By Ola Diab
Fashion entrepreneurs, co-founders and sisters, Maqdeem and Aisha Al Naama, talk about their two-year old brand and their latest Qatar National Day inspired collection.
After debuting with a revolutionary coloured abaya collection, Maqdeem has returned with a fifth collection, MAxMaqdeem, in commemoration of Qatar National Day 2017. Sisters and cofounders of Maqdeem, Maqdeem and Aisha Al Naama, released their first National Day-inspired collection early December 2017. The collection, however, is not of expected abayas, jalabiyas or any other traditional wear. Maqdeem brings its first ready-to-wear collection of T-shirts and sweaters in collaboration with Qatari artist Maryam Al Mulla (MA). The collection pieces featured national colours including white and maroon with cultural characters and faces by Al Mulla.
“There’s a lot of sense of patriotism especially after the situation in the region and Qatar. People want to always show their support. We thought this was a great opportunity to do something for National Day,” says Aisha. “Honestly, I never thought we’re going to do sweaters and T-Shirts. It just came up like that. Honestly, I was at home doing nothing. I told Aisha, ‘National Day is coming up!’” Maqdeem adds. But they were not interested in a typical National Day collection. “I believe a lot in collaborations in general. The more you collaborate with people, the richer the experience,” Aisha says. “Then this idea came across and I told Maqdeem why don’t we collaborate with a Qatari artist where the artist comes up with some artwork designs that reflect the culture and identity of Qatar. I don’t want to say specifically National Day because we don’t it to be straightforward. We don’t want to do something too obvious like a flag or map. No, we want something more creative and shows a sense of Qatari identity, and also appeals to the international audience,” Aisha explains. Maqdeem decided to collaborate with Al Mulla where she produced exclusive artwork to Maqdeem’s collection.
“There’s a lot of sense of patriotism especially after the situation in the region and Qatar. People want to always show their support. We thought this was a great opportunity to do something for National Day.”
The MAxMaqdeem launch included an event at Luminous Café at Four Seasons Doha, prior to Qatar National Day (December 18), on December 16 and 17 where Al Mulla also exhibited her artwork. The collection remained on display until January 2018.
Named after the 25-year-old Qatari entrepreneur Maqdeem Al Naama, Maqdeem is a young contemporary fashion label founded in 2015. “The brand seeks to create exceptional pieces of affordable luxury garments that finely blend modern style, comfort and Arab cultural values. These are the qualities that represent Maqdeem as a modern day women, who is treading forward into the future with courage and determination, holding on the rich history and heritage of their forefathers,” says Maqdeem. The name of the brand refers to a ‘Sinbook’, an iconic traditional dhow from the region that has embarked on numerous journeys across uncharted waters that has embedded in the locals the love for travelling and exploring different cultures.
Once established, Maqdeem was later joined by her 28-year-old sister, Aisha, who has been a crucial partner in the brand’s latest collections. “I always kind of there, giving feedback and helping out,” says Aisha. “Even if my sister wasn’t with me in the picture from the beginning, I would always go back to her for advice, always, the finishing, fabrics. When you have a brand, you want criticism; you don’t want people to always say, ‘Wow. Nice!’ You need to improve…You won’t find someone to be honest 100% like your sister,” adds Maqdeem.
Maqdeem ventured into abaya designing at a young age. “I always used to make abayas for my sister and me as a kind of a hobby. I used to get a lot of comments that my abayas are nice. So I began to make abayas for my cousins then I began to get requests from people I don’t know. They made requests and I used to do it for them. I didn’t consider it a business,” explains Maqdeem. But it was only after she graduated from Qatar University with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 2014 that Maqdeem released her first abaya collection with six pieces. “I was very focused on my education. It was very important to me to get above 95%. I was always focused on being an exceptional student,” she says.
The brand is one of the first to bring out colourful abayas back in 2015 then it continued to bring something new every time. “People until now know me for my coloured abayas, this is what I standout for. But that doesn’t mean that I will only do that,” says Maqdeem.
