Young women from across the GCC travel to Dubai to study fashion, hopeful that they will gain the skills and experience to one day launch their own clothing labels.
For many this remains a distant dream, but 30-year-old Lubna Al Zakwani has made it a reality.
Not only is she leading her own fashion label Endemage – which she founded with her sister, Nadia – she has also risen to the top echelons of the luxury sector in the Middle East, with her 2017 Ramadan collection gaining the support of Rolls-Royce.
Lubna, who moved to Dubai in 2006 from Oman to study at the Esmod French Fashion University, was not born into the business and is not a fashion heiress with plenty of connections. Instead, she started Endemage from scratch. After graduating from Esmod in 2010, she immediately began creating clothing, mostly abayas.
“I designed mostly for myself and my friends, things that I’d wear often, such as abayas,” she says. “Then, in 2014, we were approached by Muscat Fashion Week.”
To showcase their designs there, the Al Zakwani sisters knew they would need a full collection.
“So, abayas, ready-to-wear, evening gowns and traditional outfits – that was our first full collection,” says Lubna.
The sisters divide their workload. Lubna, who is based in Dubai, handles the majority of the designing. “I start off the collections here but I go back and forth [to Muscat] almost every month,” she says.
Nadia, who is eight years older, lives in Oman, where she handles marketing and production.
The clothing is embroidered and produced in-house in Muscat, and most of the collections are heavily inspired by Omani culture and heritage.
“As a child, I always loved everything that was made in Oman or that had a traditional touch to it,” says Lubna.
“I always knew the country had a lot to offer – but people hadn’t discovered it yet. I feel Oman is very different from the rest of the GCC in that it has more natural beauty: the wadis, the trees and all that.”
The label’s Ramadan 2017 collection combines two influences – mosques in Abu Dhabi and in Muscat. “Because it’s a holy month, there is a spiritual feel,” says Lubna.
The designs depict floral motifs inspired by the tiles at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and lantern shapes influenced by the interiors of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Oman, which were recreated in a fluid pattern.
They feature across a range of Endemage abayas, which come not only in black but also in light and neutral tones.
“With Ramadan, we try to keep the cuts more loose and easy to wear ... you can eat as much as you want and don’t have to worry about it,” says Lubna with a laugh.
She showcased the Endemage Ramadan collection this week at a private suhoor hosted by luxury car manufacturer Rolls-Royce. The brands complement one another, Lubna explains, as both celebrate handmade luxury with a great attention to detail.
She also points out that Rolls-Royce recently turned its attention to a younger clientele – especially women – with its new car models.
“They’re trying to get at independent women,” says Lubna. “So we thought it would be a great collaboration since this is the clientele and the woman we design for.”
While a partnership with the luxury car brand is undoubtedly an incredible triumph for a regional fashion label, Lubna’s aspirations for Endemage are even greater.
Within 10 years, she hopes the brand will have a flagship store along with a strong international presence, and perhaps even a jewellery line.
“I’ve always wanted to get into it, but I need to learn how to make jewellery before starting it,” she says. According to Lubna, the most challenging part about being a designer based in the Middle East is getting international exposure and interest.
“It takes a lot of time,” she says. “You need to know what your aim is from the beginning, it can’t just be a hobby.
“We’re aiming for Paris. I love New York but I feel our designs don’t fit there. They’re not as edgy. With Paris, it’s a better fit because of our embroidery and femininity – and it’s more luxurious.”
• The Endemage Ramadan 2017 collection is available at The Cartel in Dubai. Prices range from Dh1,000 to 4,000