Saudi fashion designer Arwa Al Banawi started her brand back in 2015 when there were very few designers from Saudi Arabia breaking into the international market.
Seven years later and she is relaunching with a new outlook that reflects today’s market. Inspired by the post-COVID demand for digital capabilities and a growing interest in sustainability Arwa Al Banawi has reworked and realigned her brand values to ensure her company is relevant, up to date and appealing to today’s consumers. This month Arwa will launch her Resort 2022-23 collection, a series of pieces inspired by her mother and her upbringing in both Western and Eastern societies. Here we find out more about the latest collection and the future vision for the brand.
We know you are relaunching your brand, can tell us a little about this?
We have rebranded with sustainability in mind. Sustainability is a very important topic, not just in fashion but in every industry and it’s really beautiful how the world is focusing on strengthening their company’s core values by being sustainable. The COVID period gave us the chance to think about our sustainability strategy at a time when the world felt as though it had quietened down. We have been focusing on this in terms of working with less paper when it comes to our packaging, using more sustainable materials etc. and we are also introducing a pre-order model for our new collections to ensure we do not over-produce. We are now working only with retailers that will benefit from this model by not working on consignment deals for example. That is where our core values have been realigned and I’m so proud and happy that we are here, we are fully focused and we have regained our power by looking at these elements and perfecting them in the way we are working.
Why have you decided to relaunch in this way and what is your vision moving forward?
When the COVID-19 pandemic happened a lot of changes took place in the fashion industry. Firstly fashion shows were cancelled, so we as designers had to start thinking about how we could reach our consumers not just physically, but also digitally, and we had to consider how we could make it a creative and fun experience. So the decision to relaunch was first to give our consumers an exciting experience, even when they aren’t visiting us in our shop. I decided to close my shop in Dubai Design District because the focus shifted to online. We didn’t have a lot of visitors to the store for around a year, so I wanted to focus on that digital element. We are launching our e-commerce very soon!
The second point was to focus on sustainability as that’s something we consider to be important as a business. We want to minimise waste and work with materials that won’t harm our environment. So we have been working on substituting these elements with other elements that are good for the company, the environment and the community, while of course still keeping the core values of the brand and the luxury element.
What can you share with us on the latest and upcoming collections?
The latest collection is our Resort 22-23 collection. Something else we have changed is when we deliver our collections. We went off-calendar for a while and now we are back on the calendar but we are showcasing our collections in pre-season; so Pre-Fall and Resort and buyers can continue to order the collections until the release of the main Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter collections. This gives us more freedom to launch earlier in the season and to develop a collection that is more diverse and versatile.
The Resort collection “Le Majda” was named after my mother. Part of our brand ethos is to always have a story and a link to the Arab world and the Arab woman and we are celebrating her every season. Highlighting my Saudi culture is something that’s very important to me in every season and it’s part of our brand story.
Who is the woman that you are designing for?
The woman I design for is confident and independent. She’s not afraid to share her voice or to speak her mind. Her self-confidence is the most beautiful tool, (for me beauty is not complete without self-confidence). She is a woman that loves to be stylish but also loves to wear something practical, and something that has a story. She is a woman that loves to travel, she’s sophisticated, and she appreciates wearing something authentic and tailormade. She enjoys looking confident and beautiful and that is the main point for me in fashion, making women feel beautiful.
Over the years you have seen the fashion industry in the region grow, how would you assess the landscape today?
Yes, the industry has definitely grown in the region and I’m so proud to have been one of the designers that started early on. I’m witnessing more changes happening and more designers coming onto the scene and it’s beautiful to see the number of Arab designers increasing and to share our true creativity with the world. It’s amazing and I’m enjoying seeing all of these changes take place and come to life.
How have you grown or developed as a person over your career so far?
I would say my growth has definitely been more on the business side. When I started the brand I wanted to share my story with the world. Over the years I feel that my understanding and my growth in understanding the business side of fashion has grown tremendously. When your brand grows, you have to grow as a business and I’m happy that I’ve developed skills to understand how to do that.
