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DAS: From a small UAE store to London Fashion Week

DAS is a well-known Emerati fashion house that now features at the London Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week. The brand can now be found in Harrods department store in London.
DAS is an acronym for Daffa, Abba and Suwaieya — the three main types of abaya worn in the Gulf region. The logo of the brand is a triangle shape and it is made from these words written in Arabic calligraphy.
Two Emerati sisters stand proudly behind this brand: Reem and Hind Baljafla. They were both born and raised in Dubai and studied in London establishing their business in Dubai in 2008.
Each year DAS designs a minimum of four main collections — Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter abayas, and Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter Ready-to-Wear.
“In between these four main collections we also do Resort collections and Eid collections. We have to keep releasing new pieces regularly as our clients always want to see something fresh,” said Reem Baljafla, co-founder and designer of DAS.
“My style of fashion is elegant; I would say timelessly classic, and of course always conservative. My sister Hind’s style is very different — her style is more casual, fun and daring. The blend of both our personalities and fashion senses is part of what makes DAS so special,” she added.
Comparing the Saudi design market and the UAE abaya design market Baljafla said the Saudi market is certainly very interesting. “All the Saudi ladies I know are extremely stylish and have a great sense of fashion,” she said. “However, we have to be a little bit more careful with our designs for the Saudi market as they tend not to be quite so experimental with their abayas as we are in the UAE.”
Baljafla studied interior design but was always interested in fashion.
“When Hind and I moved back to Dubai after university, we felt that there weren’t any designers catering to women like us who wanted to express our fashion sense through our abayas,” she said. “We started off by designing our own pieces for ourselves to wear to events, experimenting with colors, cuts and embellishments. Our designs got such great feedback that we soon had a client base and made a business out of it.”
The designers use all manner of fabrics for their pieces.
“Anything from silk to velvet. It depends on the season and the style of the piece,” she said. “For the majority of our everyday abayas we use a special mixed fabric imported from Hong Kong, which is designed to be soft, lightweight and breathable to maximize comfort in our hot climate.”
Any DAS collection clearly features a blend between culture and modern. “When we first started out, we were really the pioneers when it came to redesigning the abaya and making it fashionable. Most importantly, whilst we do push the boundaries, is that we always remain respectful to our culture and the traditions of the abaya,” said Baljafla. “Our abayas can be colorful and have interesting embroidery, embellishments and designs, but they are always conservative and appropriate.”
Baljafla believes that ladies who choose to wear DAS are confident and very fashion-conscious. She intends for them to feel special, stylish and unique when wearing DAS designs.
Inspiration for a new line can strike Baljafla at any moment. “It can come from nature, the landscape and environment around me, a piece of artwork or anything,” she said. “Mainly I get inspired from my travels around the world. My eyes are always open to new sights.”
Working on a new DAS collection starts many months in advance, as it is a very time-consuming process. “I usually start from a spark of inspiration, which guides me to a theme. Then I consult the Pantone color chart for the coming season, sketch some ideas and start putting the first round of designs into production,” she said. “Once these prototypes are brought to life on a mannequin or on a live model, I can make my adjustments to perfect the designs.”
The Baljafla girls are currently putting the Spring/Summer 2013 Ready-to-Wear collection into production, having showed it on the catwalk at London Fashion Week in September.
DAS designers are very specific on whom to work with when it comes to photographers and models. “We have some models and photographers we like to work with regularly, as they understand our look and what we expect from them,” said Baljafla. “It’s good to build a strong relationship with models and photographers as they play a huge part in the image of your brand.”
For the London Fashion Week shows they selected models at castings with the top model agencies, and they flew in supermodel Alek Wek from New York to model for them.
According to Baljafla, it is not essential to have strong sewing skills to be a good designer. “As long as you have the vision to design, and you can convey it accurately to your team in order for them to create the design, that is the main thing,” she said. “Of course it’s important to have a deep understanding of fabrics and how a design can be put together. But when it comes to physically sewing a piece, I don’t think you’ll find many of the top designers doing it themselves.”
Baljafla would love to dress Sheikha Moaza of Qatar, as she is such a style icon. “Also Princess Ameera Al-Taweel — a true beauty and inspiration,” she said. “Internationally, I’d love to see Angelina Jolie wearing DAS because she often wears full-length on the red carpet. I think she could look very elegant in our designs.”
The Spring/Summer 2013 collection was inspired from the mixture of Arabic and Indian style. “We used a lot of heavy gold beading, rich strong colors, chiffons and embroidered fabrics detailed with Arabic calligraphy,” said Baljafla. “Our designs sends a message that you can combine dressing conservatively and respectfully and keep up with the latest fashion styles at the same time.”
DAS is known to be the first to really update the abaya and align it with international fashion trends. “Our designs appeal to both Muslims and non-Muslims and we have many western clients, not just Middle Eastern,” said Baljafla. “We are also famous for our signature cut, which is flattering on all body shapes.”
The next step for DAS is to continue expanding internationally, show at more international fashion weeks and increase the number of overseas stockists. The designers are working toward making the abaya or the ‘conservative black dress’ a worldwide trend.
DAS is stocked at Harrods in London, Symphony at The Dubai Mall, SAKS Fifth Avenue, Harvey Nichols Dubai and various other stores around the GCC. They look forward to increasing their stockists in Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia over the next year.
DAS’s Spring/Summer 2013 Ready-to-Wear collection debuted at London Fashion Week and will be released early 2013, so stay tuned.

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