By embracing their heritage, these Emirati entrepreneurs are big business – even in the face of a pandemic.
Asim Al Qassim
Asim Al Qassim is the first certified Emirati perfumer. “I’m always trying to represent my country and my culture in various art forms and perfumery happens to be my passion,” he says. Of founding Anfas by Asim Al Qassim in 2014, the 34-year-old shares, “I decided to launch my private label as a perfumer to reflect our deep heritage, specifically how it is rooted in hospitality. Arabian culture is known for its deeply welcoming nature, always happy to take care of its guests in every way.” Not just a perfumer, Al Qassim is also an architect with a love for the arts. This is reflected in his work with its statuesque flacons and his heady perfume blends that champion the likes of oud, cardamon, and other notes cherished in the region. As for challenges, Al Qassim says to always be informed. “As a business owner, you need to be aware of all the requirements, regulations, and details of the countries in which you sell your products. This challenge, thankfully, can be solved by finding the right partners who can help you navigate the unique business landscapes each country has.” One of his biggest achievements? “Being chosen by one of the most luxurious hotels, the Four Seasons in the UK, as its main perfume amenity brand,” he says. As for the pandemic, Anfas by Asim Al Qassim was only affected to a small degree. “My advice is to always have a crisis recovery plan to ensure that business continues during such situations.”
The luxury shoe designer
Salem Thani Al Remeithi
“The modern Emirati is well-educated and has an elegant choice when it comes to fashion,” says Salem Thani Al Remeithi, founder of footwear label Albatar. The 35-year-old showcases this through his modern take on Arab sandals. Crafted in Italy in a variety of luxury leathers, the shoes arrive in classic shades like black, white, and brown, as well as green alligator and blue ostrich. Featuring unique silhouettes with different straps, some designs also include embellishments like buckles and gold detailing. Al Remeithi, who is based in Abu Dhabi, says, “I like the spirit of teamwork from the design team, sales staff, and factory workers. We all contribute to Alabatar.” Al Remeithi launched his brand in September 2016. “I wish someone told me that business will not fly from day one and that I will face multiple trials and errors,” he says of the challenges he’s faced. But they haven’t stopped him from growing his brand exponentially. Even the pandemic hasn’t stopped business, with Albatar instead seeing all-time high sales this year. “Italy was one of the strongest countries to be hit with the virus, and since we produce there, half of our new collection was delayed. The brighter side is that we planned the collection very early on and diversified the locations of production within Italy. We were among the few, if not the only, made-in-Italy Arab sandals that got their collection ready on time,” he says.
The streetwear designer
“When designing, I interpret my perspective of the culture that I grew up in. I’m extremely interested in how the internet changed the mentality of our generation,” says Abdulla Mualla, founder of Abu Dhabi-based fashion label Sarab Studios. “Generally, people in the UAE are conservative. Then the internet came and now I see skateboarders, rappers, vloggers… Different small communities around the place,” notes the 26-year-old. Launched in September 2018, Sarab Studios has offered two collections, featuring predominantly tops. The vibe is undeniably street with boxy silhouettes, slogan T’s, and camo prints. “Fashion is a medium that allows me to do more than just clothes. It makes me get into storytelling, filmmaking, photography, structure, and drawing,” says Mualla. This has helped him focus on the subcultures around him. With his third collection in the works, Mulla says, “Finalizing a product that I visualized is always a big achievement. Last year I got the opportunity to showcase my work in an installation at D3,” he shares. As for what’s next on his list of things to accomplish, the designer says, “Design multiple collections, a showcase at Fashion Forward Dubai, and to get into different silhouettes and design accessories.”
The serial entrepreneur
Anas Bukhash is at the helm of four businesses: Bukhash Brothers, an influencer and celebrity marketing agency; Bukha, a streetwear-inspired clothing line; #ABTalks, a YouTube show; and Chalk, a Dubai hair salon for men and women. For some, that would be too much to juggle, but the 39-year-old notes that the most challenging part is managing people. “Finding the right people, creating another family and great energy at work. It’s about being consistent,” he says. Bukhash has managed to achieve this. Even during the pandemic, he didn’t stand still. “It was a time that made us more creative, pivot, think out of the box, and reinforced the importance of flexibility in our business model.” There is no doubt that Bukhash has a can- do attitude. “Impossible is nothing. The attitude of the UAE is of a go-getter country. The attitude of, why not have this and why not have the tallest, boldest, loudest?” he says. “That entrepreneurial spirit is in this country’s DNA. For example, I’m not a fashion designer but saw an opportunity, and thought, why not be in the fashion space as well with Bukha?” As for his plans for the future, Bukhash says, “To have #ABTalks be the best interview show in the world and to be regarded as one of the best interviewers in the world. To bring the human story to life. To tell it like it is and through other people’s experiences, to help our viewers.”
Abdulla BelJafla and Hamad BinShaiban
Based in Dubai, Gafla is a fine jewelry brand known for its modern designs that embrace its founder’s Emirati heritage. “I was fortunate to have met my business partner, Hamad BinShaiban, in 2010,” says Gafla’s 33-year-old creative director Abdulla BelJafla. “He recognized my passion for jewelry design and proposed a business idea to start Gafla. He saw that there was a lack of Emirati jewelry brands that portray the culture in a contemporary way to the international market and in every demand, there is a supply.” After more than 10 years in the industry, BelJafla notes of their success, “Careful planning and studying during every step was a great challenge.” This has been especially true with the pandemic. “During a pandemic, luxury is the last thing on the consumer’s mind. Luckily, we have a business model where we try to diversify our investment. The rise of the gold price has truly helped us manage things,” explains BinShaiban. As for the brand’s plans for the future? “I love experimenting with new materials, but mostly I love working with other artists and designers. I believe the future of the design and art world will be all about synergies,” muses BelJafla. Meanwhile, BinShaiban considers, “The plan is to grow the brand into lifestyle products and really become part of our clients’ lives.”
Read Next: Cover Story: Kadim Al Sahir on His Beloved Iraq and His Legacy
Originally Published in the Fall/Winter 2020 Issue of Vogue Man Arabia