Dubai-based Lebanese entrepreneur Dima Ayad is a woman on a mission. While working in marketing and PR she discovered the huge gap in the market for plus-sized clothing and after struggling to find clothing herself, she felt the need to create garments that women of all sizes could wear.
Combining her corporate experience with her love for fashion, she set about creating her own clothing brand that would cater for women of all sizes, with an offering of elegant eveningwear that any woman would feel comfortable and confident in. Alongside her day PR job, she began designing clothes that she felt women would truly want to wear and she launched her fashion label Dima Ayad in 2010. Over the past 13 years, the brand has become a go-to not just for plus-sized women but women of all sizes, looking for flattering, comfortable outfits that combine elegance and style. The brand recently launched on Net-A-Porter and is attracting global attention from women who have previously struggled to find clothing that fits. In 2020 Dima went back to her PR roots when she launched her own PR agency DAC Communications which represents several luxury food and beverage outlets across the Middle East. She applies her entrepreneurial mindset to both businesses and her passion and drive are clear through to see. With many exciting projects on the horizon, we spoke to Dima to find out what’s next for her.
Congratulations on the success of your brand – tell us what first inspired you to launch.
In all honestly there was a period when I was travelling a lot and I had a lot of weddings to attend, and I could never find anything that fits me well. Everything was either too tight or too short and I’m big and tall and it was always a nightmare to find clothes. At that time the concept of circular economy, reusing, repurposing, was non-existent. Each outfit was a one-hit-wonder, and you would end up wearing something once and shoving it to the back of your wardrobe. So, I started making my own clothes and a lot of people would ask me where I got them from. I think ignorance is bliss because I didn’t have an education in fashion, so I had no idea what it was going to take to create a fashion line. And then before I knew it I created a collection and sold it to “Sauce” which was a multi-brand boutique in Dubai at the time. And it did really well! Looking back at that time I thought I knew what I was doing but I had no clue – I didn’t have the cohesion, didn’t have the sense of what the collection was. But I love a challenge and I just went for it like crazy, and now it’s my baby!
So how did you learn what it takes and what work you needed to put in to create a fully-fledged fashion brand?
I would study women, I would study their bodies, how they would walk, what they would choose to wear, and how they would pair items together. I would go into stores and just watch them, and I think in this way I really used my marketing and PR background. And then I started to learn about fabrics and that for me was the major learning curve – how to stitch, which fabrics to use, which fabrics can be used for what etc. There was a lot of trial and error involved. Sometimes I would buy very expensive dresses and I would deconstruct them I would learn how they did it, and then I would construct them back. This was a way of further understanding what it takes to put a garment together.
How did you start creating the whole line to ensure that other women would want to buy your clothes?
One of the concepts of how I design clothes now is that I design in a bigger size and reduce it down for the smaller sizing. Most of the time if an item suits a larger person, it’s going to suit a smaller person. So from that premise, I started by designing in sizes 3XL or 2XL and then I went down to size 8. I would try them on a regular model and a bigger model, and I’d see if it worked on both. My sample sizing is a size 8UK and a size 20UK and then I check if it works on both, and I try to make it work that way.
Once we started in this direction it was much easier for me. I do get told a lot that I cater for taller women more than I realise, probably because I’m tall, but I’m taking note of that and it’s something I need to work on. It’s easy to shorten a dress but you can’t lengthen something.
Where is the brand at now and what is your vision for it?
Currently, we are doing a lot of collaborations. We collaborated with Malone Souliers at Level Shoes which did really well. We have another very exciting collaboration coming up which I can’t share yet, but it will be global and it will be live in September. So, we are quite big on collaborations around the world. Also, we are now being stocked on some famous e-commerce sites including Net-A-Porter. The brand is doing well there and funnily enough, I get a lot of messages from brands or clients looking for items on NAP and it’s sold out already and they come to me directly for their size. So it’s quite interesting how that’s happening. We are also looking at expansion onto other sites. One of the things I want to mention is that personally, I don’t find value in having a standalone store. I think the value today is being in a department store, where a customer can come in and buy shoes from one brand, a dress from another, makeup from someone else and have this holistic approach. As customers, we don’t dress head-to-toe in one brand, and I don’t think that’s even how the biggest brands on earth expect it to be. My absolute dream would be to have concessions in department stores all around the world. And I would like to see my brand on different types of people. It’s not about celebrities wearing my brand, what I care about the most is real women. Women in Brazil, London, and the Middle East – and I want people to feel like they can come to Dima Ayad to find something for a special occasion and to feel comfortable. These are the moments where I want them to think of my brand.
Tell us about the collaboration with Ashley Graham – how did this come about?
