Raghda Taryam is not your average designer - or average woman, for that matter. After earning an MBA from Sharjah University, she followed her passion for fashion and launched her label Kanzi, meaning treasure, in 2008. Since then she has continued to pursue higher education and raised five children - including two sets of twins.
How did your abaya and kaftan label come to be?
I started designing five years ago and went into business with Sheikha Amal Al Maktoum, to whom I'm related by marriage. We were always very clear about wanting to do everything ourselves, from designing to manufacturing and distributing, so we set up our own workshop in Sharjah.
What fashion training did you have?
I studied some courses at Central St Martins College of Art and Design in London and did a further seven courses offered by the London College of Fashion in the UAE. I took everything from Fashion Design and Essentials of the Fashion Industry to Strategic Marketing.
I met the LCF lecturer Toby Meadows after I had already established the brand, and his advice on how to continue to grow was invaluable. His book How to Set Up & Run a Fashion Label is truly amazing.
Did you notice a difference in your business before and after your studies?
Yes. The courses really helped me understand and develop my skills. I started designing as a hobby but soon learnt about seasons, trends, inspiration, market research and promotion - all aspects of the business.
The courses even helped me successfully put the brand online. By doing the courses, I wasn't focused on just my profits increasing. The study was about personal improvement and my business benefited as a natural consequence.
Saks Fifth Avenue approached you just six months after you launched. Did you have reservations that it was too soon?
It certainly wasn't easy but I always aim high. We were the first local brand there and I was very proud of that because we couldn't have found a better place to be.
People always say to me, "Why don't you open a boutique in Dubai?" and I reply, "No, we're doing OK. We're in Saks and I'm happy with that."
Our boutique and our homes are in Sharjah and that's how we like it. Of course, there are many other great department stores in the UAE and one day, hopefully, we'll be there, too. But for now we're focused on Saks and Harrods. We don't have the time and manpower for more yet.
The label has been at Harrods for two years now. Do you ever act as a "secret shopper" when you are in London?
Oh, yes. Of course. And I always go and chat with the sales ladies to find out what colours and cuts are selling.
One of my proudest moments was in 2011. We had the chance to be part of the Crystal Christmas inspired by Swarovski window displays along with six international designers including Oscar de la Renta and Valentino. Kanzi spanned three windows and that was amazing.
The moment I flew into London, even though it was night, I couldn't wait and went straight to Harrods to see the windows. We had kaftans, abayas and evening dresses on display. That was probably the best thing Harrods has given us from the partnership.
Is fashion considered a respectable and acceptable job for young Emirati women today?
There are some families who would prefer their daughters follow a different route but I think mentalities are changing and my family has been totally supportive.
What would your advice to aspiring Emirati designers be?
I would urge them to be realistic, to really understand the fashion industry from the basics of production and distribution through to finance. Study everything and don't go in just with the intention of "being a fashion designer". If so, they'll find the first collection easy to turn out but the second will be a challenge. They may feel they're running out of ideas and, believe me, it's never a case of simply following a trend.
To see the latest collection by Kanzi go to www.kanziboutique.com or call 06 544 1118. For more information about courses offered by the London College of Fashion in the UK and the UAE go to www.fashion.arts.ac.uk