x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

'You have to keep environmental balance'

This much I know Mariam el Accad designs 1/2 Pint, a handmade childrenswear range, and works for the Organic Foods and Cafe in Dubai.

Mariam el Accad hangs dresses in 1/2 Pint, which is next to her brother's cafe in Dubai.
Mariam el Accad hangs dresses in 1/2 Pint, which is next to her brother's cafe in Dubai.

Mariam el Accad designs 1/2 Pint, a handmade childrenswear range in Dubai. She also works for the family business, the Organic Foods and Cafe in Dubai. She has lived in the UAE on and off since 1967.
My mother was German and really into eating healthy, organic food without any chemicals. She taught us to respect the environment, whether we were walking in the forests of Germany or the Arabian desert. My brother started and now runs the Organic Foods and Cafe. It goes beyond selling organic produce and also has an environmental policy to reduce energy and waste. We recycle all our paper, the staff share cars and my brother makes sure the company vehicles have energy efficient engines.

1/2 Pint is named after the English expression for a child, when the British government ruled that every child should have half a pint of milk a day. My designs are quite old-fashioned in style, and don't say things like "Kiss Me" on them. I like dressing children in comfortable, pretty things designed for children, not little adults, and I make sure all the cotton is locally-sourced. I used to have a couture boutique in London making eveningwear and wedding dresses, but when we moved back to Dubai and my son was born, I wanted something I could do in my own time. I started making clothes for friends' babies and it went from there.

The more money people have, the less environmentally aware they are. They're so removed from it and can't see down through the process. Whenever I go into a grocery store, I explain what happens to plastic bags and the Indian shopkeepers understand because they're involved at the base level as well. It's up to everyone to do everything they can.
My mother died of cancer in 2001. When she was diagnosed, she started taking nutrition courses and learning about food, but I don't believe cancer is caused by a bad diet or using too many detergents; it can be the result of stress, unhappiness or you can be predisposed to it in your family. I guess I am predisposed to it, but I make sure I eat organically because I don't want my immune system to suffer. I believe in prevention rather than cure.

Other supermarkets here have jumped on the organic bandwagon, but it's important to check whether something is organically certified. Packaged food should always have a seal and fresh food usually comes in a box so you can see where it's come from. With the internet, it's very easy to inform yourself these days.
The beaches in Dubai used to be much cleaner. My mother would be horrified if she could see what's become of them. We've belonged to the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club for years, but the water is full of sewage now and all the marine life has gone since they started dredging the islands. You can't stop progress, but you do have to keep an environmental balance. It's impossible to offset if afterwards; you need to have it planned as you go along.

These days, I work in the store most of the day, until about 4.30pm, when I spend time with my son. We go for a swim at the beach or just go out somewhere. I work on my computer at night and then go to my atelier. 1/2 Pint is a pleasure, not a chore, so I don't mind the long hours. I started working for my brother's business recently because I saw I could be useful. I stay in the background though and support him. He has a very clear vision of what he wants and is extremely driven. He believes in doing the right thing.

My father came here in 1967 to tender for building Port Rashid. He then supplied schools with nutritional lunches and built mosques and schools. We lived in Sharjah for the first eight years, in a traditional bastakiyah style house without air conditioning initially. We used to walk down to the souq where you could buy fish, coriander, little bananas, dates and not much else. Apples and oranges were very rare. There are lots of things I prefer about the way it used to be here, but at least you can get a cappuccino now.
kboucher@thenational.ae