Since launching her multicultural cookware brand in 2019, Shiza Shahid has made it her mission to cut through the noise of the homeware realm, with Oprah Winfrey going so far as to call her “the kitchen magician”. Here, she tells Naomi May about her career pivot and her hopes and dreams for Our Place.
If you were to learn that a pan had sold out 10 times already since its launch in 2019 and had amassed a wait list of over 50,000 eager customers in America, what would your reaction be? Because that’s precisely what The Always Pan, the debut hero product launched by homeware brand Our Place has accomplished in its two-year existence.
This isn’t just any pan, of course. Dubbed by the New York Times as “pan for just about anything” and Fortune magazine as “the pan that took Instagram by storm”, it was designed specifically by Shiza Shahid, the founder of Our Place, to be a multicultural utensil that enabled every different culture to use it to cook. It’s deep enough to cook pasta, but wide enough to cook an egg; it’s got a removable steaming basket and boasts a clever pour spout, to make pouring excess liquid out easier. Not only that, but The Always Pan is available in a sextet of lustworthy hues; it’s Le Creuset, with heart.
The heart part, of course, comes from Pakistan native Shahid, who was a mentor to Malala Yousafzai and, at the age of 24, was named one of Time magazine’s “30 under 30 world changers”. Shahid, who now calls America home, noted a gap in the kitchenware market after realising the lack of products that spoke to the modern day multicultural cook.
Shahid began questioning the pedagogy around kitchenware: why were so many pans and tools launching when all her mother and relatives had used was one or two pans to make food in. And so, Our Place was born and in just two short years has racked up a colossal following. It would seem that Shahid is tastefully cutting through the noise with a mission-driven brand with heart.
But how did she go from being the co-founder of Malala Fund to start-up founder? What are her hopes and dreams for the future of Our Place? We caught up with her to find out.
Hi, Shiza! I’m curious to know about your upbringing and how important food was in your culture?
Every culture has its own unique food traditions, and American and Pakistani food traditions are both widely diverse. In my homeland, hospitality is everything to people. Pakistanis will always invite you into their home, treat you with incredible warmth and insist on feeding you excessively. It is how we show love. Similar traditions are also held in many western communities but are diminishing with modern life. And there’s a sense of loss, disconnection, and isolation that comes with no longer gathering and sharing meals together, heightened by the impact of the pandemic. At Our Place, we’re all about reconnecting over shared meals, and part of that comes from my own upbringing.
Do you remember the moment you had the lightbulb moment for Our Place?
As immigrants, my partner and I literally found our place by cooking and sharing foods with our new communities. That’s why we created Our Place — to bring people together. We make it easier to cook at home so you can spend more time sharing a meal with your chosen family.
Do you remember when you had the lightbulb moment for the Always pan?
When I moved halfway across the world, I didn’t know how to cook, and missed my mother’s cooking. So I began learning to cook and was looking for kitchenware that fit my needs. But every other kitchenware store was selling bulky, expensive, difficult-to-use 16-piece cookware sets that I didn’t need or have the room for. So we set out to design the Always Pan to make cooking easier and more joyful. It’s one pan that replaces eight kitchenware pieces, shallow enough to flip a pancake and deep enough to make soup. It comes with a nesting spatula and a steamer basket that doubles as a colander. It has an exclusive nontoxic nonstick coating that makes cleanup a breeze, and it is so beautiful you’ll never want to put it away.
You co-founded the Malala Fund – what are three things you learned from your time there and from Malala herself?
I learned that our voices and stories matter, that when you’re working on difficult problems, finding moments of joy is essential and, from Malala herself, it would have to be her quote: “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world”.
How does Our Place ethically support communities?
I’ve spent most of my life working in the non-profit space, on issues of gender equity and girls’ education. With Our Place, I set out to build a mission-driven business: a successful business that is also true to its values. That’s why at Our Place we treat every choice as a chance to simply do better. From creating fully biodegradable packaging for our products, to telling stories that bring us closer to one another, we’re always trying to do what we can to make small better choices that add up to big ones.
What’s the one phrase you live by?
How can I be of service today?
What’s your favourite thing to cook?
So many things! Kitchari; fried eggs; chicken karahi; shakshouka; sheer khorma: it’s a long list.
What does the future look like for Our Place?
I hope Our Place can be part of creating a world where we take the time to share a meal together more often. where all our traditions are celebrated, where everyone has a seat at the table.
Images: courtesy of Our Place.