Our Place, a new kitchen and home essentials brand, aims to bring ethics, style, and culture … [+]
Shiza Shahid, co-founder of the Malala Fund, is back with a new startup — one that’s tackling cookware and kitchen essentials.
Though it may seem far removed from Shahid’s previous work in the philanthropy and social impact, which sought to raise awareness on women’s issues, she’s actually aiming to bring the two together with a mainstream kitchen and homeware brand, Our Place.
“As I started to cook more, I looked at the landscape of existing kitchenware brands, and realized none of them spoke to me, solved my problems, or represented my values,” she says. “So we started Our Place for the modern, multiethnic American kitchen.”
The idea dawned on her in her own kitchen, as she learned to cook and host friends, far from her mother’s kitchen in Pakistan where she had grown up. As an immigrant, she says, she “found her place in America by cooking and sharing food with new communities.” Building a company that brings people together around home-cooked meals is her goal.
Her husband, Amir Tehrani, serves as one of her co-founders; he has significant experience in the cookware and kitchen manufacturing industries, and his grandfather started TableTops Unlimited, a supplier of all things cooking and dining-related in the US. In addition, Zach Rosner is the third co-founder and will serve as the Chief Operating Officer; he previously worked at Everlane and MeUndies. They’ve been funded by Will Smith’s VC fund, Dreamers, as well as FabFitFun(d) amongst others; in total, the startup has raised $2.4 million.
The most notable item in their collection is the Always Pan: an Instagram-ready blush pink that has a non-toxic, non-stick coating (free of Teflon and PFAS) and can be used for everything from sautéing vegetables to making a family serving of pasta to steaming bao buns. “The Always Pan is designed to replace eight traditional pieces of cookware,” she says, “There’s nothing like it in the market, as everyone else is trying to sell you an 8-piece-cookware set that you don’t really need.”
The goal, however, is not just to be another household name in cookware, but to support a variety of social causes — through their supply chain and philanthropy. Just before the holidays, OurPlace debuted their first artisan collection, deviating from the core offering which is manufactured in China and Thailand primarily. This collection, referred to as “Nochebuena,” featured handmade artisan pieces from Mexico — a massive mortar and pestle from volcanic rock, clay bowls, tortilla warmers, and a handwoven table runner. The latest collection celebrates the Chinese New Year; for this, they employed Chinese-American illustrator Sarula Bao to create the designs for the platter and serving dishes.
The artisan sector is allegedly the second largest work-giving industry in the world. But because artisans struggle with marketing and selling their goods, they don’t scale as rapidly. “We spent significant time to prepare them to export to the US market — for most of them, this was their first major export to the US, despite the difficulties involved,” Shahid explains.
But it goes one step further, she adds. “We then published all their names and stories to encourage more businesses to source from them rather than keeping the information proprietary. In everything we do, we prioritize making a social impact.”
Shipping cookware, or heavy volcanic rock artisan products, is not an easy task. But Shahid and her colleagues are going plastic-free. Everything is sent in recyclable paper boxes with the individual pieces snuggly fit into their cut-outs. “Our box is the shipping box,” she explains. Thus, there is no need for added layers of packaging.
For Shahid, who has been working in the social impact sector, building a business, she argues, is the pathway to addressing bigger issues: “We have to evolve the role of business if we are to solve the world’s most pressing challenges. I want to prove that you can build a robust business that is fundamentally ethical and socially impactful. For us, impact is not one thing; it’s everything.”