Lebanese designer tries to reinvent the toothbrush ... with Miswak
It was when Leen was given an assignment by her professor “to redesign the first object I threw out after class” that she accidentally stood before the challenge of reinventing the toothbrush. Panicking at first Leen began looking into the history and routine of tooth brushing.
“Eventually I came across an article online about the health benefits of the Miswak stick (a teeth cleaning twig made from the Salvadora persica tree, used in Islamic hygienic jurisprudence and considered sunnah in Islam). I thought to myself, ‘You know what, you're in grad school. You're allowed to do crazy things like this,’ and went ahead with the stick idea.”
Maybe not so crazy after all; a few prototypes later, the media started to show an interest for the student project that would become THIS. THIS reintroduces and promotes the Miswak as an organic, biodegradable portable substitute for toothpaste and toothbrush. THIS is currently in its manufacturing stage, which Leen and her team is hoping to finance through a crowdfunding campaign.
Leen says that design is “more of an approach than a technical skill and that with the right training you could apply that approach to solve all kinds of problems.”
But THIS wasn’t Leen’s only undertaking during her Design Entrepreneurship MFA in New York’s School of Visual Arts. She also took on the challenge of tackling the ongoing problem of finding a comfortable space for girls in Beirut to discuss sexuality and health.
“When I told people what I was working on their first reactions were always ‘But I thought you were a designer!’ I hope to show people through the work I do that designers can accomplish a lot more than they've been given credit or opportunity for.”
Despite the scepticism Leen quickly learned that being a “designer meant I had a lot more power and influence than I thought.” However, it has required hard work, just at this moment Leen is workingon a digital analytics tool for the fashion e-commerceworld, branding a Manousheh place set to open in New York and setting up AIGA Middle East.
AIGA is the oldest professional design association in the US, with hubs all over the country. Its 23,000 members worldwide strive to advance design as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force. Leen and her business partner have noticed how frustrating it is that there is no consolidated design community in the Middle East and due to their strong connections to their Lebanese roots they decided to do something about this.
Realising the potential in the region they received green light from AIGA in New York to go ahead and establish AIGA Middle East. The initiative is dedicated to support design professionals, educators and students in the region. The goal is to bring both regional and international designers together through membership, networking events and educational programs. It also aims to spread awareness about the role of design in society and the importance of following global design standards and ethics.
“We'll be celebrating the launch of the Middle East chapter as part of Beirut Design Week on June 25 at Coop D'Etat rooftop in Beirut.”
But it doesn’t end here, Leen says that in the future she hopes that she will be “playing an active role in both the Beirut and NYC design communities, and somehow help others realize their potential, whether its in design or something else.”