Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

BLSSD: The high-end Dubai fashion label that started out as a cancer support group

BLSSD founder Lama Riachi talks pursuing sustainability and ethics in a fast-fashion world

Lama Riachi, the founder and creative director of BLSSD. Courtesy BLSSD
Lama Riachi, the founder and creative director of BLSSD. Courtesy BLSSD

“Pret-a-gratitude.” That is the heart-warming mantra of Lama Riachi, the designer behind Dubai fashion label BLSSD.

The brand’s beginnings are far from conventional. Riachi started by founding a cancer support group called Blessed (together) in 2014, after being diagnosed with cancer the year before. In 2015, she started BLSSD in a bid to support the group financially.

“As a cancer survivor, I was exposed to a real need, which drove a desire to create a fashion label that went beyond just aesthetics and image, to create something with the potential to make a difference,” she says. “We have a simple philosophy of acknowledging the positives in everything every day, in whatever form that may come in.”

The brand works with its sister foundation, Blessed (together), to ensure the focus remains on those in need. The group has 170 active members, which include cancer patients and survivors, caregivers and healthcare professionals. “Blessed (together) provides education, treatment, and financial and emotional support to migrant workers whose lives have been touched by cancer

, a purpose to stand for those often overlooked,” Riachi says.

The BLSSD fashion label, meanwhile, serves the purpose of healing through fashion. It is the revenue driver that facilitates treatments for cancer patients who don’t have adequate insurance, provides transport for those who have to commute long distances for treatment and helps terminal case patients reunite with their loved ones.

In the six years since Riachi’s diagnosis, the BLSSD brand has gone from strength to strength. This year alone, the label has showcased at Paris Fashion Week, where it launched its spring / summer 2020 collection, and the Maze Milan Street Fair. It was also shown at both seasonal iterations of Arab Fashion Week, which took place in April and last month.

A piece from BLSSD's SS20 collection. Courtesy BLSSD
A piece from BLSSD's SS20 collection. Courtesy BLSSD

“As a trans-seasonal fashion label, we embrace streetwear’s originality, combine it with a sense of luxury and the practicality of utility,” Riachi says. “We top it off with a touch of gratitude and a desire to make fashion matter – hence the pret-a-gratitude philosophy. It’s a style, an attitude, a view on life – it’s about doing something that matters, it goes beyond apparel. A fashion label born to connect, have a voice and give back.”

Sisters and colleagues, BLSSD's Lys and Lama Riachi. Courtesy BLSSD
Sisters and colleagues, BLSSD's Lys and Lama Riachi. Courtesy BLSSD

The brand is run as a family operation, with Riachi as creative director and her sister, Lys, in the role of managing director. “It’s a very natural partnership,” Riachi says of working with her sibling. “While we fulfil different roles at BLSSD, we work collaboratively across everything. Our combined expertise, various skills and backgrounds create a strong dynamic to move the brand forward.”

Did they expect to achieve international success when they first launched the label? “We’ve worked very hard and believe in what we do, but in short, no,” she says.

“We’re still developing, but we have a strong identity and a defined message that has resonated with various audiences, which helps with exposure in regional and international markets. It has been a busy but incredibly positive year.” Apart from its work with Blessed (together), the brand also has a strong focus on sustainability and ethical fashion. It uses vegan leather and organic or recycled fabrics.

“We support small businesses over large factories,” she says. “Our aim is to have a 100 per cent sustainable design ­practice in the next three years

.”

A piece from BLSSD's SS20 collection. Courtesy BLSSD
A piece from BLSSD's SS20 collection. Courtesy BLSSD

While the brand creates seasonal, limited-­edition pieces, Riachi says it also encourages shoppers to steer clear of disposable fast fashion and a cookie-cutter style.

“We favour free-size designs that limit production of ­endless sizes and we always limit our production runs to smaller quantities that not only help us control excess inventory, but also push our limited-edition philosophy,” she says.

“The environmental damage caused [by fast fashion] is now becoming a crisis without tangible solutions in sight. We are not fans of this approach to fashion and believe there is a better way, a way that celebrates individuality, has a purpose and makes fashion play a more meaningful role than just being aesthetic.”

Updated: November 3, 2019 04:38 PM

SHARE

SHARE