A new exhibition bringing together local designers, business owners, and creatives under one roof is set to take off today, April 7. Named Sawa (meaning together), the pre-Ramadan initiative was launched by Emirati jewelry designer Salama Khalfan and co-founder of The Modist Ghizlan Guenez. With a shared goal and strong motivation, the two entrepreneurs teamed up on the exhibition to help the local businesses and talents that have been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and boost the UAE’s creative scene.
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Ahead of Sawa’s opening at Alserkal Avenue today, we caught up with Guenez and Salama to know more about their initiative, how it all began and what visitors can expect from the exhibition.
How did this collaboration come to be?
Ghizlan: Salama and I have been friends for a long time. We are close friends, we’re both entrepreneurs and we’re both in the same space — the fashion and creative industries. About three weeks ago, over dinner at hers, we were talking about Covid-19 and the impact the pandemic has had on all of us. We were saying how for the first time, all of us in the world are struggling with the same thing and experiencing the same challenge.
Salama was also talking about her frustration with how the brands who used to be able to pay fees in Ramadan exhibitions in the past, can no longer do the same today given the impact and given how their businesses have been challenged by the pandemic. She threw the idea and said let’s do something together to support the system and it didn’t take me a second to jump on it. Within minutes, we were sitting with a pen and paper and our notepads and just jotting down what we needed to do, how we needed to put it together, who’s in our network, who could potentially reach out to to get support from, and that’s how the idea was born.
What can visitors expect from the exhibition?
Ghizlan and Salama: We have around 58 brands at the exhibition. They’re brands that we know and love but there are also some brands that are going to be discovered by shoppers at the exhibitions.
There’s a combination of established local and regional designers like Shatha Essa, Dima Ayad, Bambah, Bouguessa, Odeem, and then there are others who are local designers or designers based in the UAE which the shoppers may not have heard of before but have beautiful products.
It’s all curated in a way that is relevant to the month of Ramadan, including some exclusive pieces that have been created for Sawa itself. It’s a space where there are beautiful products. Still, there’s also incredible positive energy of collaboration and coming together. Truly the intention of supporting one and the other, being part of this ecosystem and uplifting it, given that we’re all in it together.
Why is it important to support local designers and businesses at such a time?
Ghizlan: Salama says you can’t achieve any success in-silo. If any of us want to succeed, all of us must uplift one another; we’ve all been impacted. There’s a level of empathy around what is happening around us, and it is essential that a collaborative effort must take place during these times, in our industry, and that’s actually one of our goals.
By launching the Sawa initiative, other people in other industries and spaces would be inspired by the collaboration and do the same, and scale really almost doesn’t matter. We could do it amongst five friends and do things to support each other’s businesses, or we could do it on a larger scale like Sawa. It’s a time when coming together and supporting one another is probably more important than any other time.
In your opinion, what makes this exhibition stand out from others?
Ghizlan and Salama: The most important aspect of the exhibition is the fact that it was created to eliminate the barriers to entry into these exhibitions for brands. From our perspective as its creators, this is not a commercial exhibition. We have leveraged our network to create it — whether it is a free space from Alserkal Avenue, or the company that is helping us set up the event, Khayali Boutique. It’s all been a work of leveraging our network as two entrepreneurs and people from this industry and so we’ve passed on the minimal cost to the brand.
The largest space, which is a booth — in all transparency — is two meters by around 2.4m by 2.4m that costs AED 5,000 for the period of four days and so the idea was that we don’t want these brands to incur costs. We want them to do well, be exposed, and have an opportunity to offer their products under a beautiful umbrella. We’ve also worked on not compromising the curation and selecting brands and products while doing this for a good cause to support the ecosystem.
Again, we are customers, we enjoy shopping, so we wanted every woman who visits Sawa to experience the same.
How long did it take to put the exhibition together?
It took us less than a month. I believe it’s been about three weeks now. It’s a super small team. There are four of us, including myself and Salama, so it’s been full-on. When you start something to support and see a beautiful objective materialize, you push through.
We are entrepreneurs and used to coming up with an idea and executing it immediately, and that spirit is evident in us working together. Doing it together, we share the same sentiment, and we feel great that we have done it together because there is big support from one another, and we jointly feel very strong about the cause.
What is next for Sawa?
Ghizlan and Salama: Sawa started with a good intention. It began with an objective to support, and not as a hugely strategized idea. It was empathy and the need and desire to do something that brought us together in executing this idea.
Having said that, we do feel that it’s gained momentum with the support of everyone that’s been part of it. It’s a community of effort. It’s not two people; it’s not four people. It’s everyone, including Vogue Arabia, and every person who has supported us in one way or another. So it truly is a beautiful form of a community coming together to create this event — in a way that we hoped for but did not necessarily expect.
We believe that it’s going to be just the beginning of this platform supporting regional designers. We are looking at how we can continue to give it life and to fulfill the same objective.
Sawa is taking place at Warehouse 83, Alserkal Avenue, from 2pm to 10pm.