Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

Emirati designers set to make a mark on the world of fashion

Emerging Emirati designers tell us why the London College of Fashion mentoring programme works as a platform for local talent to spread their wings and achieve global exposure.
Emirati designer Latifa Al Gurg owns the label Twisted Roots. Courtesy Latifa Al Gurg
Emirati designer Latifa Al Gurg owns the label Twisted Roots. Courtesy Latifa Al Gurg

Emirati designer Latifa Al Gurg’s upcoming autumn/winter collection for her label Twisted Roots is an ode to London. The palette is made up of lead-grey, mink and basalt, while the silhouettes of the modest-wear range are reminiscent of The Big Smoke’s skyline.

“The lines were inspired by the architecture of the city and, of course, the weather was an influence – plenty of fogginess,” says Dubai-based Al Gurg, who started designing in 2012 and officially launched her label 18 months ago. “London is one of the world’s most important fashion capitals and I’d love to be present there one day.”

Al Gurg’s ambitions might soon be realised – she is one of eight regional students being mentored in Sharjah and the United Kingdom by the London College of Fashion (LCF), as part of an initiative called The Azyame Fashion Entrepreneurs Programme.

The designers are the first participants of the scheme, which was launched by Sharjah’s Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council. It comes under the umbrella of Nama, Sharjah’s Women Advancement Establishment, an organisation set up to foster the entrepreneurial spirit of women working in creative fields.

“It’s a package of dedicated support designed with the joint aim of bringing out the best in the country’s talented designers and launching a number of exceptional fashion labels from the Emirates,” says Ameera bin Karam, deputy chairwoman of Nama, and chairwoman of Sharjah Business Women Council. “We are delighted that the first recipients of the programme will soon be embarking on their exciting new venture.”

The shortlist of designers, selected by Irthi, met one or more of the required criteria by: being a recent fashion graduate; owning a fashion label that is less than two years old; or owning an established business that is looking to build its brand.

Other UAE-based recipients included: Canadian Megan Jonk, owner of Scandinavian-Arabic inspired line oe-o; German-Egyptian Mona Fares, founder of colour-blocking brand Neon Edge; and Faissal El Malak, the Palestinian creative director of his eponymous label.

In addition to Al Gurg, the Emirati participants include Dubai jeweller Alia Al Falasi and, Hessa Al Obaidli, founder of abaya label Hesseh, Asma Abuseem, of the ready-to-wear conservative brand Ghusn Al Yasmin Fashion, and Sama bin Karam, founder of the bespoke kaftan and separates company Set by Aya, all from Sharjah.

Over the coming year, all the designers will take part in a comprehensive series of workshops, business-mentoring sessions and showcase opportunities. Given their varied levels of experience and brand maturity, LCF’s material has been tailored to meet each individual’s specific needs and objectives.

Spearheading the coaching is highly-respected industry guru Toby Meadows – a lecturer at LCF and a consultant known for his work with iconic maisons including Gucci, Dior and Ralph Lauren.

“Toby loved my style and described it as ‘very funky’,” says BinKaram, who started producing unique pieces for friends – including Bollywood actress Farah Khan – three years ago. “But he said now wasn’t the right time to open a boutique and advised me to keep doing personal styling on the side. It’s something I’ve been doing for VIPs and royal-family members for nine years.”

Meadows – the best-selling author of How to Launch a Fashion Brand – will work closely with Bin Karam to potentially grow her brand from single-piece production to the creation of her first line. “I had been lost and confused, not knowing how to make anything other than one-off pieces,” she says. “Designing was initially just a project for fun but now it has grown into something I really wanted to be a success. I want more people wearing my pieces, simple as that.

“I’ve also wanted to study at the London College of Fashion since I was 15, so when this opportunity was offered, I had to take it.”

Asma Abuseem – who launched her modestwear start-up in the Sharjah enclave of Kalba two years ago – says Azyame’s LFC programme is an essential starting point for any emerging Emirati designer.

“It’s a great chance to learn about your own line and meet others from the region,” she says.

“The course is really helping me focus on my branding and attracting more customers, from simple things such as combining Arabic and English in my collections, to incorporating local design traditions with modern techniques.”

At present, Abuseem sells a limited range of abayas to the local market through exhibitions and private referrals. She is hopeful that tutelage from Meadows will help her secure a broader client base.

“I’m learning a great deal about how to develop the business to be bigger and better – and explore it internationally,” she says.

“In the past, as soon as I would make abayas and dresses, they would sell out. There was no time to take photographs or advertise my pieces for my customers. Right now, though, I feel very supported and know that everything I need to change or expand in my brand, I can learn from this course.”

LCF tutorials during the next 12 months include marketing and public relations, plus meetings with experts in buying and apparel production. The designers will also have a chance to showcase their collections at fashion events in the UAE and UK early next year.

The chance to show her brand abroad is welcome news for Al Gurg, who looks forward to revisiting the place that ignited her passion for fashion.

“I began thinking about my brand when I took a course on how to launch a label at the London College of Fashion four years ago,” she says.

“Toby was my mentor back then, too, and he’s great because he’s worked with so many foreign designers, from Indonesia to Turkey – he’s not just focused on London.

“Today’s world is an international market and we’re in a global community – and while, as a brand, we’ll remain true to our UAE voice, I know that no matter where we are based, we will always find our customer.”

Regional appreciation for Al Gurg’s elegant, wearable collections is steadily growing, with women buying directly online or visiting her atelier in Dubai’s Al Quoz district.

“It’s so important to know exactly what my client wants,” she says.

“The course is also teaching me to know absolutely everything about my brand – to know it inside out. I have to live it and understand every aspect of the business. Churning out pieces is simply not enough.”

rduane@thenational.ae

Updated: August 28, 2016 04:00 AM

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