As women in the Gulf seek to differentiate themselves through their style of dress, two young Qatar-based fashion designers have recently launched modern abaya collections, offering a new twist on a traditional cultural item.
As the ubiquitous attire for a Khaleeji woman, the abaya remains popular throughout the region.
While black is the original and still the most sought-after color, designers said there is an increasing demand for other shades, as a way of showing individuality and style, while remaining true to local cultural norms.
Cognizant of this, Maqdeem Al Naama has just launched her second collection of self-designed abayas online.
The 23-year-old Qatari electrical engineer set up her own business earlier this summer, with a short range of 12 different designs under the eponymous label Maqdeem.
The collection includes abayas in subtle shades of gray, beige and brown, in addition to the more traditional black. Al Naama’s designs also incorporate a lot of white and use layering of patterns.
Al Naama spent the next two months working on a new short collection, which launched recently with seven designs available in five different colors, which she said are already proving popular.
Speaking to Doha News, she said she has long had a love of designing and making things, and initially applied to study interior design at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar at the age of 17, but was not admitted.
She switched tracks and studied electrical engineering at Qatar University, but still continued to pursue her passion by designing and creating her own abayas on the side.
Since graduating and now working as an engineer with Qatar General Electricity & Water Corporation (Kahramaa), Al Naama set up a business, and is now working to encourage more women to experiment with colors, which she admits can be controversial:
“I would like people to think about wearing colorful abayas. Most people here in Qatar are still not ready to take that step, although a minority are willing to do so. I get a lot of requests about my collection; clients who would like the same design but in black, or people saying that the style is really nice but we can’t wear bright colors.
“My aim is to change this concept and make it just as normal to wear colorful abayas as it is to wear black ones. I have a hope that this will change, over time,” Al Naama said.
Also somewhat unconventionally for a Qatari woman, Al Naama models her own abayas, which retail from QR1,500 to QR2,000.
“Since the designs are my own with a concept I believe in, I thought it is best to model them myself to show everyone that not only do I design and want to sell them but also that I truly believe in this vision,” she said.
“It requires people to makes changes, so I should be the one taking the first steps and setting the path for others to be encouraged to follow.”
Farooqui has been designing her own clothing ranges since she was an undergraduate student at VCU-Q, and her debut abaya collection sold out immediately.
Since she was spotted at an annual university fashion show, Farooqui has sold her designs through boutiques and department stores in Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Her designs borrow from her Indian roots, through the use of textiles and hand embroidery, while also incorporating elements of Middle Eastern culture and art, she told Doha News.
A former designer for Qatar Luxury Group, Farooqui now works full-time on her business.
“My first abaya collection was a take on the modern abaya. I incorporated strong geometric shapes and selected fall-seasonal colors such as maroons, nudes, and warm greys. Embellishing each abaya were delicate lines of hand-beaded embroidery in gold and silver,” Farooqui said.
“The collection sold out almost immediately, so all the styles seemed to be popular. However I did notice that this season my colored abayas were well received, a trend we are seeing among the younger generation of women in the region,” she added.
In particularly, lighter toned abayas are increasing in popularity, giving designers more room to play and come up with creative interpretations of the classic abaya, she said.
Circumventing the headache of a brick and mortar storefront, an increasing number of small businesses in Qatar are using Instagram to sell their goods.
Popular particularly with the local community, Instagram offers little upfront risk for start-ups, with free advertising and low cost.
Two other young fashion designers, Buthaina Al Zaman who founded Bothayna Designs, and Mubarak Al Thani who owns the brand Blessed, are among the emerging entrepreneurs who have marketed their business using the tool.
Acknowledging this, Qatar Tourism Authority and the Bedaya Center set up an Instagram market last summer to spotlight budding business owners – mostly Qatari women – who mainly rely on the internet to sell their goods.
Instagram businesses also featured in a new zone at the recent Qatar International Food Festival, where virtual kitchens met real-life customers at the Museum of Islamic Art Park during the five-day long festival.
What do you think of the new designs? Thoughts?