In the name of inclusivity, Dima Ayad asks regional designers to dress women of all sizes. Will they be up for the challenge?
Dubai-based womenswear designer Dima Ayad tells a story many can relate to. Traveling abroad to attend a wedding, upon arrival she discovered that her bag had been lost along the way. She headed to the city to pick out a new dress, only to discover that women of all sizes were not all being catered to. Miserable, Ayad returned home, deciding to overlook the wedding altogether.
“The lack of availability of clothes for an oversized person is frustrating,” Ayad says. “You go to the mall and find just one store that sells oversized clothes. But we each have a style that needs to be catered to.” Even exercise clothes are regularly off-limits. “If an oversized woman wants to exercise, she will not be able to find anything to wear, even something as simple as leggings. Some big brands are working on this, but barely.”
Ayad is determined to redress the balance and her frustration is fuelling the launch of her new sportswear and leisure brand. Unflinching in her belief that all women deserve to wear exquisitely crafted clothes, she reached out to her peers and friends Reema Al Banna of Reemami, Lama Jouni, and Mariam Yeya of Mrs Keepa to join her on this journey towards inclusivity. While not everyone she approached could get involved, the ones who did, did so with gusto. “It’s not that designers are not keen, it’s all supply and demand,” remarks Egyptian-French designer Mariam Yeya of Mrs Keepa, a longtime friend of Ayad’s. “We launched a collection and we don’t provide size; most of the collection is on a preorder basis. People are free to order what they want. The biggest one I have received is a size 44. I don’t think that the designer should be blamed for not being inclusive, it’s also down to the buyers from big department stores. Most often they choose the sizes and collection and they rarely ask for bigger sizes.”
Ayad explains, “I asked Mariam to be part of this journey with me, because she shares the same values in the fashion space as I do but also because when you see Mrs Keepa’s design aesthetic, you wouldn’t imagine it suiting larger-sized women.” Yeya agrees, “The brand’s aesthetics are very eclectic, avant garde, and with big silhouettes. I always say that there’s a thin line between something looking good on and it making the person look funny. I don’t do big sizes, not because I don’t want to include every shape, but because the brand DNA won’t look flattering. I go all out with my creativity, with print, drapery, and asymmetry, and everything has to fit properly.”
Not unlike Mrs Keepa, at first glance, Lama Jouni may come across as a strange choice for this collaboration, since she’s known for her formfitting pieces. Jouni’s clients are often photographed flaunting muscle definition through her peek-a-boo clothes. “Body confidence with your curves is the right thing to do,” affirms Ayad. “I think it’s time that we show that anyone can wear Lama Jouni.” The Lebanese designer concurs. “I always admire women who know what they want and work toward that goal. I like to work with people who challenge me. Dima is one designer who inspires me so much.” Accustomed to creating for an athletically honed clientele, Jouni confesses that dressing larger silhouettes was a challenge. “I’m not shy to admit that my knowledge isn’t that strong when it comes to larger sizes. It was a great introduction to start thinking of women of all sizes, especially when my strength is in creating essential wear,” she says. Jouni’s piece is entirely her style. Designed for Ayad’s body, it’s form-fitted, a touch revealing in the right places, and incredibly flattering. The positioning of the straps is perhaps the only giveaway that this piece represents a departure from the norm. Vogue Arabia Fashion Prize winner Reema Al Banna, the designer behind Reemami, was particularly taken with the idea of creating a unique blazer featuring her signature prints. The jacket features a shoulder cut-out with trims along the sleeves; something that’s become a hallmark of Al Banna’s work. Tailored pants complete the look. The suit is a Reemami classic, but for a fuller frame, and it works perfectly.
“Dressing Dima is amazing, as she embodies strength, confidence, and femininity,” says Al Banna. “I love and support the noise she’s creating around embracing and supporting all body types, which is also ingrained in Reemami.” Observing her flowing dress with white and green teardrop shapes that accentuate the form, designer Yeya proclaims, “I don’t believe in inclusive design. I believe that – individually – we all have different body types and the DNA of Mrs Keepa caters to that.” Ayad hopes that this coming together of some of the most talented designers in the Middle East will challenge conventions and assumptions, while also turning heads. The fashion industry has always catered to an ideal – and one that few women ever reach. Ayad and her collaborators are already thinking about dressing women of all sizes. The aim is that the pieces that emerge from this blending of talent will inspire others to continue to change how and for whom they design, offering all women an opportunity to dress themselves in a manner that reflects both body and spirit.
Originally published in the September 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Amine Jreissati
Hair: Natalie Cropper
Makeup: Bethany Lea Pentelow
Makeup assistant: Kerris Charles
Production: Ankita Chandra