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Architect-turned-business-expert, alumna May Barber returns to AUS as mentor
Blending design and business, American University of Sharjah (AUS) graduate (AUS) May Barber is bringing firsthand knowledge to students in the School of Business Administration (SBA) this semester.
An entrepreneur, designer and successful business owner, Barber graduated from AUS in 2008 with a Bachelor of Architecture degree. She has successfully bridged the worlds of design and business as Co-Founder and Creative Director of Ayed&Barber, a brand management agency based between Dubai and Paris.
Due to AUS’ strong relationships with its graduates, AUS students often have the chance to be mentored by successful alumni through internships or on-campus projects. This semester, senior AUS marketing students have the opportunity to apply their learning in a live case from Ayed&Barber’s own portfolio. The students will be tasked to reimagine an existing company, its operations and marketing strategy in light of the changing market dynamics brought about by the current pandemic.
“The idea is to engage students with a live case and have them question, analyze and even challenge our own ideas and findings. The timing couldn’t be better as we are at a transition point in all sectors, due to COVID-19 and its aftermath,” said Barber.
AUS encourages its students to give back to the community, and this level of engagement is evidenced by alumni who offer their expertise to current students. The chance to re-engage with her alma mater is important to Barber, who, over the years, has collaborated with AUS as a mentor, guest lecturer and judge.
“I strongly believe in the power of mentorship and the value of connecting with young people. When I started my business back in 2012, the ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation was different from what it is today. We lacked the sophisticated incubators, hubs and access to knowledge, which we have today,” she said.
As a graduate of the university’s College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD), Barber received regional acclaim for her work as an architect and designer and established herself as a driving force in the UAE’s dynamic culture, arts and fashion scenes.
She went on to establish The Cartel with the view to challenge what was on offer in the fashion market and to create a platform for emerging artists and designers from around the world. Based in Dubai Design District, the business is strategically positioned to appeal to an international network including Paris, London, New York, Copenhagen and Tbilisi, building emerging brands and rejuvenating aging brands. Taking this a step further, she co-launched Ayed&Barber to address the needs of startups and SMEs, combining the creative dimension of brand management with a business strategy arm. She has recently earned an Executive MBA from HEC Paris, where she conducted an in-depth study into sustainable practices in the fashion industry, as featured in Vogue Arabia.
While being an entrepreneur and business owner may seem a step in a different direction from her origins as an architect, Barber begs to differ.
“Architecture is definitely the starting point because it encompasses all the elements of design, and I have leveraged all the learnings and principles to cater to the wider design industry, be it architecture, fashion and brand management,” said Barber.
“To me it seems like a natural transition; my ecosystem is a triangle of architecture, art and fashion—and design is always in the heart of anything I do,” she said.
Barber admits that the business of design has not always been easy and much of what she has learned has been a process of learning by experience. However, she affirms that her design education at AUS prepared her well for the challenge.
“Studying architecture at AUS was a fundamental learning experience on professional and personal levels. ‘Design thinking’, an integral methodology taught and applied at CAAD, is in itself a language that you can use and adapt to any discipline you choose. This is the kind of learning I believe the youth needs today, which I was fortunate to get at AUS at a young age,” she said.
As a mentor, Barber has solid advice for new and upcoming graduates: “Use COVID-19 as an opportunity rather than a restraint. I understand there are a lot of challenges in the market due to this crisis, but it would be refreshing to see a student market themselves in a creative way that is relevant to this world and utilizes the growing outreach of the digital world.”
“COVID-19 reminds us of going back to basics, and this is the time for students to shine not only through their academic achievements, but through their values as humans, their causes and actions. Storytelling today matters more than ever, and the market, despite its challenges, still requires authentic, driven individuals with an active voice in the digital space and creative tools to narrate their story.”