The United Arab Emirates’ National Day reminds how a country’s dreams become a thriving reality with the enduring support of friends and family.
In the UAE, National Day – celebrated on December 2 – honors the official Union Day between the seven emirates. To commemorate its 47th year, Emiratis come together to pause and fete unprecedented accomplishments both large and small. Vogue Arabia speaks with the women behind By Laha, Shatha Essa, and Pose/Arazzi, and pioneering industrial designer Khalid AlShafar to discover their views on life as thriving Emiratis with modern, vibrant, and worldly outlooks.
Originally printed in the December 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia
Zainab Al Shaikh, Hamda Abbas, and Sara Mustafa
The Dubai-based fashion label – stocked on Ounass and By Symphony – was launched by best friends and cousins Zainab Al Shaikh, Hamda Abbas, and Sara Mustafa when they felt there was a gap in the market for minimal and modern abaya styles. Today, By Laha offers a complete fashion line with modern modesty at its core. “We don’t simply target Emirati customers. Our kaftans and even our abayas are minimal and trendy, so we appeal to different kinds of women, and our customers are a wide range – both Emiratis and expats,” says Al Shaikh. Adds Abbas, “Traditionally, of course, abayas were simply black, and were exclusively used to cover your outfit underneath. Now, the abaya has evolved into an outerwear piece that works as part of your look.”
By Laha was one of three finalists chosen to create the uniforms for the Expo 2020 volunteers. “This is by far the biggest project we’ve worked on together,” Abbas explains. “We wanted to produce pieces we would genuinely be proud of not only as brand owners, but also as Emiratis who are witnessing a significant milestone for Dubai.” Their personal bonds make their professional commitment even stronger. “If one of us is going through something in their lives and can’t put as much time in the business, the other will step up to work harder, and to support that person. We’ve never had any rough patches. If anything, it’s brought us closer,” offers Mustafa. Laha means “for her” in Arabic and encompassing the modern Emirati woman is central to everything they do. The three women are also committed to using sustainable fabrics and plan to launch an e-commerce store to take their collections international.
Shatha Essa Al Mulla
Shatha Essa Al Mulla was working in the marketing team for a Vogue event in The Dubai Mall when the late Vogue Italia editor- in-chief Franca Sozzani complimented her on her self-designed gown. In 2016, she launched a ready-to-wear label featuring her love of intricate embellishments and a belief in classic style. Abayas and kaftans are the key silhouettes. This year, she introduced Shatha Essa Noir, a special occasion line, seeing it as a natural move considering it was an evening gown that started her story. With Moda Operandi stocking her debut collection, the label has received an immediate international nod of approval. “It is an incredible opportunity to reach new markets and to raise the profile of my brand,” marvels Al Mulla of her success. “In my opinion, the definition of Dubai is success. I grew up, studied, and live in Dubai. My two kids were born here and my business is established and has flourished here.”
The 27-year-old aims to repay the opportunities she has been offered by volunteering for the UAE Down Syndrome Association, Dubai Autism Centre, and the Al Noor Training Centre for special needs. This philosophy is carried over to her brand – she donated 10% of sales from her SS18 and Ramadan collections to Dubai Cares towards building a school in Nepal. Achieving work/life balance can be challenging and she shares that her husband, Hamad Hisham Al Shirawi, manager of international business engagement at Expo 2020 Dubai, offers immeasurable support. “I am a proud Emirati woman and believe it’s about embracing your culture and tradition while living up to global standards. I love the whole dichotomy of it.”
Khalid AlShafar and Hessa AlShafar
Industrial and fashion designers
“The Dubai dream, as it is called, is no fantasy but a reality,” states Khalid AlShafar. “That’s mainly because it’s part of a nation that is young and dynamic but still steeped in tradition.” Khalid, like many Emiratis, belongs to a large family – two of his younger sisters, Hanan and Hessa, are fashion designers. Their label, Pose/Arazzi, celebrates the diversity of modest dressing and showcases an international take on the traditional abaya. A selection of their designs is currently part of the Contemporary Muslim Fashions exhibition at San Francisco’s de Young Museum. “Khalid has been a key support with his experience in the design space,” Hessa shares. “He’s been a mentor to Pose/Arazzi and has helped us understand what’s required to take our brand’s story international.”
“I know it is said that you should think local, act global,” says the 38-year-old Khalid. “But I believe you should think global and act global.” Born in Dubai, he is a business graduate of the American University and studied product design in London and Sydney. Today, he’s curator of UAE Design Stories and selects designers from the Emirates to show in London, Milan, and Paris. He added another feather to his cap recently when he was part of Louvre Abu Dhabi’s first contemporary art exhibition, Co-Lab: Contemporary Art and Savoir Faire.
The ability to merge Emirati heritage with an international outlook is his calling card. “Dubai has always attracted a lot of attention because of its economy and potential but now we are being seen as a design center,” he says. At this year’s Dubai Design Week, he collaborated with Italian atelier Arte Veneziana on Forma, a collection of 14 interiors products featuring his founding inspiration – the agaal, used to keep the ghutrah in place. “It is something I refer to in many of my works,” explains Khalid. “I look at it more as a building material than a fashion element.”
Photography: Alex Wolfe