Voices of Jerusalem: Bold, bright and beautiful

Loren Minsky from ITRAVELJERUSALEM.COM speaks to Barbara Shaw, the creative and business brains behind designer gift store, Barbara Shaw Gifts.

Barbara Shaw 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Barbara Shaw 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)

“Someone once said that if you love what you do,you will never work a day in your life,” recounts Barbara Shaw, owner ofBarbara Shaw Gifts on Bezalel Street in Jerusalem’s city center. “I live andbreathe design, and think about it at least 90 per cent of my life.

Its mymission to produce beautiful things.”

Barbara Shaw Gifts is a Jerusalem-based gift store that sells funJudaica, exclusive gifts and Jerusalem-themed home ware items with atwist. The product colors, patterns and themes are inspired by Jerusalem, itssurrounding landscapes and Barbara's Jewish heritage.

Barbara grew up near Bondi beach in Sydney in a homewhere artistic and entrepreneurial achievements were encouraged. She went on tostudy History of Art and Business Management. “Overthe years, I worked in various industries including hi-tech and learned that I’mbest as my own boss,” she explains.

Barbara moved to Jerusalem in the 1980s with her family. “When wearrived, I couldn’t find gifts that I wanted to buy and so I decided to make my own,” she says. I was lookingfor gifts that were bright, colourful, practical, reasonably priced, wellpackaged and that reflected Israel, Jerusalem and Judaism in a whole new way.”

“I liked theidea of taking a humble product, like the tea towel and infusing it withdesign, creativity, bold prints and good packaging. Things like tote bags, trivets,coasters and aprons are all small, useful and easy to pack. Though Armenianpottery is lovely, it’s breakable and quickly loses its novelty to travellerswho have been here a million times,” Barbara warns.

She worksclosely with talented multi-faceted designer, Tova Safra, who puts Barbara’sideas into action. “It’s a collaborative effort. The thrill of creating isintoxicating. I love taking a concept and seeing it carried through each stageuntil someone eventually puts money in your hand for your original idea.”

“I am fascinatedby the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. They have such power. We play aroundwith them and the interplay between vowels and polka dots for example. We’vealso placed them on glass for an interesting effect; the letters look as ifthey’re floating,” she explains. Another favorite of mine is the Yiddishsayings, which tap into my background and where I come from.  I love iconic themes like pomegranates, figleaves and Jaffa oranges, which were begging to be interpreted in a fresh way.I am enchanted by the shape and outline of the fig leaf, and I use this theme recurrentlyand also on the shop logo.”

Barbara Shaw giftsBarbara Shaw gifts
The store hasrecently expanded into different media such as ceramics, paper and perspex and isabout to expand further into metal products and jewellery. “There’s neverending scope.”

Barbara lives onAzza Road in Rechavia and her workshop is in the industrial area of GivatShaul. “Azza Road is homely and a terrific area to live in. I also like theworkman atmosphere of Givat Shaul, and the hip location of our store on Bezalelstreet. The store overlooks a grand fig tree on the premises of the Bezalelbuilding, with lovely designer shops on both sides.”

Barbara is married to David, a writer and one-time foreigncorrespondent, and has three sons, who are all very supportive. “My family is number one in my life and I love to spendtime with them.”

“Work is mypassion, and my downtime. I’m intrigued by both the business and design side ofthings,” Barbara adds. “I never feel the need to escape and I’m energized bythinking of what to make next. I get inspiration from everything – walkingaround, design websites, travel, magazines like Monocle and Wallpaper aswell as design blogs like Designsponge.When asked about her favorite product, she answers: “My latest is usually whatI love best.”

“My art is myform of Zionism. I am happy that I employ six people and that I manufacture andexport products produced in Israel that are inspired by the country’s landscapeand themes. Women in business is another subject close to my heart and Ilecture on both topics. I always tell groups that every businessowner should ask themselves the simple question: would I buy my product?”

“There are goodthings happening in Israel in the arts and I believe they need to be promotedas a tourist and income generator. You go to Europe and think why aren’t thereten million tourists visiting Israel, with so much to do and see in a shortspace of time? Jerusalem has a reputation as a heavy sort of place. I’mtrying to lighten it up in my own way with colourful, fun, bold and zanydesigns. The city needs a name as a hip place, not just an ancient one.”

Barbara ShawBarbara Shaw
“What makes mehappy is seeing people laugh at the expressions on our products,” Barbara says.“It’s easy to make people cry, but not so easy to make them laugh. I love thehumor.”

Barbara Shawgifts are available at all the major museums and gift stores around thecountry, and appeal to Israelis, anglos and tourists. She also sells to Europeansand Americans online, a market which is growing despite the recent economicclimate. “We’re soon attending a big gift show in New York with the intentionof expanding our reach. It’s a first so it’s nerve-wracking but also veryexciting. I hope to bring more joy and fun further afield.”

“I want otherpeople and especially olim to be encouraged that it’s possible to start abusiness in Israel from scratch, and that it can actually work and pay thebills. I love what I do and really can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Barbara Shaw Gifts:

2 Bezalel Street, corner Shmuel Ha Nagid Street

(02) 625-7474
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