Shamsa Alabbar, Founder of her namesake jewellery brand, was inspired by jewellery from a young age, particularly by the pieces her mother wore.
As the daughter of Emirati businessman and retail mogul Mohamed Alabbar, she saw first-hand the opportunities in the UAE for the retail and fashion world and has developed her own successful business in the jewellery industry. While she was at university, her love of jewellery became something more than just a passion when she designed her first piece as a gift for a friend. After she received great feedback, she slowly began developing it into a business and created her own jewellery brand; Shamsa Alabbar. Initially, the line was focused on using Arabic typography to create unusual designs that were modern and geometric in shape. Her signature style quickly became popular with women in the UAE. As the brand developed, Shamsa began to work with stones and different lines and shapes to create pieces that are contemporary and unique. As her journey continues, we discover more about the brand.
How did your brand come to life and when did you know you had this passion for jewellery?
I’ve always loved jewellery, but I think my mother is the main reason why I am so into it. Her choices in jewellery are always the best. As a career, my first jewellery piece was a birthday gift for my best friend Alia. I decided to sketch her name in a very abstract style of Arabic letters, and I turned it into a pendant. Once I had it made, I posted a picture on my personal Instagram and a lot of people began asking where it was from and how they could get one. So, I started creating more of the pendants. I realised it was a great business, and I went ahead with it. The brand began with very basic branding and packaging, and it developed gradually into what it is today.
What challenges did you face along the way in taking it from an initial organic brand to what it is today and what are the challenges you are still facing?
I graduated as a graphic designer, so jewellery design was something totally new to me. Designing and coming up with the creative ideas is the fun part, but the technical part is always done by the production team who turn my vision into reality. I was lucky that I started the brand at a time when Instagram was just getting popular and I was very active on the platform.
What is a stone or design feature that you like to see in your collections?
When I first started, I used only gold and diamonds. After a while, I began adding in coloured stones such as malachite, opal, and onyx. I was more comfortable with just gold and diamonds but experimenting with colours and different stones alleviated the brand and gave it a fresh new look.
Our region has traditionally been a market that believes in branded jewellery, but now we are in a phase where young, unique jewellery brands are growing in popularity – what is your take on this?
I think in the region we love the idea of branded jewellery – Cartier, Piaget, all those Maisons. But I think now women want to stand out and they are looking for pieces that tell a story. They want to be the first to wear something and to be seen in something unusual. Emirati women are being more experimental and that is what my brand is about. I design for women who appreciate art and design, who are not afraid of change, and most importantly who take pride in their culture and tradition because it represents them and their values as an integral part of who they are.
What are your thoughts on supporting Arab talent?
I love supporting Arab talent, especially women. It is something very close to my heart. All my sisters are in the fashion and business industry, and we all work hard. I am grateful when I feel supported by others, it makes me want to give back and support other women out there, because I appreciate the hard work they do. I appreciate all women in the UAE that are working on their own vision and I especially love to support Emirati brands.
What does Emirati Women’s Day mean to you and what is a message you would give to the Emirati ladies who are also on a journey to success?
I would say that we are all here for each other, and that I’m proud of all Emirati women. I would tell them to follow their dreams and take risks. I think it’s a day of celebrating our achievements and celebrating ourselves as women. It’s very empowering and it makes us want to work harder and put more into what we do.
What is your professional motto?
Pressure creates diamonds. This is a sentence I really love and I have it on my office wall. I feel that when I’m put under pressure, I am able to really shine and give it my all.
Who is a role model you look up to and what would you tell this person?
It would be my mother, especially now that I’m a mother myself. I know how it feels to take care of young children and put everything on hold to raise them. I always appreciate her and the time she dedicates to us. She also inspired me to do what I do today, and she is my number one supporter. Whenever I receive a sample of each new jewellery piece, I show it to her for her approval and recommendations, as she has the most exquisite taste in fine jewellery, which I have always looked up to. People think that Emirati Women’s Day is to celebrate the achievements of working women, but it’s also about celebrating Emirati mothers because that’s the biggest achievement of all.
As a mother of two, how do you juggle a work/life balance?
I have to be honest, it’s not easy. I dedicate most of my time to my kids, and they are my number one priority. I am privileged to be a business owner, and work from the comfort of wherever I am. I connect with my team on a daily basis, and we meet once a week to discuss our weekly progress. However, my work starts in the evenings when the kids are asleep. I’ve always been more creative at night. I thought that when I had kids, I would put the business on hold and spend all my time with them, but the fact that I can do both makes me even prouder, although it stresses me out sometimes. I want my kids to see me as more than just their mum.
What are you currently working on?
We are working on a new collection. We have just launched the new Kufi-inspired letters and we are working on some icons and motifs for our new collection, inspired by the beauty of the region.
What is the first piece of jewellery you remember growing up?
The first piece of jewellery I remember owning was a Cartier Love bracelet with an engraving of my name that was gift from my parents. I was about 11 years old when I received it and wore it throughout my high school and university years. I now have it polished and stored to pass on to my little girl. It is the most iconic piece of jewellery I own because of its sentimental value.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Ambitious, experimental and creative.
This past year has been very difficult for all – is there a lesson you have learnt or something you have changed in your life after the pandemic?
It was a wakeup call to start working even harder. I didn’t panic, I always believed like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I think the lesson was to keep the faith, be grateful and never give up.
Where is the first destination you would like to travel to right now?
The United States! We have spent every summer there since I was a kid and I have a lot of happy memories there. I feel like this year out of all the years, I am missing it the most.
What does it mean to you to have Expo 2020 in Dubai?
It’s such a big achievement for Dubai and the UAE, and I’m proud of it. It’s a great opportunity for Dubai to be the first city to host the World Expo in the Middle East and North Africa and to inspire and empower positive change in the region.
What are your thoughts about sustainability in the jewellery industry?
The jewellery business is kind of sustainable because gold lasts forever and jewellery pieces can be passed on through the generations as I have done with my own pieces. It is also important as a business owner to think of sustainability as part of your business model.
How would you describe your brand in one word?
Can I use two words?! Unusually beautiful. This experimental brand has been designed for art lovers! People who appreciate beauty in the most unusual things.
This year the UAE celebrates 50 years – what is a message you would like to share as the country reaches this milestone?
I am very lucky to be from the generation that witnessed the UAE develop through its first 50 years which was a huge inspiration. Under the guidance of our rulers, we have always felt empowered to do more and grow with our country. For the next 50 years, I wish even more success and happiness to the UAE and its people.