As a newly minted art-school graduate from the University of Michigan, Nawal Motawi took her restless spirit and interest in the applied arts to Detroit to learn tile-making at the venerable Pewabic Pottery. Two years later, in 1992, she was back in Ann Arbor, making tiles in a garage studio; at first, she sold them out of a booth at the local farmer’s market.
“We make products that people love and will pay for,” says the owner and lead designer of Motawi Tileworks. “And we demonstrate that a human-centered workplace can be very successful.” Indeed: The company Nawal founded in 1992 has since purchased its clay supplier, Rovin Ceramics, and opened Motawi Downtown in the Ann Arbor Art Center. Motawi employs more than 30 people, and the far-ranging lines of art tile keep growing. Nawal herself was recently featured in Fine Homebuilding magazine’s national “Keep Craft Alive” campaign.
A perfectionist, Nawal Motawi still designs new tiles, sometimes disappearing behind a closed door hung with a sign that says “Cave”—i.e., no interruptions.
Her company and its out-put pulse with caring and joy. From the Motawi Mojo Manifesto, under the subheading INTEGRITY: “We choose designs that are true to our spirit and present them in our distinctive way. We do not focus on what is trendy, popular, or clichéd. When we do render ordinary motifs, it is because we have found a way to do so that is unique and beautiful.” And, under FUN: “A little bit of goofiness is a beautiful thing.”