What has been the biggest challenge so far and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge has been the COVID-19 pandemic because, at the end of the day, fashion is about celebrating and that was something we couldn’t do during this period. The creation process is a beautiful journey and so it was challenging when we couldn’t have any fashion shows. For me, a fashion show or presentation is so important because I want to share the energy and creative feeling that I have with the audience when they see the collection live. So not being able to do that was a challenge for me because no matter how amazing it is to see things through a screen, it’s also so important as a creative person to give that energy physically and to feel that electricity that can only be felt face-to-face. So that was a great challenge but it is something we have been working on and studying, as well as hiring new team members to help us with this and I’m happy that we have overcome this challenge. We are now launching our e-commerce and we have developed a new Instagram page to help customers understand what the feeling of the brand is all about.
In this issue we are celebrating the upcoming Saudi National Day – what does this day mean to you?
When I started my brand one thing that was very important to me and still is, was the fact that I’m a Saudi woman and that I’m Arab. I wanted to share my voice through the brand and I wanted the world to see how much beauty we have in our country and how beautiful our culture is. So on Saudi National Day to I want to say how beautiful our country is and how proud I am to be from Saudi Arabia.
Every season there is an element that I discover or rediscover from our culture in my collections. There are still places in Saudi Arabia that I haven’t visited and there are a lot of beautiful landscapes and cultural places that are different from one city to another. It’s a really beautiful country that has a lot of incredible details and stories. For me, it’s very important to share that through that brand because I’m proud of it. I’m proud of who I am and of bridging that culture between East and West.
I was travelling from a very young age, I spend a lot of my upbringing in Germany and Switzerland and I picked up on that underground style in Europe, so when it came to launching my own brand in my mid-twenties, I naturally saw that I was bridging east and west into one story because that’s who I am and what I saw throughout my childhood. I’m very proud of where I’m from and I’m also grateful to have had that experience and travels instilled in my creative journey.
What is a message that you would send to your country on this occasion?
I would love to say that we are living at a very productive moment in Saudi Arabia and I am so proud and honoured to say I’m from there, especially as a woman and especially at this time with all the changes that are happening in the country. It is so beautiful to see and witness our culture being celebrated and we have reached a lot of highs globally in the last few years. It’s amazing.
What can you tell us specifically about the fashion and creative industries in Saudi Arabia?
I can say that it’s growing, there is a lot of potential, and there are so many creative individuals in Saudi, not just in fashion.
What is something that you would still like to see happen in the future?
I’m someone who appreciates the old-school mentality. I still sketch with a pen and paper and I still love to see and touch fabrics, not just order them from a screen. So as we move forward in the creative industries, I would also like to see that we keep valuing the originality of things and how they happen because there is still an important element in knowing how things are made. There are a lot of artisans in the world who still love to work that way – from fabric suppliers to leather-makers – there are a lot of factories in the world that no matter how much technology they introduce in their production, they still value working very closely to the creative side and there’s still a lot of people working, rather than just machines. So what I would like to see in the future is that as an industry we keep growing that story and support for designers, but at the same time, value how things are made. And this is something we should also be sharing with our customers because I want the new generation to appreciate this creativity.
Who are some of the designers that have influenced or inspired you throughout your career?
Yves Saint Laurent and Gianni Versace – I own so many of my mum’s vintage suits and pieces by them from the seventies and eighties and so they influenced me until this day and I believe they have influenced the whole industry as a whole because they were ahead of their time.
What else is in the pipeline for you in the near future?
We are launching our e-commerce very soon and I do have some very exciting things that I’m working on. I really value the Arab woman and the Saudi woman in particular. I love what I do and at the same time I love celebrating my culture through the brand and I feel there is still a lot that I want to discover in relation to this.
What is the motto that you live by?
Appreciate every moment, remember why you started whatever you started and always remember who you are no matter where life takes you. Do what makes you happy because that will make you stronger.