x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Girls with designs on the abaya

Young Emirati fashion designer Sara al Madani wants to modernise abayas and galabiyas while maintaining their tradition.

Sara Al Madani, left, and Apple Wang work together and combine their respective Arabian and Chinese design sense.
Sara Al Madani, left, and Apple Wang work together and combine their respective Arabian and Chinese design sense.

SHARJAH // Sara Al Madani is a young woman aiming to bridge the gap between tradition and fashion in the abaya and galabiya world.

At 24, she is already the owner of three fashion shops. She has one in Dubai, one in Ajman and last week she opened her third store called Rouge Couture in Sharjah with her Chinese partner, Apple Wang.

With the support of the Sharjah Business Women Council, the "abaya engineers" hope to inject a pinch of modernity into old-fashioned Emirati clothing.

"We thought, why can't women be part of the fashion industry without having to remove their abaya?" said Ms Madani. "So our designs follow worldwide fashion trends while maintaining a traditional aspect."

As an Emirati, Ms Madani says it was important for her to create clothing that fitted with local customs. But she emphasised the significance of comfort while wearing an abaya or galabiya.

"We would ask women to try our designs and walk out in the heat for hours, test them with perfumes or while sitting and running to make sure the comfort could last up to 20 hours," she said.

The girls' style is inspired by Chinese and Arabian designs, mixing colours, patterns, lace, frills, diamonds, sequins, gold linings and velvet. Both cultures, they believe, have many similarities.

"Emirati and Chinese cultures are totally different but we share a mutual love for culture, tradition and modesty and that's what makes our designs work together," said Ms Madani.

The entrepreneurs were also responsible for the modern look of their three shops. Prints of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe merged with feathers, fluorescent insignia, millions of crystals and modern artwork dominate the Sharjah outlet on the beach front.

"We bring art to life through our clothing and our decor," said Ms Wang. "We wanted to single-handedly take care of it ourselves."

Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, the chairwoman of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, said she was pleasantly surprised by Ms Madani's work.

"She represents the new generation of Emiratis who are very ambitious and creative," she said. "She captured the beauty of the abayas and galabiyas, and she's given them a modern twist."

Ameera Binkaram, the chairwoman of the Sharjah Business Women Council, predicted a promising future for Ms Madani. "She really goes for it and she walks the walk, which is crucial in the business."

Ms Madani, a graduate in film directing from the American University of Sharjah, recognised her love for fashion once she started designing.

But the lack of fashion in traditional clothing in the UAE pushed her a step further, she said.

And the designs have become so popular that a number of Europeans and non-Muslims have bought coloured abayas from her.

"It's shocking for me but they like it and that's what makes me satisfied," said Ms Madani.

The girls create a new collection almost every week with 15 pieces per collection on average. Most of their customers are Emiratis between 25 and 35 years old.

They also plan to launch their brand soon in the Saks Fifth Avenue shop in the Burjuman mall in Dubai. Eventually they want to open a branch in Abu Dhabi.

"There is competition but it's not that big in the abaya industry - so we really want to modernise it," Ms Madani said.

"It was a long journey but I believe if you start young, it pays off earlier."

cmalek@thenational.ae