Maqdeem’s debut collection, Chi, featured about 30 colourful abayas that were sold out within three days. Inspired by an Asian spa called “CHI”, the name in Chinese symbolises a strong life force which is believed to make any human feel alive. The bright and lively Chi collection aims to make one feel lively and radiate positivity. “Until today, it’s in people’s minds. For example, I still get requests from people. They say they’ve heard I do coloured abayas and if I you have any ready,” says Maqdeem, who says she’s received requests from the US, Malaysia, Tunisia, and of course, the neighbouring GCC countries. “They don’t just appeal to the Qatari market. They appeal to the international market and we’ve received orders from people who are not specifically khalijis. They want to wear these abayas. I know lots of expats and they look at the abayas and want one. Because it’s kind of in-between a abaya and a dress,” explains Aisha.
“I feel like once you enter this field, you have to accept any criticism. When you start a new initiative, you will get criticism, it’s a must. Then people get used to it and it becomes something normal.”
Soon after, Maqdeem released two other abaya collections: Sadu, a collection inspired by the traditional Bedouin fabric; and Emancipate, a collection aimed to encourage women to set free from life restrictions and it is reflected in the colourful designs. Being unconventional, Maqdeem was criticised for attempting to change local traditions and culture. “I feel like once you enter this field, you have to accept any criticism. When you start a new initiative, you will get criticism, it’s a must. Then people get used to it and it becomes something normal. Just like when abayas used to be closed and now they’re open. At the beginning, people did not accept it. Now all the girls wear open abayas,” explains Maqdeem. “But I also learned something from the criticism. In the beginning, I was very focused on the coloured abayas that I didn’t even think of including black abayas…I can focus on coloured abayas and include black abayas to satisfy everyone’s tastes,” she adds.
“We have lots of abaya brands here but I think when it comes to Maqdeem, it’s more about using good quality fabrics, focusing on natural fibres and things like that. Obviously, the evolution from abayas then to the last collection, we introduced for the first time, jalabiyas for Ramadan 2017. We know there is a market for jalabiyas in Doha especially during the Ramadan season but it was our first try,” adds Aisha.
The National Day-themed capsule collection comes months after Maqdeem released a colourful collection of jalabiyas or kaftans in Ramadan 2017 called Adaptation SS’17, which according to Aisha, was inspired by the environment. “The designs were basically inspired from the desert and desert plants – succulents and cactuses. We know these plants are beautiful but they are also desert plants. There is beauty in the desert and this environment. We wanted to translate that into a collection,” she says.
“I can tell you that the inspiration is not limited to a certain thing, culture, environment, or different countries, especially since we travel a lot. The idea of Maqdeem is that there’s always movement - to travel the world, to discover.”
With every new collection, Maqdeem and Aisha try to find inspiration from their adventures. “I can tell you that the inspiration is not limited to a certain thing, culture, environment, or different countries, especially since we travel a lot. The idea of Maqdeem is that there’s always movement - to travel the world, to discover,” explains Maqdeem. In addition to running Maqdeem, the young women hold full-time jobs as engineers and are frequent travellers as well. Aisha recently launched a travel blog aishaalnaama.com.
“From the launch of the previous collections to now, I think one of the main areas of change is focus on fabric. This is something we’re up to now,” says Aisha. The brand is now focusing on studying and exploring fabrics. The capsule collection is of soft high quality cotton-based fabric. “We don’t want to use any synthetic or commercialised fabrics,” says Aisha. The brand’s focus is to always use natural fabrics. “With every collection, I learned something new. I learned the tastes of people, what the majority likes. What colours they like or don’t like. The fabrics they like and don’t like. For example, I really love natural fabrics. Most girls here love crepe, which is polyester. I honestly prefer more natural fabrics. Both my sister and I focus more on natural even if it’s polyester,” explains Maqdeem.
As local fashion entrepreneurs running a young fashion label that has already launched about five collections, Maqdeem and Aisha have faced the challenges of the industry in Qatar. “Since I’ve begun in this field, I’ve faced two big challenges: the fabric, there is no variety, getting the fabrics in the quality I want; and production, good production,” says Maqdeem, adding that their latest MAxMaqdeem collection was produced abroad. “When you don’t have direct access to the fabrics themselves, this is one of the [challenging] things,” adds Aisha. As Maqdeem brings a new concept with every collection, new challenges arise. “The textile industry is very big so it doesn’t mean because you’re into clothing, you’ll be able to know everything…There are thousands and thousands of different specs you can choose from. It depends on what you’re looking for,” Aisha concludes.