The coastal city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia is bustling with energy: cafes and restaurants are popping up fast, adorning the city’s newly renovated corniche, while boutique businesses catering towards KSA's young demographics are thriving too.
Hip pop-up shops like the Abaya Factory are targeting young, professional and independent women. The Abaya Factory sells multi-functional abayas that transform into jackets. Artist Ahmad Angawi had the idea four years ago, when he saw women taking off their abayas when they travelled.
He now runs the small company with his fiancé Zahar Al Sayed.
She explains that their garments are designed with women on the move in mind: “Anyone who is up and running every day. Very functional and practical people who want to have multiple looks in one kind of product.”
They make the abayas in their studio and sell them at pop up stalls during events and at Homegrown market, a multi-brand boutique in Jeddah.
Saudi Arabia is in the midst of massive change. A top cleric, Sheikh Abdullah Al Mutlaq, recently said women should have the choice of whether to wear the abaya or not. "More than 90 per cent of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas," the cleric pointed out earlier this month. "So we should not force people to wear abayas."
While that might sound like it could be bad for business for an abaya store, Al Sayed isn’t worried.
“We don’t really just sell abayas, it’s like an outfit," she explains. “I feel like we are already ahead of time.”
The little company has big plans. It hopes to turn its studio into a factory store where customers can come and see how the abayas are made.
“It would look like a factory so people would experience and touch the fabrics and choose their colour, their style and everything from A to Z,” Al Sayed said of their future plans.