Honestly, it is a dream come true. I tried hard to get Ashley and one of the things that tempted her was that she really does believe in the cause, and once I said that we are the only evening wear brand on Net-A-Porter with size inclusivity, it blew her mind and she agreed to come on board. She is the loveliest human being; she’s the kindest person and she really cares. I woke up one day to a post on Instagram from Ashley that said, “Dima I’m really proud of you”. And that was truly amazing. She didn’t need to do that, but she did it because she cared and wanted to see me grow and I admire that. There is more to come in this space, and it’s been brilliant so far.
Your brand is inclusive in its sizing and style but lately, we are starting to see criticism of “skinny chic” being back in fashion – what’s your thoughts on this?
Let’s just start with the fact that ninety per cent of the runway shows that had these plus size models never actually stocked the sizes in their collections. So, in all honestly, whether or not the models are walking or not, I don’t think representation is necessarily defined by what is on the runway, I think it’s defined by what is actually available to buy. And if you are having someone plus size on the runway to tick a box but you’re not stocking those sizes in your collection – for me it’s just for the headlines. This representation is important, but only when the customer is able to purchase the product in that size, otherwise what is the point of showcasing the clothes in this way?
The second thing I’m wondering as we are seeing cover shoots and stories with these plus size models – are the brands really making clothes in these sizes? Most of the time the answer is no. So I don’t know how these designers are managing to dress these plus-sized models. Another question that I would ask the editors of the magazines is ‘if you are going to have plus size models on your covers, where is it translating, is it just PR? And does it add value when women reading the magazines don’t feel represented with what they can buy in the stores?’ I’m not trying to advocate anyone being big or small, I’m just saying that wherever you are in your health or weight journey, you should be able to find clothes that fit you. It’s wild when you think about it that I would say, forty per cent of women around the world cannot find clothes that fit them. It’s ridiculous! And therefore, luckily for me, if a customer comes to my platform and finds something that suits her, she’ll buy it in all colours – we have become that brand that women can rely on because they find it difficult to buy clothes. I receive messages all the time from women all around the world who are so happy. To have been able to find clothes in their size it’s unbelievable how even today women cannot find clothes in their size. I want to take on the challenge of telling women that clothes can look great on women of every size, and they should be able to buy them.
What does success mean to you?
I do believe that leaving a mark is very important. You have a lot of people who might measure success by money, but if they look back on their lifetime, have they done anything to add value to society? I feel that success should be measured by this, and I think Ashley Graham is a true testament to that. Even on her down days, she pulls herself up. Even though success can happen simultaneously with being kind, I feel that if you have that balance between growth and kindness, you can achieve magic. I also think that being successful is something more on a long-term basis. You have a lot of one-hit-wonders who do a great collection and have great moments and then it does. I think it’s also measured by consistency determination. If you show up to do something every single day, the chances are it is going to work.
What is your advice to those who want to take the opportunity to follow their dreams or passion as you have?
Research is a very important component, whether you have all the answers or not, you still need to do research and development. Once you’ve done this, if you are still convinced by your idea, don’t listen to anybody else. Honestly, if I had listened to every person who told me that fashion was a bad idea, my brand would not exist. You must know what it takes to make your dream work and you have to do the research, work hard and don’t listen to anyone.
As well as your fashion line you have a PR business – how do you manage your time?
There are days when fashion takes over and there are days when the agency takes over, and I think it’s important to find a balance between the two. I’m not great at it, but I know that I need both. The two feed each other and break up my daily. For example, if I’m very stressed and with the PR business, I can take ten minutes out to finish a drawing and I feel like I’ve moved into this creative space or calm. And sometimes when I’ve been in that creative space for a while it’s nice to go back to my day job to something more structured. So, they balance each other. Balancing is something you learn with time and is not always easy. The time it gets bad is when it’s fashion week, and I’m launching a restaurant! And that’s when you rely on your team.
What’s your vision for DAC Communications?
One thing that is amazing about my agency is that we can do things that don’t follow the usual patterns. I’m pro-collaborations and doing things that are out of the box and I think that’s why the agency green even faster than I expected.
Moving forward I want to make it something bigger and stronger across the region. I feel that we all need a refresh and something more alive in the region and I think if the region adopts this philosophy between Saudi and Dubai, we can become really iconic and that’s how we can create something very impactful.
What is the professional motto that you live by?
It’s never a no.
Who is a woman you would love to design for?
Instantly I would tell you it’s Julia Roberts. I love her purity and how natural she is, I love everything about her and I would love to dress her because she feels real.
What else is in the pipeline for this year?
We are working on some capsules and looking to team up with some people that we love in the region and globally. I would like to work on another shoot collaboration. I also want to expand into certain concessions around the world as I think this will add a lot of value to our brand.