After an inspiring chat with Vogue international editor Suzy Menkes and Vogue Arabia editor-in-chief, Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz, Amal Al Raisi took a few moments to reflect on her first decade in business and her role as one of Oman’s most acclaimed fashion designers.
Muscat is the center of fashion this week. How does that feel as an Omani designer?
It is very exciting and it is something very big because fashion is kind of a new concept in Muscat. It has been here for only the last 10 years – of course, fashion has always been here, but having Omani designers come up is a new thing. And then having Condé Nast in Muscat is amazing. It draws light on Oman and on Omani designers. It’s a big opportunity.
What was your reaction when you were asked to speak at the conference?
I thought I was going to faint. I received a letter from Suzy saying that she would like me to be a speaker and she would like to interview me on stage for Condé Nast. I kept double-checking my name! I have big ambitions and I do work very hard, but this was not in my dreams, at all.
Take me back to your early days, when you started your brand 10 years ago.
It all happened by coincidence. 15 years back, I never thought fashion was going to be my career. I was getting married and was looking for the right dress, but I was not satisfied with what I saw. Every designer that I met locally had something I wanted to change. So I decided I had to do it on my own; I would take the risk and do it. I am a business graduate and worked in the government sector for two years, but I decided that wasn’t where I wanted to spend my life. A job is something you do every day and you have to love what you’re doing.
What was the biggest challenge? The business side or the design?
Both. Since I lack some design techniques, I had to try them first and that’s just time being wasted. The business part is very important – and the hardest – because you need to start something from scratch and build that foundation.
What was your first milestone? Opening your first boutique in Muscat?
At every stage I had a dream and once that was accomplished, I had a bigger dream. And then a bigger challenge. And that is how I opened my boutique two years after I started. Then I wanted to have a solo fashion show, or to be part of a show in a big hotel, and then that was done, that was checked.
How do you feel about the fashion scene in Oman?
It’s small. We do have a lot of designers but we only have a few who have moved to the next level. I am very proud to be Omani and I really want the world to see what we have in Oman. But that also puts a huge responsibility on me, because now I am like a role model for others so I always have to represent Oman and step up the game.
What do you make of the fact that traditional garments like hijabs are appearing on the runways of cities like Milan?
Of course, that feels good because for a long time there was a wrong perception of Arabs and Muslims. A lot of Westerners have negative ideas about the abaya, whereas if you really come into the region and see the way women wear the abaya, that is fashion and that is something we put a lot of effort in. So it is very good to see that happening because then we can show the rest of the world what we have.
Even Western fashion brands now make abayas. What’s your opinion on that?
I think it depends on the mentality of the consumer. If some consumers really love a brand, then they will love everything that comes from that brand and then with others, they will think that well, if something is Arabic or Muslim then it is definitely done better by someone who is from the region because they know what is trending and what is not. Like what happens in Paris, we see what is happening on the runways because they are the experts and then we get the trends. And then with the abaya, we are the experts, we are the ones who set the rules.