JEDDAH: Wearing an abaya — the loose-fitting, full-length robes that symbolize a woman’s religious faith — is part of Saudi Arabian culture.
But in a rapidly changing Kingdom, the traditional style of abaya is giving way to new experiments that meet both the garment’s religious purpose and the demands of 21st-century life.
Now Saudi branding stylist Zahar Al-Sayed and her artist fiance Ahmed Angawi have launched the Abaya Factory, which offers a multifunctional abaya that can be transformed into a jacket, changing the whole outfit effortlessly.
Al-Sayed holds a BA degree in graphic design and MA in graphic branding and identity from the London College of Communication.
The Saudi designer's husband Angaqi has come up with this new concept as an alternative solution for female travelers abroad who take off their abayas and tuck it in their bags. “Our abaya was a solution for people traveling from A to B without really thinking what outfit they have to change into,” Al-Sayed told Arab News.
Speaking of the inspiration behind the designs, she said that “real women inspire us. Women’s empowerment in general is one of our targets. We got our inspiration from women’s needs.”
The Abaya Factory offers their functional designs to all women-on-the-go, women who have a lot on their plate, and multitaskers.
The designers focus on all the details in their brand to suit women from all sides — they tried to focus on linen and cotton as the main fabrics in designing abayas, to suit the hot weather in Saudi Arabia.
The factory’s prices are affordable compared to the market, according to owner Al-Sayed, who said prices range “from SR800 ($213) to SR1,800 ($480). So, we think it’s affordable for what it is, and for what we offer.”
As a Saudi designer, Al-Sayed said, working in the fashion industry is different today: “When we started out, there were a few people in the market and now I think it’s just very competitive. It’s a normal market and everyone (is) raising their game in branding.”
As fierce as the competition may seem, she appears optimistic about the Saudi fashion market: “They (designers) are actually taking care of all these details that add value to the brand itself, so I think everyone has a space in this market,” she said.
“People are more exposed through social media, more aware of designing and they really appreciate the homegrown talents,” according to the designer .
The local brand’s owner wants women to feel confident, comfortable and proud when they wear their abayas.
The Abaya Factory has its own studio where people can buy its unique designs at the Homegrown Market in Jeddah or through the brand’s official website or WhatsApp service.
The designers’ next step is to develop their creations by adding more functions to their abayas. “Our future plan is to (have) showroom appointments (with customers) so people can come in and choose the fabrics, colors and create their own garments.”
Women have become more flexible in wearing their outfits. In 2007, Saudi designer Eman Joharjy designed an abaya that would freely allow her to practice cycling and was dubbed the “sporty abaya.”
Another concept was the driving abaya, which features a hoodie, tight elbows to prevent the sleeves from catching on the handlebars, and shorter lengths to make switching pedals easier.