A growing number of women in Dubai are turning their backs on office jobs to pursue passions and set up businesses much closer to the heart. Leading the movement is 28-year-old mumtrepreneur Lizmar Hilton. The charismatic California-born crafter runs retro home décor, memorabilia and work-shopping business Nifty Little Things out of the apartment she shares with her husband and six-month-old daughter in Dubai Marina. Since launching earlier this year, she’s held numerous crafting workshops and is now being approached by big corporations for product and event launches.
Crafters often get a bad rap for being (dare-we-say) old-fashioned and frugal. But Lizmar is by no means your stereotypical DIY-er. Spray cans, chalk boards, quirky wood hangings and a well-worn looking scroll saw make up the fantastic clutter of her workspace. Add to that the fact her colourful home is decorated with retro memorabilia including black and white photos of Marilyn Monroe, Amelia Earhart and Charlie Chaplin. You’d only have to look at her to see why. Dressed in a red polka dot dress, old-school apron and with bright purple dye through the ends of her rockabilly-esque hair, it’s as if Lizmar stepped out of another era altogether.
‘I used to be a burlesque dancer, so this is where my love for the ’50s spawned,’ she says. ‘I’ve always loved retro memorabilia, I have it all over my house,’ she says. ‘Back home in LA, you see this stuff everywhere, but in Dubai it doesn’t exist, and I’m trying to bring that here. Having lived in Dubai for seven years, Lizmar believes that the city’s fascination with all things retro is because Dubai itself is so new. ‘People are still defining themselves and their fashion,’ she says. So what are her thoughts on the vintage fad sweeping pop culture worldwide?
‘Everything gets recycled,’ says Lizmar. ‘First it was the ’80s, the ’90s, then The Great Gatsby came out and now everyone is doing the Roaring ’20s. But, if you would ask most people my age what the Roaring ’20s are, they probably wouldn’t know. Right now, everything is considered retro – people don’t know how to define the eras – they think its all retro. The ’50s and the ’60s were very different eras. The styles were very different, the men, and the attitudes were very different from each other. I like to stick to one, which is the ’50s,’ she says.
But it was her creativity and sentimental nature that helped her tap into the idea for her business. ‘I always try to make things that I would be proud of to put in my home. In Dubai, things that are made to look like they’re handmade can be very expensive,’ she says. ‘But, when you make something yourself it means more to you. You’re going to talk about it more when it’s hanging on your wall as it has your personality – it gives it a story. It gives the sense that you’ve used it for a long time or it’s been passed down. I love that sense of history with things. So, usually when I see something that is old in someone’s house, it draws me immediately and I want to know where it’s from, how long have they had it and what the story is behind it.’
Lizmar soon discovered how many people shared her passion for quirky, handmade home décor after oohing and aahing over her creations during visits to her home. Luckily, she had the skills to execute the idea. ‘I’ve always been into crafting, in one way or another. When I was young, I would make dresses out of curtains, bags out of jeans. I was always trying to copy the latest trend with things around the house. And then when I was in video production in high school, we had to make props out of practically anything. But, it’s not until recently I’ve realised that there’s a huge craft industry out there,’ says Lizmar.
Her handmade, wooden wall signs are easily affordable, with the smaller pieces selling for Dhs45 and larger hangings priced at Dhs65. ‘The wood that I use for my signs comes from any tiny little warehouse I can find in the city,’ she says. ‘The smaller the shop, the better. If you go deep down into Deira, Satwa, or out to Sharjah or Oman even, you’ll find very vintage-looking wood. They are kind of vintage, because they have been sitting there and no one’s wanted them for a very long time,’ says Lizmar. ‘A few other pieces of mine, much to my husband’s dismay, I pick up from the beach. Literally, there’s a piece of driftwood, and I’m praying that he’ll let me put it in the car and let me bring it home,’ she laughs. Speaking of wood, how does the saw work?
‘Oh my little buddy there, it’s probably the most expensive tool I own. I saw it in South Africa when I was geeking out in a woodwork shop,’ says Lizmar. ‘I asked the guy what it was and what it did and he gave me a crash course in it. It’s quite simple, but it’s very daunting for someone who hasn’t used a tool before. You just have to dive in and realise that you can chop your finger off, so you have to be brave about it.’
While you’ll likely see Nifty Little Things at mummy markets including Baby Bazaars and Yummy Mummy, Lizmar says she’s now focused on putting the word out about her workshops, which are not only for mums. For those that do attend, Lizmar offers an on-the-spot nanny service. ‘It’s very close to me. I want to treat the workshops as a platform for other businesses as well as other mumtrepreneurs or small companies that are just starting off,’ says Lizmar. ‘The upcycle ones are pretty popular, I have women bring an old piece of furniture, something they’re going to throw away, and show them how to make it beautiful again,’ she says. While Lizmar’s area of expertise is woodwork, paper and fabrics, she says she’s open to crafters promoting their business at her workshops. ‘I welcome others who want to come and teach a craft, it’s a nice change to learn something different,’ she says. It seems that hospitality carries into every aspect of her life.
Home décor items from Dhs45 to Dhs65. Made to order also available. Nifty Little Things, www.facebook.com/niftylittlethings.
Nifty Craft Workshops
Price includes all materials. Mummies welcome with kids of all ages, there is a playroom and nanny service on site.
From Dhs120. Wed Aug 13 at 6.30pm. Sun Aug 17, 24 and 31 at 10am.
6th floor, Elite Residence Dubai Marina, parking in Barasti, Niftylittlethingsdubai@gmail.com; Instagram: Nifty Little Things (056 724 2569).