Life Lessons with Abeer Al Otaiba, the Creative Director of SemSem

Lara Mansour   |   08-09-2016


“Beauty is about feeling comfortable in your own skin.”


Egyptian designer Abeer Al Otaiba is the founder and Creative Director of SemSem, a line of chic ready to wear for mothers and daughters. Born and raised in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, Egypt, Abeer’s first career, as a civil engineer, brought her to the UAE in 2004. This was where she met and married the country’s Ambassador to America, Yousef Al Otaiba, necessitating a relocation to Washington DC and a change in career. Now mother to Omar, five, and Samia, three, Abeer concentrates on the designer clothing line which supports charities that empower women and children. The name SemSem means sesame seeds in Arabic and is also her daughters nickname, cementing the mother daughter relationship which is intrinsic to the brands values. Though the pieces are not identical, they share similarities through fabric and colour. It is also a brand that gives back, something that Abeer is very passionate about, ‘SemSem is more than a clothing line,’ the entrepreneur explains, ‘it’s about educating your daughter about giving back at a very young age.’

Tell us about your daily routine?

My life revolves around my children. I take them to school each morning and tuck them into bed at night. The hours in between usually consist of diplomatic duties, designing, exercising and entertaining. Like most working mums, I’m often up late answering emails and catching up on work.

What is one activity that you do every day without fail?

I have breakfast everyday with my kids, they are busy little people and I love hearing their stories first thing in the morning.

How do you unwind?

Kickboxing is very therapeutic for me.

What do you love and miss about living in Dubai?

The Emirates are where the sea and the desert come together and is a second home to me. Rooted in tradition and unapologetically progressive, the Emirates represents the future of the Middle East. Dubai, in particular, is a cultural melting pot and maybe the most diverse place on earth. I miss the cosmopolitan, fast-paced nature of the city, but most of all I miss the people.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Chocolate, but I don’t feel guilty about it!

When did you first become interested in fashion?

I’ve loved fashion since I was a little girl. Every time my parents would go to Europe and come back with clothes for me I would alter everything, adding my own personal touch. My background is in civil engineering, and because of that I have always had an inclination towards high design, attention to detail, high quality, and functionality. I took these principles and combined them with my lifelong love of fashion, and that became SemSem.


Who is your greatest mentor?

My father! He instilled in me the importance of tolerance and the simple notion that everyone deserves respect and acceptance. He urged me to pursue my passions, think globally and solve problems both big and small with an open mind and heart. With his support, I pursued a degree in Civil Engineering, a field dominated by men, and to this day it remains one of the best decisions of my life.

How would you describe beauty?

Beauty is about feeling comfortable in your own skin.

What should every woman have in her wardrobe?

Every woman should have a few statement pieces in her wardrobe. I love the SemSem bomber jacket Blake Lively wore at our Bergdorf Goodman event earlier this year. The bomber jacket evokes youthful energy and is versatile enough to be worn from day to night.

How would you sum up the bond between yourself and your daughter?

Samia exudes joy! She inspires me daily and truly makes me a better person. I am so grateful to be her mum!

What makes a successful mother?

I think success is relative to one’s personal belief system and comes in all shapes and sizes. To me, a successful mother is one who understands the importance of patience, respect, flexibility and above all else, love. My children are my first priority, everything else, including my business, comes second. I try to lead by example and encourage my children to think freely and be true to themselves.

Who would you most like to see wearing SemSem?

Strong independent women and happy, confident young girls.

Who is an iconic woman in your life?

My mother inspired me from a very young age to be a strong, independent woman. She was fearless, kind and knew no strangers. She taught me grace comes from within and to always give to those in need.

Tell us about your proudest moment?

The birth of my children and the birth of my company. I get tremendous satisfaction from being a fashion designer and business owner. But the most meaningful part of life is how we treat others and do what we can to make the world a better place. I have been so fortunate in my own life but growing up in Egypt and travelling extensively, I have seen the difficult challenges so many people face, especially women and children. SemSem is linked to a social mission of investing and supporting women and girls from how we source our fabrics and sew our garments to investing profits back into organisations that are making a difference.

What do you hope to achieve in the next 10 years?

My hope is to create a global lifestyle brand that is also deeply invested in its social mission of supporting women and girls.