For Tamer Masri says, the co-founder of Jo Bedu, its about serving the public good or the Pro Bona, as he likes to say. A self describe tribe, Jo Bedu, located In Jabal Weibdeh, is a store that sells t-shirts with localized funny sayings. But they aren’t just about making you smile when putting on a shirt, they are changing the way organizations think and act.
Written by Farah Mehdawi
Despite the many difficulties and lack of resources in Jordan, the desire and passion to speak and show their talents to the world drives them to look around for someone to nurture their talent or support it. In Jordan, this has probably been the same for most talents; despite facing hurdles and social breaking social norms by following their creative talent and trying to make a living from it, Tamer Masri and Michael Makdah are starting those challenges down. All this, with a smile on their faces.
In meeting Tamer Masri and Michael Makdah, the owners of Jo Bedu, I didn’t just sit there listening to them answering the questions I asked them, I also sat amazed by their experience being young entrepreneurs, who were able to come up with new meanings and ways to promote culture, and having people involved by being members of a tribe that stresses on its origin and identity of being an Arab, loud and proud.
Finding the Magic Formula
Many wonder why they should be joining the Jo Bedu Tribe. While some thought they could actually be joining by just wearing the t-shirts, Masri says it takes more than just wearing a t-shirt to join his tribe.
“It’s turning on the little switch that you have in you as Arab…by being interested in your own culture. You don’t have to buy a t-shirt to join the tribe, you just have to be proud of who you are, and not look for solutions abroad.”
While Masri thought it’s about identity, Makdah thought of it as a philosophy: “It’s not just a tagline, it’s a philosophy…it’s the fact that we always want to work with people, and get everyone to work together for something that will create a cultural impact, so we are constantly meeting people, talking, planning, brainstorming and conceptualizing new ideas, and new things to do, always.”
“Join the Tribe is the photo shoot that gets people to pose wearing the t-shirts; it is the Amman –T competition; it’s the sales team that we are putting together by getting people who don’t know each other to sell. It’s when a designer meets an idea made by someone else. It’s connecting the dots basically between our community members,” says Makdah.
I survived Mansaf
Jo Bedu feature catchy phrases such as, I survived Mansaf, Got Jameed, Ma3eesh A7lig, Chagfeh, written over Chiquita logo, Ish ya Bata, and Igleb.
Makdah, Meesh to his friends, and Masri started selling t-shirts back in 2007 at Souq Jara. In 2009, they had the in own retail shop in Jabal Weibdeh – near Paris Circle, and had their first employee on June 2009, and who is Yazeed, the one you get to meet in the store when the tribal leaders are off connecting the dots.
“I went to Canada and Meesh stayed here to pursue his career in education. I went abroad and my intended program of study was art, but before getting a Mickey Mouse Degree (Cartooning), I had to get a real degree, so I graduated with international affairs politics and economics,” says Masri.
“Yeah, so he can get married,” commented Makdah.
As for Makdah, it wasn’t easy getting a degree.
“I studied computer science, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t realize that until I graduated. I started working in the family business and every now then I would hear these voices in my head about doing something in marketing.”
Luckily for us, he listened to the voices in his head and started one of Amman’s hottest trends. Their popularity and success has been also due to the fact of the extensive use of social media. Facebook, twitter, and posting pictures online have helped spread the reach of their tribe.
Providing for your Tribe
“Art and following your talents in this part of the world is always secondary, it’s a luxury basically. But what we are trying to do is to make it a form of living,” says Tamer.
“In Jo Bedu, we don’t want only to put food on the table but to put a buffet, not just for us but for as many people as we can in terms of art. We want to make art profitable and something you want to get into, which is in the core message of Jo Bedu.”
“There are 3 elements for success,” says Makdah.
“1. No matter what, don’t stop. Just keep doing it. 2. Make sure you’re the best, be the best at what you can do, if someone beats you try to outdo them,” “3. Count yourself always as number two, so you will keep working hard, and not lay assured that you number one.”
“Creating a new shirt is a process that goes through different stages,” says Makdah.
One of the ideas for Masri is to take a negative comment or phrase and hijack its meaning.
“For example,” Masri says, “ish ya 6, is one of those very derogatory insults that you hear every day. If you see a girl wearing a t-shirt bearing that phrase, you take the insult from the person and turn it into a joke. That’s the way it is; you turn something derogatory into something fun, with the right drawings on it, you look at stuff wholeheartedly so it changes the meaning.”
“You know selling the t-shirts is not easy, because like success, it’s a formula of different things” says Makdah, “It’s not always about the price or the quality, since there are people who sell cheaper than us, and others who make better quality than us, it’s just people expecting some standard. Another factor would be creativity, saying a phrase would sound funny, but representing it visually in a different way makes it more appealing.”
The Vox Populi
Since Jo Bedu started marketing the t-shirts, and they have been having online competitions that allow people to submit designs and vote on the best ones. There has been 4 competitions so far, Jo Bedu 100 JD, Brand Attack, What Arab Woman Want, and a competition for the best scenery in wearing the t-shirts. Most recently, there was another competition organized with the New Think theater, called Amman–t.
“Amman-t is joint initiative between us and another organization, we thought of the idea with New Think Theater to make a t-shirt on a common ground,” says Makdah. “We had about 300 hundred people who participated and had 979 submissions. People voted on the best 3 designs using the “like” system on Facebook. It was an exercise of democracy,” says Masri
“At first you would assume that since we are offering cash awards people would do it for the money,” says Masri. “But people actually wanted a breather. People said the money is crap we are doing this because it’s fun.”
Ahmad Issa, Sanad Abu Assaf and Mira Maraqa won first, second and third place consecutively. Jo Bedu chose three extra designs by Mothanna Hussein, Zeid Sbeitan and Ramification Ine that were dubbed the Jo Bedu Creative Picks .
“It’s breather, like for example the phrase 3ala rasi kazdara was submitted over 20 times, they just wanted to say it. It’s also exposure, and a way to see if other people would like what you send. It nurtures the sense of competition between people, as one says he can do better than the other, and we have also made it very easy way for people to compete throughout the use of Facebook.”
“We had our first employee on June 15, 2009, prior to that it was only me and Meesh,” says Masri. “In a way we are very blessed, because we appreciate every single job you can think of, from delivering t-shirts, taking orders, counting t-shirts, printing, and dealing with the printers the manufacturers.”
Taking a moment to contemplate the looming millions of JDs they’ll make in the future, Masri says that they are trying to change the standard definition of an organization. “We introduced a new meaning to what an organization means, and that is also incorporated in Jo Bedu’s concept.”
“It’s a cultural, social, economic, political paradigm shift in organization thinking, but lets be serious for a moment. Honestly, don’t you feel super on wearing the 5aseh t-shirt?”