As an intern, interior-design student Shatha Al Mulla was part of the team that created the current Emirates Business Class Lounge at Dubai International Airport. The 25-year-old, who has a degree in arts and design, with a major in interiors, went on to explore the fashion side of design, and launched her label, Shatha Essa, in June.
“I always had the interest and passion, but having had no previous work experience in fashion, I had to hold myself from jumping on the train too quick. I started off in beta mode in 2015, with a one-off collection called Threads Dubai. The 67 handmade abayas were sold out in less than a month, purely through word of mouth. I then decided to unveil the Shatha Essa label,” she says.
Al Mulla says she wants the label to focus on fine craftsmanship, exceptional quality and a personal, handmade touch. This is reflected in Shatha Essa's kick-off collection of bespoke abayas, The Black Swan. "Early this year, my mother gave me some of my cherished belongings from when I was younger. Among them was a worn-out copy of the fairy tale The Ugly Duckling. This book and I were inseparable; I pretty much would not sleep without a read. I started recalling how beautiful and elegant the swan turned out, while being purely simplistic – black and white. My first collection revolves around embroidered monochromatic threads."
The designer lists travel as the perfect catalyst for her creative energy. “My passion for design has been heavily influenced by my thirst to explore the world’s cultures – from Spain’s Al Hamra and India’s bazaars to New York’s Fifth Avenue. I am constantly on the lookout for richness, whether in architecture, ethnicities, habits or lifestyles, not to mention history and nature. It’s all about converting inspiration into conception, and my pieces are constructed from the finest threads and textiles from all over the world.”
These include raw silk from India and fine linen from Northern Ireland. The designer recently visited Australia and New Zealand “to explore the world of wool, by visiting farms and manufacturers, while also exposing myself to the craftsmanship-focused outlook that Australia and New Zealand are renowned for”.
Al Mulla is also the co-founder of the popular Emirati mothers’ support group Dozen Mamas, and says her family is her biggest source of strength. “My parents, husband and siblings have been my best mentors,” says the mother of one. “Simultaneously, there are others I consider mentors across the globe, from individuals working at small textile workshops to regional designers making a name for themselves.”
The designer, who’s in the midst of revealing a new collection via her website (www.shathaessa.com), says knock-offs are the biggest challenge that designers face in this region. “What can pull you down sometimes is that after you’ve spent restless nights and poured all your passion into creating a piece, others replicate your efforts in the blink of an eye.” She adds: “This will never keep me away from innovating the way I do.”
What's your favourite book?
What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School by Mark H McCormack, and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.
What's the most important piece of advice you have ever received?
“Never take no for an answer” – from my other half.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Retail therapy, spas and a good book.
What's your favourite holiday destination?
New York. For the fashion, the arts, the food and the vibe.
Which design in your collection are you proudest of?
I have focused my attention on bespoke abayas for my latest collection. It makes me proud because there’s a spirit that surrounds us all in Dubai, and that is the spirit of possibility.
What's your favourite food?
I am a sucker for Japanese food. I can never say no to a good sashimi. My favourite restaurants in Dubai are Zuma, Nobu and Kiku.
What are your favourite movies?
Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Divergent series.
If you could invite three designers, dead or alive, for dinner, who would you call?
Zaha Hadid, Elie Saab and Frank Gehry.
Which trend do you think will make it big in the next few seasons?
The trend in fashion has moved away from the clutter and on to minimalism.
What's your favourite spot in the UAE?
Al Fahidi district. It thrives in personality, and has a history of travel and trade.
Which fashion designer do you admire the most?
With every piece delicately thought through, hands-down the trendsetter Elie Saab.