Two creative ladies living in the Gulf turning their passions into profits
Time Out Bahrain staff
The creative scenes throughout the Gulf are thriving in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE, where artists and fashion designers are enjoying their heyday. Contemporary Khaleeji pop art is the fashion du jour, as is sustainable yet quirky products. Two ladies who have their fingers on the pulse of these trends are Bahrain’s own Wafa AlObaidat and UAE-based Reem Hawwa, who have been causing stirs in the fashion market.
Brands: Arty magazine Sketchbook, PR and design agency Obai & Hill, Bahrain’s first talent agency O Talent, wooden sunglasses brand Barrel & Drum and, most recently, the quirky accessory line Sukkar.
Over the summer you launched your new line accessories, Sukkar. What inspired its creation? The brand was started from the idea of having a product line that is sweet, practical and modern. The creative team at Obai & Hill [and I] were looking for something that is both quirky yet natural to promote to young working women who dare to make a statement.
Who are you targeting with the collection? We are mainly targeting teenagers, women in their 20s, and young mothers. We also hope to attract those who are looking for unique Bahraini gifts to buy for their friends and family at home and abroad. We think this target audience will appreciate this new and fresh concept that incorporates centuries old Bahraini traditions.
With so many brands and collections, how do you find the time to do everything? Honestly, I would not be able to juggle everything without the help of my creative team. We have an open floor plan office, strong communication skills, and great teamwork capabilities. This is really not a one-man show. We all work together to help manage all the different aspects of our business.
What has been the biggest challenge for you since entering the business world? The biggest challenge I ever had to face was starting up. After a lot of trial and error, I realised that getting as many free services as possible was the best way to get ahead and kick-start the company. The second most challenging aspect was securing a commercial registration.
What are your personal secrets to success? Achieving success is based on numerous different factors. I would say one of the most important factors is hiring the right people for the job. It is crucial to have a passionate and hardworking team that helps you out every step of the way. In addition, selling is another crucial element in any job. If you can sell your idea, service, or product, you can basically do anything. In my opinion, nobody does sales quite like the owner of the business.
What inspires you on a daily basis in your work and personal motivation? Growth has to be my biggest inspiration. It motivates me more than anything. Every milestone I reach only pushes me to get to the next milestone. When you grow on a personal level, you get the urge to grow your company along with you. It’s a constantly evolving process and there should be absolutely no standstills.
What advice would you give other creative people thinking of launching their own quirky collections and brands? I would say they should have a long-term vision. We have seen too many brands that have started up strong and then slowly faded into the background due to lack of strategy. With every stage of your business, invest in your team and keep growing. It is also crucial to find gaps in the market or find markets with the least competition. There are so many brands that are trying to do the same thing. It’s important to stand out and be different. Finally, get a mentor who is full of great advice. Sukkar products are available in various boutiques around the GCC and Bahrain including Green Diamond, Seef Mall (1766 6636). Visit www.mysukkar.com for more information.
Brands: Funky monochrome T-shirt and purse line Hawwa.
When and why did you first realise you wanted to start the brand? It took almost four years to start this brand because we see a lot of brands come and go, and I wanted to do this the right way. My love for art and design started at a young age and I wanted to take my passion to a new level, and that is how Hawwa was born.
What has been the biggest challenge for you since setting up? I was afraid that customers wouldn’t like such a concept. But I took the risk, and now looking back I think people should take the risk. Better an ‘oops’ than ‘what if’.
What inspires you on a daily basis to create these T-shirts and purses? Things like Arabic music (old and current) and the different sayings we have as Arabs that can also be understood by Westerners, for example, ‘With you in bitter and sweet’.
What kind of person wears a Hawwa T-shirt? Any women or men really, no matter their position or style. T-shirts never go out of fashion and they are a great way to express one’s mood. You can wear Hawwa T-shirts for a day out shopping or a night out with friends. It can look great with ripped jeans or a mini skirt with heels.
The Gulf is bursting with awesome and creative people like yourself, turning their hobby into a brand. What other Khaleeji brands inspire you right now? I don’t have a specific brand that I like or get inspired from. In my opinion each brand is unique in its own way but what really inspires me is every designer’s passion to continue despite the strong competition.
You were born and raised in the UAE but are of Lebanese descent. How has your upbringing been reflected in your design choices? The messages I use on my T-shirts are mostly Arabic songs, mainly by Lebanese singers such as Fairuz and Ziad Rahban. This way I feel connected to my home country. But, also, the UAE has a great impact on my designs since I also play with a lot of words we use in the Gulf such as ‘mazaj rayeg’ (‘good mood’) or ‘ana chi’ (‘this is me’) or ‘Sheikha’ (‘queen’).
What’s your day job? I am a web designer at sivvi.com. I love my job – it helped me learn a lot about fashion. Also sivvi.com is one of the first websites that believed in my talent and, because of that, customers around the world can shop my designs on their website.
What does the future look like for your collection? As of now we launched my Hawwa clutches for women, and men now have a line of T-shirts to choose from. Looking at all I have accomplished I think the next step is to expand more with the T-shirts and add some colours, and maybe start thinking of printed skirts or dresses for women, and printed jackets for men.
Which is your favourite Hawwa T-shirt? I don’t have a favourite design! For me, behind every design is a story, which is why each design is special in its own unique way. But the closest to my heart is ‘bhebak bala walah shi’ (‘I love you unconditionally’) as I grew up with this song. Hawwa T-shirts for men and women can be found on www.sivvi.com. They deliver across the GCC.