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Maha Ghanim Al Sulaiti Invites You Into the Dynamic World Within M7, Doha’s Creative Hub

For Maha Ghanim Al Sulaiti, few things are as important as M7. Located in the heart of Doha, the fashion and design innovation hub of Qatar Museum has slowly but surely become a buzzing spot for the cool crew of Qatar, and Al Sulaiti, the director of the space, has had more than a little to do with its growth.

Maha Ghanim Al Sulaiti

Maha Ghanim Al Sulaiti. Photo: Courtesy M7

Having dedicated close to 15 years towards the space, Al Sulaiti’s efforts have helped develop and support startups, honed event management projects, and led organizational fundraising efforts. Most recently, M7 announced a special capsule collection born from the second season of ‘The Collective’, which was then made available exclusively at Printemps Doha.

Established by Qatar Museums under the leadership of Her Excellency Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, M7 has dedicated itself to promoting the growth of creative ventures in the country, and is showing no signs of slowing down. For Maha Ghanim Al Sulaiti, being involved in the field almost seemed like fate. “My background is in business, finance and entrepreneurship, but I’ve always had an appreciation for the creative industry and the impact it has on our lives,” she tells Vogue Arabia. “Wanting to bridge the gap between my interests, I decided to pursue a Masters in Innovation Management at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. After working for Qatar Development Bank for six years, I started my journey as Director of M7 in early 2019. It is incredible to be a part of an institution which has created a platform for designers in Qatar, and that continues to equip designers with the right tools, connections, and support to breakthrough into the industry.”

Below, Al Sulaiti sheds light on her journey so far with M7, and its bright future in reshaping the face of the creative industry in Qatar.

Over the years, M7 has hosted some fantastic events and showcases, from ‘Forever Valentino’ to pop-up exhibitions. Of them all, which one are you most proud of, and why?

M7 has rapidly gained prominence by curating international exhibitions alongside regional and local exhibitions in fashion and design. In the past three years alone we have collaborated with fashion houses such as Christian Dior and Maison Valentino, as well as the Vitra Design Museum in Germany. These partnerships have enabled us to curate and showcase highly coveted collections of fashion and furniture design within our gallery spaces here at M7. At the moment, we are hosting various exhibitions and installations under Design Doha-Qatar Museums’ new biennale-which is headlined by Arab Design Now, a regional survey of over 70 designers based in Qatar and the MENA region.

Beyond the world class exhibitions we have played host to, another of our main priority is to engage the local community in educational programmes, for instance, we have held various enriching educational workshops and public talks.

Of course, our main priority is to provide local designers with opportunities to grow by connecting them with industry leaders. We run programmes such as a Zwara – a yearly programme which tasks selected designers with creating pieces inspired by our big exhibitions, and The Collective – a fashion incubation programme where locally based designers are provided with design and business, helping them to elevate their brand to retail level.

Maha Ghanim Al Sulaiti m7

Photo: Courtesy M7

As a cultural hub in the centre of Doha, how big a role do you think M7 plays in spreading awareness about fashion, art and culture in Qatar?

M7 plays a significant role in spreading awareness about design in Qatar, in fact it is the nation’s only creative startup hub solely dedicated to fashion, design and technology. Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani was the first to realise the importance of supporting designers and nurturing local talent. The inception of M7 marked the creation of a platform for them to thrive professionally and build connections within the creative ecosystem.

We spread awareness about design by hosting international and local exhibitions, as well as create public programmes that engage Qatar’s design community. M7 is also the physical hub for many of the festivals such as Tasweer, an initiative which amplifies diverse photographic practices and dialogues and supports the personal and professional creative growth of photographers in Qatar, Western Asia and North Africa.

maha al Sulaiti

Photo: Courtesy M7

Recently, you also worked on “The Collection” Season 2, which we believe was exclusively launched in Printemps Doha. Can you tell us a little bit about this project and what makes it special?

‘The Collective’ is a retail incubation programme created by M7 in strategic partnership with Printemps Doha that aims to empower and equip Qatar-based established and up-and-coming designers through their creative process, whilst ultimately enabling them to develop a successful retail business.

