The Catwalk Fashion is a new Abu Dhabi label that bases its creations on colourful variations of the ghutra print. The Emirati Hala Bassam talks about her brand to Nadia El Dasher.
How did the idea come about?
Seeing Emirati men wearing the ghutra made me think: 'Why don't women wear this in a different form?' I mean, who said that this print was only made for men? My parents supported the idea and pushed me to do it.
My mum once found a ghutra dishdasha for women at a heritage kiosk, so I decided to wear it to the mall to see how people would react. I was pointed at, laughed at and made fun of - I had to hide in an optical shop. When I went home, I said to myself: 'Challenge accepted!' and decided to move forward with the idea professionally. My husband was on board - nothing made it more fun.
How did you start your line?
I started with my father's shemagh/kaffiyeh, a temporary in-house tailor and some help from my mother. When my father and [now] husband saw how serious I was, they wanted to help even more and turn my dream into a reality.
Where did you get launch funding?
At that time, Daddy, of course.
Do you come from a fashion background?
My mum and her sister had participated in modelling within different fields and won beauty pageants, so style is important to our family. My mother never had to buy clothes; her mother made her clothes for her most of the time because she studied in the fashion field. My mother-in-law is an art and craft specialist and teaches the subject at university level in Egypt. My father-in-law is one of the most famous jewellers in Egypt. Catwalk's jewellery line is handmade by my father-in-law and my husband.
How big is your team?
My team consists of 10 people, including my husband and me. Eight are full-time and two are temporary staff.
What are your price points?
My prices are average because I want everyone to afford them. They range from as low as Dh10 to as high as Dh500.
Do you think you would always want to use the ghutra print?
Yes. Even if it is not visible, the detail will be there somewhere. It is more challenging when you mix and match.
Where do you see fashion in the Middle East going?
If it stays like this, locked up in a jar and not too many opportunities are accepted and encouraged, it will go nowhere. We face a lot of difficulties and rejection.
Was it difficult to set up in a country that's less established in the fashion world?
Yes, we got rejected by any mall we tried to approach - it's only about the business aspect today. No one takes chances or gives opportunities to new ideas and designs.
What is it like to work so closely with your husband?
Difficult and challenging, but I would never replace him with anyone. No one will look after you and your things like your husband. He is my greatest encouragement. He keeps me standing when I feel down - he practically does everything. I only design.
Where do you want to take your line from here?
I'm sure I will be more successful internationally. I wanted to start here first because this is my home and I love giving the girls new spice in their life. I would love it if I were part of the change to the fashion industry here. In fact, we are opening an online store soon.
The Catwalk Fashion is behind Baynouna Tower on the Corniche, Abu Dhabi. Call 02 658 9992 or visit www.thecatwalkfashion.com