Spot a boxy suit in a pop-colour palette and Arwa Al Banawi instantly comes to mind. The Saudi Arabian designer, who spends her time between Jeddah and Dubai, has established an identity of streetwear inspired tailoring and androgynous silhouettes in a spectrum influenced by psychedelic art. “I was brought up in an artistic home, my mother is a chef and also a merge of Audrey Hepburn and a cool bohemian artist, and my father has a dapper style,” Arwa Al Banawi tells MOJEH.
“My memories of growing up include road trips through Europe, trying different cuisines and visiting museums and galleries.” Arwa Al Banawi translates her frequent travels, culinary adventures and her mother’s penchant for chic dressing into functional fabrics with flair — think fun hues, exaggerated shoulders and statement tees that read “let’s go on a trip together” — designing clothes for a contemporary woman on the go.
But as times change, and fashion enters a new normal, Arwa Al Banawi, like many other brands in the region, has been forced to adapt in order to remain authentic and true to the woman that wears the label. Deciding to leave the fashion calendar behind, the Saudi designer delves into what’s next for the brand, talks cooking in lockdown and tells MOJEH why fashion needs to continue to share its story.
Before the coronavirus lockdown came into effect, what were you working on?
I was working on a new collaboration that will resume inshallah soon and I was planning to go to Mykonos. It’s my favourite place and I tend to visit regularly in the summer.
How has coronavirus impacted upon your business?
We had a push back in production so we couldn’t continue the Ramadan capsule as planned. For to keep staff safe, we stopped production in our atelier for over a month.
What changes have you had to implement to your business to diversify?
After a lot of reflection and thought into our future as a fashion house, and for our customer loyalty, we have decided to not follow the fashion calendar this year and maybe even after this year.
Can you tell us a bit more about this new format?
If we see that it makes sense, we will drop collections at our own pace, creating timeless pieces for our customers, pieces to love and enjoy continuously at all times. By only creating orders that are driven by customer demand, we hope to become a more sustainable, responsible brand.
What is this period of turbulence likely to mean for the future of the regional fashion industry?
I think it’s affecting the industry as whole not just the region, but I believe a change is needed and as creatives we should adapt.
What are your thoughts about how the industry will have to rebuild and reinvent itself post crisis?
Brand are already having to modify their practice and develop. Showrooms and shows are mostly cancelled for the year, so the industry has to change with the times we’re currently facing.
What needs to be done to insure the regional fashion industry can survive this crisis?
Support to emerging designers is always needed — in the current crisis and beyond. There will always be new wave of artists and creatives and support from the industry is always needed, in my opinion, to keep the community alive and growing.
What are your thoughts on skipping or combining seasonal collections?
I think every brand should do what they feel is right for them, go where the wave is taking them.
What advice could you give to others in the industry upon getting through this crisis?
I’d say be patient and dive into creating dreams and continue to share your story.
And what is the single biggest thing that you need from the regional fashion consumers at this time?
I think supporting their local business is important, local department stores, local designers — so they can grow and adapt during these times of uncertainty.
Finally, how are you trying to stay positive during this difficult time?
Working. Work hasn’t stopped for me, I’m working daily on my sketches, meetings on zoom planning out the new year and end of season, looking into hiring young creatives with a fresh mind to join the team. I’ve also been cooking almost daily. I love cooking, I love to bake as well and I’m watching Seinfeld it’s the funniest show ever. I have also enjoyed spending time with my my parents, I haven’t had spent this much time with them in a very long time so it’s nice to reconnect.
SHOP THE BRAND
Titled A’la Safar, Arwa Al Banawi’s SS20 collection reflects the ‘70s era with a nod to futurism. Inspired by Andy Warhol’s prints, the silhouettes feature boxy suits with utility pockets and loose baggy pants, as well as trench coats and dresses in psychedelic colours of faded tie-dye, purple, pastels and bold blues. Arwaalbanawi.com
- Interview by Lucy Wildman