x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

One-off designs that twist convention earn Emirati designer her label

An artist and designer, Sumayyah al Suwaidi likes to keep her work edgy and unique.

Sumayyah al Suwaidi always dreamt of being a designer. Now her work can be bought at Grafika at Al Wahda Mall in Abu Dhabi.
Sumayyah al Suwaidi always dreamt of being a designer. Now her work can be bought at Grafika at Al Wahda Mall in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Foil buttons, colourful pins, shimmering sequins - customers can expect anything in Sumayyah al Suwaidi's abaya and fancy dress boutique.

Every aspect of Ms al Suwaidi's work is edgy. And whether it is subtle or obvious, Ms al Suwaidi makes sure that all her customers have a unique piece. She makes only one of each creation.

In February, the artist and designer launched her brand, SEEN, at the boutique Grafika in Al Wahda Mall. From using lace and pearls in vintage pieces to creating abayas in non-traditional fabrics such as velvet, Ms al Suwaidi has entered the market with a bang. Her first two collections, which comprised 35 limited-edition pieces, have nearly sold out.

The first Emirati female digital artist, Ms al Suwaidi decided to pursue a fashion brand while designing dresses for her two daughters. Her accomplishments made her last year's winner and one of this year's judges of L'Officiel Arab Women of the Year Awards which were handed out on Wednesday.

"I've always dreamt about having my own label," she said. "I wanted people to say, 'I'm wearing Sumayyah al Suwaidi'."

Ms al Suwaidi draws inspiration from the latest international trends, which she said could often seem inaccessible to women who wear the national dress.

"Just because a woman wears an abaya doesn't mean she can't enjoy exploring the same trends," she said. "I go through a lot of magazines, watch plenty of fashion TV and read fashion blogs. If I find something I like, I think about how it can be twisted to suit our Emirati dress."

The secret to her success, she said, was being open to new ideas and keeping up with the latest trends.

Originally from Sharjah, Ms al Suwaidi holds a diploma in graphic design and a bachelor's degree in applied media studies from the Higher Colleges of Technology. She had her own sense of style, but a lack of technical knowledge posed some challenges, she said.

"Many times I'll have this wonderful idea, and my tailor will tell me that it can't work because of the material being used, the type of stitching," Ms al Suwaidi said. "I'd like to take some tailoring courses some day to help me understand what is possible when I'm creating my designs."

In addition to her fashion website, Ms al Suwaidi uses social networking tools to keep in contact with her customers.

Sara al Ameeri, from Dubai, bought two abayas after seeing them on Grafika's Facebook page.

"Her style is unique, you can't find it anywhere else," Ms al Ameeri said. "It's colourful but elegant. It's like you get the best of both worlds."

Ms al Suwaidi's boutique is also a platform for several emerging artists to sell their own designs. Her shop features items designed by artists from Pakistan, India and the UAE.

Mona Fares, an Egyptian-German, is one of those artists. The 25-year-old designer grew up in the UAE and has merged her cultural backgrounds to create an exotic brand called Neon Edge. It uses neon colours to adorn various fashion items, from jalabayas to handbags.

"The most important thing for an artist is to be visible, to be out there," Ms Fares said. "And people like Sumayyah give us that opportunity."

Ms al Suwaidi said her parents did not always approve of her pursuing the arts.

"When I decided to major in graphic design in 1998, it still wasn't a high-demand industry," she said. "My parents kept asking me what I would do with such a degree."

But she was not discouraged. "I didn't convince them," she said. "I just went ahead and did it. I was making films, acting, et cetera, and my dad didn't like it at all. But I think it was simply a case where my parents loved me and just wanted me to be happy."

Ms al Suwaidi's digital artwork has been commissioned by the Burj Khalifa and the UAE embassy in Washington, DC.

Despite her success, Ms al Suwaidi tried to stay out of the spotlight during the first few years after her graduation.

"My dad didn't like the idea of me being in the news and all over the media," she said. "So I respected that, but it was difficult."

But after Ms al Suwaidi married, everything changed.

"My husband is an artist and he is very understanding," she said. "I think it's the main reason why we clicked."

For her artwork, Ms al Suwaidi draws from personal experiences, putting personal moments on a digital canvas.

Ms al Suwaidi's artwork can be seen at the Ghaf Art Gallery on Khaleej al Arabi Street in Abu Dhabi, or the Art Sawa Gallery in Al Quoz, Dubai.

mismail@thenational.ae