How Omani designers are changing with the times

Story Antara Bose

Many use the first month of the New Year – particularly if you’ve chosen to follow your passion – to make plans for how they want to pursue their dreams in the months to come.
The second month is used to put these plans into action, and to figure out just how they’d be doing this. We spoke to fashion designers in Oman to see how they could continue to follow their passion and explore new ideas, but also continue to ensure their work represented who they are and where they’ve come from.
T Magazine spoke to four fashion designers in the Sultanate to find out how they were fusing global trends with Omani traditions, to bring unique versions of clothing seldom found elsewhere.

Manah Ali Mohammed Al Balushi
Lamsat Fakar

What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently in the process of creating traditional designs that are being developed for the new generation. I chose this because traditional designs are very close to my heart. Since a young age, I’ve been fascinated by all of the materials that my grandmothers wore and wove into clothing, and I absolutely adore working with them.

What are the sensitivities Omanis consider when it comes to fashion?
The taste of the Omani customer is always changing, and differs from one buyer to the next. I’ve seen that Omanis love work of an excellent nature, one that reflects quality but, at the same time, they are fond of works that reflect and follow the traditional characteristics of the country.
The Omani market has a lot of competition and continuity, and this becomes both a challenge and an opportunity to be resilient. This helps my distinctive style of work to attract customers.

What are the materials you use to make your clothing?
My choices are always characterised by the selection of rare and old materials and the integration of raw materials with each other. I prefer to use materials of an Oriental origin, which I have always admired, and try to use these across the different types of products I create.

What are the challenges you are currently facing?
I have always felt that when there is no difficulty, there is no success. At the moment, there are four challenges I can perceive: competitors, rental rates, the costs of labour, and the time it takes to complete important procedures.

What sort of clothes do people prefer during this time of the year?
The weather’s been pretty cold for the last few months. During colder periods of the year, people begin to wear slightly heavier clothing, sometimes with a bit of velvet, if we’re talking about fashion.

From where do you source your materials?
When it comes to materials from the Orient, I prefer Sur. Otherwise, many of my raw materials are sourced from India.

Who are your inspirations?
My inspiration is my mother, who taught me much of what I know, and encouraged my husband and I, and provided me her support at every step I have taken on the ladder of success.

Wafa Said Juma Al Zadjali
Yolanda Design

What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, I am focusing on a collection of coloured abayas. I have chosen this as my newest subject, because an abaya is a representation of a lady who is both powerful and elegant, and I love adding colours to my designs.

What are sensitivities Omanis consider when it comes to fashion?
In keeping with the Omani traditions, I have certain criteria I follow regarding shape as well as colour, so before I launch any new collection or series of designs, I myself wear these clothes in public in order to gauge and see the reactions of people, and whether or not these are good to go.

What are the materials you use to make your clothing?
I do enjoy working with different kinds of materials, and I do sometimes prefer the ability to mix and match them. Most of my fabrics and clothes revolve around silk.

What are the challenges you are currently facing?
Unfortunately, designers who choose to sell good quality merchandise made from better grades of fabrics do sometimes feel undercut by other vendors, some of whom sell lower quality clothing at cheaper prices.

What sort of clothing do people prefer in this country when winter comes around?
When it comes to women, they prefer basic, simple abayas with a heavy fabric.

From where do you source your materials?
My materials are sourced from Turkey, Italy, India and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Who are your inspirations?
I do like to mix international styles with a touch of Arab culture, because I take inspiration from both. I am inspired by the style of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser Al Misnad, the wife of the former Emir of Qatar, and Emilio Pucci, who is known for his colourful, patterned geometric prints.

Ahlam Al Ramadhani
Dreams Boutique

What are you working on at the moment?
I have graduated from the Scientific College of Design with a bachelor’s degree with honours in the field of fashion design. For this winter, I’ve designed a range of costumes. It features bright colours to suit the country’s culture. I used a variety of materials that are luxurious and attractive.

Why have you chosen these sorts of designs and styles to work on?
I chose designs that are in line with the Omani culture and the beauty of its fashion to highlight the traditional Omani taste. At the same time, I integrated it with a modern touch. I have also noticed high demands from customers for this type of fashion, because the nature of modern life needs practicality and style and, at the same time, we must preserve our Omani identity and be proud of it.

What are the sensitivities Omanis consider when it comes to fashion?
Omanis are among those who adhere to their customs and traditions the most, and this is what every visitor to Oman observes. Omanis have distinctive cultural characteristics passed down through generations. They are a people living the present in the spirit of the rich past. We, as designers, design in rhyme with Omani adherence to the customs of their true Islamic religion. Hence we see that Omani fashion is characterised by beauty and attractiveness, but without neglecting the element of decency and moderation.

What are the materials you use to make your clothing?
My selection for materials is based on the design itself, and it varies from one design to another. Mostly, I prefer handmade fabrics that portray sophistication and luxury. I love the use of silk cloth and materials with distinctive patterns – without exaggeration or affectation, yet comfortable and stylish. I also admire vibrant and attractive colours.

What are the challenges you are currently facing?
The most critical challenge is to maintain this success while seeking advancement in growing customer demand that has diverse preferences and tastes.

What sort of clothing do people prefer in this country when winter comes around?
Since Omanis are the largest section of my customers, I can tell you that they prefer to retain light fabrics considering there is no significant climatic change in Oman between summer and winter.

From where do you source your materials?
I source most of my materials from the Omani market, which is assorted and rich with fabrics sourced locally and internationally.

Who are your inspirations?
I am inspired by the Omani heritage as well as the practices adopted by civilisations around the world, with an added modern touch to satisfy the contemporary and practical life of today.

Rajaa Al Subhi
Lormar Boutique

What are you working on at the moment?
I am a fashion designer and the owner of Lormar boutique. I’m still working on designing abayas for the winter. I have chosen this, because this is a reflection of my own taste, and working on something like this makes me feel really comfortable. The feedback from my customers also inspires me to continue.

What are the sensitivities Omanis look at when it comes to fashion?
Omani women have different traditional dresses in each region and they show interests in making them both special and reflective of modern day trends. Many of my designs are available to wear and are worn on social occasions and National Days, which makes me proud.

What are the materials you use to make your clothing?
I use a lot of fabrics but the one we call ‘brisam’ is among the best because it is very luxurious, especially when it’s used in traditional designs.

What are the challenges you are currently facing?
The challenges that I feel are before me include a lack of internal marketing for Omani fashion designers, a limited availability of fashion designer courses in Oman, work pressure, especially during Ramadan and Eid Al Adha, because I have other responsibilities at that time as well, and the issue of financial liquidity.

What sort of clothing do people prefer in this country when winter comes around?
During winters Omani women prefer winter abayas that, with a touch of heavy
fabrics, can give the appearance of a coat or jacket.

From where do you source your materials?
There is no specific place, but I do source them from several places, both inside and outside Oman.

Who are your inspirations?
My inspiration comes from my daughters. Both of them sport traditional Omani designs, as well as international styles, particularly those that are rooted in the Victorian era.