The popular Saudi Arabian abaya designer Hania Albraikan was recently in Abu Dhabi for the Chic Lady show. We talked to her about abaya fabric, princesses and branching out on her own.
What did you do to celebrate your brand’s one-year anniversary?
I told myself that when I finish one year I’d be very happy and I’d celebrate, but I realised that I’m very busy and I’m doing well and running around. That’s the most important thing to celebrate, to know that you are doing well.
How do you make an abaya from start to finish?
It starts with inspiration – sometimes I’ll be in the car and the idea comes to me so I usually keep papers in my bag to sketch. By the end, it’s not the same as the one in the car, you could end up with a different sketch. I have a team that does the pattern cutting and sewing – I just sketch and they do everything else.
Where do you source your fabrics and accessories?
Usually I travel for this because in our country all the people will notice [the difference in quality], so this travelling to several places takes up a lot [of effort].
Are the abayas produced in Saudi Arabia?
Yes, everything is.
How many people work on the production?
I think around 25.
Your family is also in the abaya business. What was it like starting an abaya brand of your own?
They have their own designers, but when I came back from the US I thought: “This is not me.” I wanted to change everything – the business, the designers – I wanted to design everything. I decided to take the business from A to Z, design and management and everything, and it was a very hard job to start from scratch. It was also hard for them in the company because they don’t accept it; they were comfortable before so they didn’t see why they should change. In the end, they enjoyed it as it became more fashionable and I think of what the lady wants more – because before, all of the designers were men. Now the company belongs to me and my husband helps me with the management.
Why are abayas so expensive?
The fabric is very expensive – most of it is crepe and silk. I’ve been doing this for a year and a half and I noticed that the fabric becomes more expensive every three months. Even the tulle or extras cost a lot because we have to get them from abroad.
How did Princess Ameerah Al Taweel come to wear one of your abayas?
I was at a charity fashion show and she was there with others from the royal family. They saw my abayas and they really loved them, so they tried them on, liked them and then bought some. She took a ready-made one – the one that was displayed in the fashion show. I was really happy because she wore the one with the flowers several times and because she’s friendly with the media, the abayas were everywhere.
Was it sort of like a Kate Middleton effect?
Yes. She’s beautiful and young so it made everybody love it more than before because it became the abaya of Princess Ameerah.
For an occasion such as Eid, how much in advance do people place an order?
Eid and Ramadan are huge celebrations for the abaya and it’s always a busy time in our factories. Most people come just before Eid with only two to three weeks left and want it made urgently so the people in the factory all have to work overtime – it’s a busy time for me.
Do you think that culture in the rest of the Gulf region will ever allow women to not wear abayas, as is the case in Kuwait?
I don’t know if they would change or not. The abaya is more than 100 years old so if they do change I don’t think it would be soon. It has to do with the cultures and in the Gulf they’re very strict when it comes to culture – they love their culture.