Walk into Samah Abaya’s boutique and you cannot help but notice the wooden floors with traditional carpets that are exactly like her abayas, a beautiful blend between the modern and the cultural.
The boutique is very feminine and the interiors are a mixture of wood and steel, where the abayas hang under romantic lighting. Many shoppers have posted online photos of her fitting room where the designer has her grandmother’s photo, an old sewing machine and left overs of threads that she used in her times. This gave the boutique the touch that the designer wanted to make her clients feel at home.
Samah Khashoggi studied interior design, which is very clear once you enter her boutique. But 13 years ago, she decided to change her career path and become an abaya designer after she designed an abaya made of jeans fabric for herself. “I wanted to wear something different and jeans is known to be very stylish and practical, especially in the morning,” she said. “It all started from that point when I was pregnant with my son Saif and I designed for myself; word of mouth helped me gain clients and helped me open my boutique,” she added.
She got inspired by different cultures and designed different lines using cultural and colorful fabrics from all over the world. “I made an Indian collection and a Japanese collection and that’s when people started to know me better. I learned how to blend different cultures and our traditional culture by designing abayas,” she said. “I started with designing 13 to 15 abayas per collection but the demand pushed the number to almost 60 pieces per collection,” she added.
The designer managed to draw a connect between her interior design knowledge and her fashion design experience. Even her wallpaper was designed especially for her and the boutique. “It’s a pink background because the color is very feminine and there are photos of women wearing different abayas coming from different backgrounds and having different styles of wearing it,” she said. “I make different cuts for abayas because I have different kinds of clients but I am known for my mishalh abaya as many Saudi women like to wrap themselves in this cultural clothing with a feminine touch of unique embroidery and different colors,” she added.
Khashoggi likes to play with different materials, which is what makes her style different from other abaya designers in the region. “My background in interior design has taught me to pay attention to small details, to play with fabrics and to match colors and I have used all my knowledge to produce beautiful abayas that suit all women,” she added. “I always like to use materials that are eternal such as lace, which never gets old because it is the definition of femininity. I also like to use different elements in my designs such as stones and create accessories for abayas to look unique, stylish and presentable,” she added.
Traveling and attending fabric exhibitions made the designer gain more experience and provided her with all the inspiration. “I like to attend those exhibitions because I shop for materials and I get to see what is trendy this season. I like everything about it because the venue is usually big and different suppliers exhibit and designers come from different countries to find two things, fabric and inspiration,” she said.
The designer is now working on her summer and Ramadan collections, in which she is using different materials and methods. “For the summer collection, I am using cotton and lennons because they are light and cool, which makes it perfect for a Saudi summer; I am also using pastel colors,” she said. ”Ramadan is usually a completely different collection where we design day and night abayas for every occasion,” she added.
Abaya designers face the problem of their designs being duplicated but Khashoggi sees it as a proof of success. “It frustrates me for sure because those designers want to use cheaper materials and have bad sewing skills. They sell abayas in competitive prices but I know for sure that those people don’t tend to last long in the market,” she said. “I am very happy that they like my designs and my style and they know this will generate business to them; I only worry for their clients who are being fooled by these talent-less designers,” she added.
Social media plays a major role in the designer’s marketing as it helped her distribute her abayas all over the Kingdom and outside. “At first, I didn’t really care about social media and I depended on word of mouth but then my sister pushed me to start a Facebook page and that’s when I learned how powerful this tool is. It is really the language of this century,” she said. “I now design for people from all over the world and I have client requests from the US and Europe, this makes me so proud,” she added.