A Saudi fashion label plans ahead for a coronavirus downturn

A Saudi fashion label plans ahead for a coronavirus downturn
34-year-old fashion designer Shahd Al-Shehail, from Al-Mubarraz in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahsa region, hopes to make a difference with an ethical luxury label. (Supplied)
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Updated 11 October 2020

A Saudi fashion label plans ahead for a coronavirus downturn

A Saudi fashion label plans ahead for a coronavirus downturn
  • COVID-19 has pummeled the world of fashion, clearing catwalks and emptying workshops and showrooms
  • To weather the anticipated storm, heritage fashion brand Abadia is seeking to add value for customers

DUBAI: The way Saudi entrepreneur Shahd Al-Shehail tells it, the businesses that will survive — and thrive — in the new normal will be those that offer added value. As consumers seek stronger justifications to part with their money in the coronavirus-fueled downturn, her heritage fashion label Abadia could deliver just that edge.

“I believe if we aren’t adding anything new or original to the work we’re doing, there’s no point in doing it. The world doesn’t need more clothes per se,” she said.

While developments such as online retail and drop-shipping have allowed more designers to launch their own fashion labels, business success in the sector is paradoxically harder than ever.

“Even before the pandemic, it was quite hard to set up a successful fashion brand. The market was really quite oversaturated,” said Al-Shehail.

The 34-year-old fashion designer, from Al-Mubarraz in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahsa region, hopes to make a difference with an ethical luxury label that marries traditional crafts with contemporary silhouettes for today’s urban nomads.

Sadu, the geometric weave characteristic of Bedouin societies across the Middle East, has been a mainstay of the line since it was launched in 2016. A recent collection reinterpreted naqda, a classic technique where thin strands of metal are embroidered onto lightweight fabrics such as silk and tulle.

Meanwhile, the farwa, a floor-length winter coat conventionally worn by men, has become the brand’s signature piece. Floaty but structured, Abadia farwas seem to echo the roles modern Middle Eastern women are carving out for themselves.

The robes have topped regional shopping lists since Jordan’s Queen Rania was photographed wearing one to her daughter’s graduation from the British military academy Sandhurst.

Yet, interwoven into every piece is an equally beautiful backstory. Abadia garments are hand-embroidered largely within Saudi Arabia’s Al-Qassim administrative region, where the company has helped to improve the livelihoods of about 45 traditional artisans, raising their income by 40 percent, Al-Shehail says.


READ MORE: How Arabian design scene is moving from product to purpose


“These are mostly older women who hadn’t taught their craft to the next generation because they didn’t see the economic benefit of passing on those skills,” she said.

Because regional consumers are often motivated by compassion, craftspeople experience significant income volatility. Demand peaks during Ramadan, but declines to next to nothing over the rest of the year.

“We wanted to help elevate Middle Eastern crafts in the same way that French or Italian traditions are celebrated, while at the same time safeguarding our heritage and the storytelling behind it,” Al-Shehail said.

“At a fundamental level, I believe we cannot ask artists to preserve any craft — or our heritage — if we don’t give them economic incentives to continue.”

Like everyone else in the fashion industry, Al-Shehail has battled economic problems of her own since COVID-19 appeared, clearing runways and emptying workshops and showrooms alike around the world.

“Looking at the rest of the industry, we haven’t seen that huge a decline in orders. Nor have we seen any growth, but we’ve had new orders from new geographies, particularly the US,” she said. The coronavirus has allowed her team to take a step back and think about aspects of the business that they do not usually spend time on, such as broadening their marketing outreach and developing deeper relationships with their customers.

In particular, the same long-term financial planning and calculated risk-taking that helped Abadia to break even in its first year of business will help it retain its full-time staff and freelancers.

“At the beginning of this pandemic, we sat down and forecast our business to the end of the year, that we’ll be able to keep everybody on board. We’ve always focused on growing the business organically, on making sure we never put our artisans and employees at risk,” she said.

“Every business has a different strategy, but for us the goal has been to build long-term sustainability. I don’t come from a place of liquidity and I’m not investing my dad’s money. So, it was important to define three-year, five-year and 10-year goals.

“The fashion industry is a very tough industry, it’s a very saturated industry, and it’s important to build businesses that are growing sustainably and in a financially sound way,” she said. 


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.



The farwa is an oversized floor length coat traditionally worn by Bedouin men to survive the cold desert winters.

Singer Jessie J sparkles in Egyptian jewelry label Ammanii

British singer Jessie J is known for hits like ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘Price Tag.’
British singer Jessie J is known for hits like ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘Price Tag.’
Updated 19 January 2021

Singer Jessie J sparkles in Egyptian jewelry label Ammanii

British singer Jessie J is known for hits like ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘Price Tag.’

DUBAI: Jewelry designer Amany Shaker left Egypt over 30-years-ago after finishing up a psychology degree to work in an international NGO in Los Angeles, which became her second home. In 2015, she did a complete career 360, when she decided to launch her own jewelry line Ammanii, a play on her first name, “from the desire to tell stories and untie women while transcending cultural barriers.” Having lived in eight different countries and worked with a global NGO for nearly two decades, Shaker combined her background in peace building and conflict resolution with her passion for jewelry design by creating timeless pieces.

Each piece is meticulously handmade in Hong Kong and the jewels are primarily crafted with silver and semi-precious stones, a nod to her native country, where Ancient Egyptians considered silver to be more precious than gold.


A post shared by AMMANII (@ammaniijewelry)

Shaker’s handcrafted rings, necklaces and bracelets have been worn by actresses Emma Roberts and Shay Mitchell, among others.

The Cairo and Los Angeles-based label was recently picked up by “Eastwave,” a new virtual pop-up supporting established and emerging designers from the Middle East and North Africa. The digital and physical platform, which launched in August, features a curated selection of brands spanning from ready-to-wear, accessories and jewelry, including Egyptian handbags label Aliel, Lebanese contemporary womenswear label Jessica K and Dubai-based jewelry brand Bil Arabi, among others.

In addition to offering a platform for Arab talent and shining a spotlight on creatives from the Middle East and North Africa, Eastwave has also helped to propel Arab designers into the wardrobes of different A-listers.

See British singer Jessie J, who stepped out this week championing Ammanii’s Hand Carved Dome Ring, a Vermeil gold. hand-carved ring set with cubic zircon and blue topaz, to represent the evil eye. 

The “Bang Bang” singer’s public appearance comes shortly after she took to Instagram to announce to her 9.4 million followers that as been diagnosed with Ménière’s disease, a chronic disorder of the inner ear that can lead to dizziness and hearing loss. 

She styled the colorful, statement ring with a crystal-infused Area top and belt, ripped denim jeans and heels from Sophia Webster.