vibes’, which I’m proud to hear. Our brand caters to people who don’t want to define themselves as ordinary people doing ordinary things. It’s them that keep me going. Their reactions tell me I’m on the right track.”
About NOT A SPACE, Muweilah, Sharjah
NOT A SPACE is a community center that offers specialty coffee and tea, gentlemen’s grooming essentials, and ladies’ beauty services. The space also serves as a hub for events by and for the local community that can feature music, art, yoga, and all kinds of meetups. When you’re here, unwind yourself with a Hibiscus Ice Tea or Najla’s favorite combo – the Flat White and Chocolate Cookies.
About Muweilah, Sharjah
The Muweilah area in Sharjah, where NOT A SPACE is located, is home to many emerging homegrown businesses propping up. Najla’s pride for ‘M-Town’ (as she affectionately calls it) shows as she talks about its crop of young Emirati entrepreneurs setting up new exciting businesses in the area. One such place is Paper Fig, a hidden gem that has become a destination for foodies in Sharjah. While they are famous for the desserts, Najla frequents the place often for lunch and recommends the Lemon Chicken with Coconut Rice. Another place to check out is Crisol, a fusion restaurant that Najla promises “will make you forget where you are.” Try the Seafood Paella.
About NOT A SPACE, Al Faya Pop-Up (Pictured)
The open area pop-up is located next to Al Faya Retreat and Cafe, with a grand view of the Al Faya Mountains. The area has plenty of tables and seating areas (with blankets on request if you’re feeling chilly) and also has plenty of parking space. The space is open every day from 6 am to 2 am till the end of March.
The NOT A SPACE Al Faya pop-up encompasses a cafe with hot and cold beverages, light breakfast dishes, and lunch options such as warm flatbreads, hot dogs and burgers, and desserts. Top-notch specialty coffee and soft drinks are also available. Plus a series of performances and enterainment. Follow @notaspace on Instagram for updates on upcoming events before planning your trip.
Photography, reporting and interview by Zeashan Ashraf exclusively for The Huntr