The SemSem Touch



Mon, 16 Oct 2017 - 09:00 GMT


Mon, 16 Oct 2017 - 09:00 GMT

Abeer Al Otaiba photo courtesy of SemSem

Abeer Al Otaiba photo courtesy of SemSem

Cairo – 16 October 2017: Alexandrian-born engineer-turned fashion- designer Abeer Al Otaiba has made quite an impact on the global fashion industry since she debuted on the international scene.

Taking serious steps to avoid controversial inhumane factory labor, Al Otaiba casts the everyday woman in her photo shoots. Always in search of different charities to support her collections, the philanthropist constantly tries to give back and improve the lives of women and children around the world.

Today married to Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE Ambassador to the United States, and living with her family in McLean, Virginia, Abeer's love for fashion began at an early age when she would customize her clothes by giving them the now-called “SemSem touch.”

Inspired by her relationship with her daughter and her Eastern and Western cultural upbringing, she creates wearable works of art that balance beauty, texture and movement. Most recently, Al Otaiba’s work featured at the United Nations headquarters in New York showed her Ramadan collection.

She’s partnering up with the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women in Egypt for her latest philanthropic endeavor, with the goal of making a difference in the lives of women in households by focusing on their own well-being as well their families and societies to become fully independent decision-makers.

In an exclusive interview, Al Otaiba talks about striking the perfect balance between fast fashion and philanthropy.

What made you leave a career in civil engineering for fashion, and how does your experience in engineering help you in fashion design?

Engineering offered the discipline that has allowed me to grow in fashion. There is a fine dance between restraint and creative freedom in both arenas.

I am proud of the technical background that engineering offered me—but I am passionate about fashion and excited to be a part of the landscape.

Photos courtesy of SemSem

What first got you interested in fashion?

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved expressing myself through fashion! Every time my parents would go to Europe and come back with clothes, I would alter everything, adding my own personal touch.

What makes your designs different from any other designers?

I consider SemSem to be a global collection, born from my experiences living in different parts of the world and a strong love for my Arab heritage.

I focus on offering young girls of up to 12 years of age looks that are complementary to the women’s collection.I avoid head-to-toe matching by selecting textiles that work well together in the form of girls’ silhouettes that are a nod to the women’s look.

Why did you decide to focus on girls fashion?

Being a mother opened a piece of my heart I didn’t know exists. SemSem was named after my daughter Samia’s nickname—she is, without a doubt, the inspiration behind the brand, and the special bond mothers and daughters share really inspires me.

My love for fashion and my desire to build a brand I love for girls and women was always the main driver.

Photos courtesy of SemSem

In your latest photoshoot you brought in an unconventional model that most designers wouldn’t use, what is the message that you were trying to illustrate?

I try not to get hung up on norms so I chose a striking, confident model who wore my clothes beautifully. Often when flipping through a magazine, I see the same type of model, but SemSem is about empowering women and making an impact.

I think all women have the power to do this, and I try to set this example in all aspects of my business.

Tell us more about your charity projects. Can fashion have a positive impact on the community?

SemSem is linked to a social mission of investing in and supporting women and girls from how we source our fabrics and sew our garments to supporting organizations that are making a difference.

Through our website and social media campaigns, we invite our followers to get involved by submitting charities that inspire them for consideration.

Any charity that empowers women and protects children is very close to my heart, and most recently, we have partnered with Every Mother Counts, Women for Women International, and The Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women in Egypt.

In an industry where fast fashion thrives using unpleasant labor conditions, we want to be at the forefront of instigating change by being aware of the social impact of how collections are made.

Photos courtesy of SemSem

What inspires your lines?

While we are informed of up-and-coming trends, we also strive to set ourselves apart. My designs are inspired by the Eastern and Western cultures I grew up in.

A balance of strength and beautiful fragility through movement and texture are found in both women’s and girls’ collections. Informed by the cultural aesthetics of the Middle East and Mediterranean, gentle architectural layers and dimension punctuated by delicate restraint are hallmarks of my designs.

Tell us more about your mission to support and invest in women’s and children’s well-being around the world through your designs.

SemSem is a collection with a conscience. As a mother raising a young girl, it is hugely important for me to support and call attention to women supporting women.

The idea of giving back and being philanthropically active is bigger than corporate social responsibility—it is personal and it is how I operate day in and day out.

Each season, we choose a different charity because I understand the idea of overcoming personal challenges, and I am dedicated to supporting women not only in the form of funds donated but also in the form of advocacy and knowledge shared.

Sometimes education, mentorship and friendship are equally, if not more helpful than funding.

To me, the most meaningful part of life is how we treat others and do what we can to make the world a better place.

As women, we are empowered by our actions, emotions and struggles as well as our ability to balance a multitude of things while giving back to our community.

I aspire for these moments and feelings as well as all the women who inspire me daily to push the limits.

Photos courtesy of SemSem

Tell us about your experience showcasing your Ramadan collection at the United Nations in New York.

The event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York was incredible, and I met so many interesting women from around the world.

I left the event in New York feeling invigorated and inspired. SemSem is a collection created to embrace and champion the fashion-forward elegance of women around the world who are challenged to strike a fine balance between expressing one's cultural and creative identity.

Our Ramadan collection reflected a shift toward modest elegance and celebrated a woman's decision to express herself through the complexity of subtle layers, bold colors and intricate patterns.

It celebrated the advent and excitement around the modest fashion movement and empowers women in any region to showcase their individual style without being revealing, and I think the guests at the event responded to my vision for the collection.

When designing, I was inspired by the movement of Francesco Scavullo's 1960's couture images of Verushka. Traditional kaftan shapes come alive using a fresh take on cut and textile patterns.

[I use] a bold color palette of crimson, alabaster and jet, covered in a mosaic pattern of crescent moons and stars; a symbol of my heritage.

Photos courtesy of SemSem

What’s in the pipeline for your next collection, who will you be partnering with and what’s the next cause that you want to support?

We just wrapped up showcasing our Resort 2018 Collection in Paris last month and will be in stores by late October of this year.

We are partnering with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

The meaningful work they participate in promotes women and children’s health in fragile settings. I’m honored to shed a light on their mission.

Who’s your favorite fashion designer?

Christian Louboutin shoes are a staple in my closet, and I have been collecting Chanel baby purses and backpacks since I was 18.

I also love jewelry that evokes a memory or feeling; I have a few rings and bracelets incorporating my children’s names that I treasure. Egyptian jeweler Azza Fahmy is a favorite for statement earrings and necklaces.

Which do you prefer, elegance or comfort?

I applaud women who ignore discomfort for their favorite pair of heels.

But when it comes to clothing, for me, being comfortable with the style and fit definitely translate to elegance and confidence.



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