Rethinking feminism with Saudi designer to the stars Honayda Serafi

Rethinking feminism with Saudi designer to the stars Honayda Serafi
Saudi fashion designer Honayda Serafi. (AFP)
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Updated 09 January 2023

Rethinking feminism with Saudi designer to the stars Honayda Serafi

Rethinking feminism with Saudi designer to the stars Honayda Serafi
  • Saudi designer says there is a time and place for everything when considering fashion

LONDON: The issue of gender inequality is undoubtedly a universal one. 

However, the feminism that is being pushed to the forefront of global discourse remains largely Western, particularly concerning views on freedom of choice in dress.

Mainstream feminists fail to reflect the diversity of women’s perspectives. They celebrate demonstrators in Iran fighting oppressive laws on dress codes while ignoring extended curbs on the hijab in France and India that exclude Muslim women from places of employment and education. 

Halima Aden, a supermodel, announced her retirement from the fashion industry in 2021, telling the BBC that she found her job compromised her religious beliefs. 

In order to balance the narrative and include the views from the region on feminism, Arab News sat with Saudi designer Honayda Serafi, who has committed her business to the empowerment of women.

In August, her fashion label HONAYDA became the Kingdom’s first designer shown at Harrods in London.  

The label’s latest collection, which is available at the department store and is inspired by the flamboyant Afghan heritage, has noticeably more modest options than is typical of mainstream brands.

However, Serafi, who describes herself as “a feminist to the core,” says she doesn’t like to limit her products to being modest or risque and focuses instead on catering to all needs. 

“We sell long trousers and gowns as well as shorts and mini-dresses. We have high necks and long sleeves and we have backless and sleeveless,” she said.

While she believes that “there is a time and place for everything,” Serafi isn’t advocating that women conform to ideals of correctness.

Instead, she suggests that reconstructing a different outfit every day reflects women’s understanding of varying social spaces.

“It is not in my place to tell women how they should dress. But what’s great is that a woman can choose what to wear according to the time and place because it is an extension of her identity, culture and the life path she paves for herself.

“At our store, the ‘conservative’ women will find a piece she would want to wear in mixed spaces and another to wear when surrounded by only women,” she added.

What Serafi is saying contains an important feminist lesson. A woman’s versatility cuts across female archetypes such as “conservative,” “modest,” “risque,” and “revealing,” all of which are rarely applied to men.  

Perhaps it is best to avoid using terminology that reduces women to barometers of body coverage.

Clothing is more than just pieces of fabric. It acquires many social, cultural and personal meanings. As we form our views of the world, we learn to communicate through the language of dress. 

With each passing year, Serafi reaffirms her commitment to her brand’s core mission, telling the stories of women across the globe through her designs. 

Her Spring/Summer 2020 collection was inspired by the wardrobe of Bedouin women in Saudi Arabia she watched as a child during the harvest in the mountainous regions of Al-Hada and Taif. Elements of traditional prints and ornamentation were translated into elegant, contemporary gowns, jumpsuits and blazers.

For the Autumn/Winter 2020 collection, Serafi paid tribute to the legendary 7th century Berber warrior Queen Dihya by drawing on geometric patterns and metallic threadlines central to Amazighi costume. 

Following the death of Ruth Gader Ginsburg, the Spring/Summer 2021 collection showcased variations of lace, chiffon, and jeweled necklines — the signature fashion of the late US Supreme Court Judge. 

The Notorious ‘RBG’ once told the BBC that her recognizable collar was a deliberate attempt to inject femininity into a judicial robe historically designed for men

As Serafi continues on her rise to success in the global fashion industry, she continues to lift others with her: An excellent model of feminism.