Expert Q&A: Dala Al-Fuwaires of FJI Design
An interior design maven—known for hospitality projects around the globe—shares her professional insights and road to success.
Owner and principal of FJI Design, Dala Al-Fuwaires is an expert in interior design for the bar and restaurant industry who’s making her mark in the creative world…and helping chefs, restaurateurs and aspiring designers along the way. Here’s her best advice for those looking to break into the industry.
Interior design is a popular topic with RUBY readers and many of our community members are interested in creating a career for themselves in the space. So, Dala, let’s kick things off with your top pieces of advice for someone who is just getting started.
For starters, I’d say, discover the one thing you want to be known for and do more of it—modern desert dwellings or boutique hotels, whatever it is, develop all of your messaging around said thing. Don’t be afraid to be ultra-specific. I thought that advertising my interior design firm as a boutique studio that specialized in bars and restaurants would deter other types of businesses, but it has actually brought on a wide array of commercial projects that were drawn to our hospitality work.
Next, if you don’t have a robust portfolio (most of us don’t when we’re just starting out), find other ways to provide immense value to your clients. You could create downloadable guides to get them started on their design journey, or informative videos educating them on things they’d find helpful.
Lastly, arrange one-on-one meetings with everyone and give generously without expecting anything in return. Relationships are the foundation of a strong referral system and a referral system is the best means to growing your business.
Great insight! Thank you for that. What would you say is the best piece of advice you ever received as an interior designer and entrepreneur?
The best advice I received actually came from a book by Simon Sinek, titled Find Your Why. We often go through life following a chosen path, but don’t stop to question why that path was chosen. Our truest “why” is a subconscious thought that hasn’t been brought to the surface yet. But uncovering and dissecting it will allow you to achieve authenticity and success. For me, being at a dinner table and eating good food in the company of a great people, was the most enriching feeling. Choosing the bar and restaurant platform gave me the ability to replicate that feeling a million times over.
So, is this the career you’ve always dreamed of having, or is your current work as an interior designer a happy surprise?
Interior design has always been my chosen career, but seven years ago, I was convinced that teaching interior design at the collegiate level was my destiny. I invested three years into graduate school so that I could become an associate professor, but when I finally had my degree in hand, geographical limitations forced me to explore other arenas. I was not very happy about it at the time, but here I am today, living the dream and designing bars and restaurants around the world. I am definitely open to more change if it comes my way.
From the entrepreneurship perspective, what would you say used to be your biggest weakness as a business owner and how did you improve upon it?
This may sound cliché, but understanding my business finances was definitely my biggest weakness…and fear. As creatives, we tend to operate with an emphasis on our right brain, but numbers, equations and projections are a very “left-brained” thing. I started to conquer the fear by asking my accountant to educate me on the basics. I then read Profit First by Mike Michalowicz, and it provided me with a framework on how to operate a business and manage finances with profit at the forefront.
Time to finish things off on a high note. Tell us something that you’re most proud of in your career thus far.
I’m very proud of building and operating an honest, ethical and socially responsible business. Honesty and ethics have been a guiding principle since day one and it has yielded many benefits—an established studio culture, trust amongst team members and, most importantly, trust with our clients.
Katarina Kovacevic is founder and editor of RUBY. Follow her on Instagram @Little_K_Kata.