Pioneered the first time in Qatar, the programme helps identify and nurture the next generation of fashion designers and providing selected designers with dedicated mentorship by industry experts. The programme includes coaching around design and development, production and supply chain, marketing and communication, sales, distribution, and retail management.

The Collective Season 2 sees the launch of an exciting new line-up that includes ready-to-wear, eveningwear, abayas, kidswear and footwear. Designers’ line-up includes: Tagreed Omer, Lin, Drizzle, Ninth, Maryam Almalki and F.J. design. Their collections are now available exclusively at Printemps Doha.

What made the project special this year, was the involvement of other areas of the creative industry. The programme expanded to feature a new wave of storytellers paving their way in Qatar’s creative scene. M7 collaborated to co-produce this season’s campaign with local photographer Aljazi Fahad Alhajri, stylist Mohammad Ahmadi, makeup artist Hessa Al-Thani and Qatar-based videographer Youssef Yousry.

As a Middle Eastern woman, you are well aware that there is no dearth of talent in our region. What is one major misconception about Arab women that you hope to change with your work?

On the contrary, the talent is abundant. I’ve been fortunate enough to cross paths with many talented women (and men) in the sector, all of whom are remarkably creative and entrepreneurial, and demonstrate clear talent, drive and determination.

Misconceptions about women in the Middle East often revolve around perceptions of lack of empowerment and limited opportunities. We continue to challenge this notion by amplifying voices and talents within the fashion and design sectors and demonstrate the breadth of opportunities that are available for female designers, innovators, and entrepreneurs.

Growing up, did you always know that you wanted to work with creatives and do something unconventional? Can you share with us your first memory of knowing you wanted to make a change in society and take on a unique career?

I didn’t always envision working in this sector. There wasn’t exactly a “eureka” moment, but rather a series of small encounters and events that led me here. However, a memory that stays with me is discovering my love for art during my high school years. I always looked forward to art classes and became so engaged with it that it led to consider art as a career. Back then, art did not seem a viable job option to me, but now, I believe there is no better place in the world than Qatar to pursue a career in the creative sector and encourage young people with an interest in art or design to follow their dreams.   

Maha Ghanim Al Sulaiti

Photo: Courtesy M7

What has been the biggest challenge for you as the director of M7?

Two significant challenges we face are: finding the right balance between preserving cultural authenticity and at the same time, embracing innovation and addressing sustainability concerns. We feel it is imperative to honor and celebrate our cultural identity while nurturing creativity and pushing the boundaries. Whilst we encourage our designers to test the limits, it is crucial that we educate them about the environmental and social impacts of their work. This is an ongoing endeavor that will require efforts to ensure we leave a positive impact. 

On the flip side, what has been the biggest blessing or learning for you as the director of M7?

My time at M7 has been an invaluable learning experience, surpassing all my previous years combined in terms of personal development. It’s been a true blessing to spearhead the establishment of this hub in Qatar alongside my wonderful and dedicated team. I’ve had the privilege of encountering some remarkable individuals both within and outside of M7. Their passion, along with the supportive community we share, has heightened my sense of appreciation and inspiration.

Finally, what’s next for M7? Can you share a few details of any upcoming projects or exhibits?

Looking forward, we have a schedule of exciting projects in the pipeline.  As previously mentioned, M7 is currently home to various exhibitions and installations which are part of the inaugural Design Doha, a new biennial by Qatar Museums. Most of these exhibitions are on until the end of March, with the headline exhibition Arab Design Now on until 5 August. Qatar Museums will also present a line-up of exhibitions in the Fall, but details of these are under wraps for now.

We are also continuing with our Zwara programme, now on its 4th edition and look forward to showcasing the hard work of this year’s participants. The corresponding exhibition will display the design process, prototypes, and completed furniture pieces which have been inspired by the ‘Masterpieces of Furniture Design’ exhibition that concluded last year.

M7 are also introducing several educational programmes with the launch of our Learning Space – an interactive venue that will bring the local communities together and encourage design related dialogues through workshops, talks, small-scale exhibitions, and events.

After a successful first edition of our pop-up shop, we will be returning this year with a wider selection of local and regional designers showcasing their collections.

We are continuously working on supporting the growth of the local creative ecosystem, and we hope to announce more exciting collaborations down the line.

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