Elegance, wearability, and sustainability are the core values of pret-a-couture fashion brand, SADEEM, founded by Saudi designer, Sadeem Alshehail. SADEEM offers ethically tailored clothing for the woman who wishes to look elegant yet feel comfortable; one that is as interested in preserving the environment as she is about sporting visionary designs. This month, ESSENTIAL, Ounousa & KAMSYN team-up for an exclusive Q&A with the woman who has achieved every goal she has set for herself: Sadeem Alshehail. Interview by Marisa Cutillas
How did you start in the world of fashion?
My journey in fashion began in my hometown Riyadh of Saudi Arabia. As a child, I was exposed to the fashion design process while spending a lot of time in my aunt’s atelier and observed sketches come to life as beautiful couture creations. This foundational experience birthed a desire to create and execute my own designs; and at the age of 19, I moved to the U.S. to study fashion design at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.
After graduating, I gained experience in the fashion field by working as a senior buyer for Harvey Nichols’ first international store in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Following some years of working there, I’ve honed my skills for understanding the nuances of fashion markets across the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. In 2009, I returned to the U.S. and earned a Masters degree in Design Management from Pratt Institute in New York City.
What sparked your interest in sustainable design?
Sustainability and Ethical Design practices were inspired by my schooling at Pratt Institute in NYC. The curriculum for the Design Management program revolved around the U.N. Development Goals. It was there that I realised that everything around us has a designer behind it. As designers, it is our duty and obligation to create things ‘cradle to cradle’. We all need to be aware of how materials are sourced, we have to consider where they will end up, what their life cycle is, and most importantly, what impact they will have on our environment and society.
How can fashion make a positive impact on the planet?
Awareness, Awareness, Awareness! It is very sad to learn that the fashion industry is the second most damaging to our ecosystem, after the gas/oil industry. The production and processing of textiles are polluting water, air, and soil. It is also wasting energy and depleting natural resources. People around the world are suffering as a result of being in direct contact with toxic substances.
Fashion producers can have a positive impact on the planet through strategic partnerships, quality designs, and innovation. In addition to using natural and man made non-toxic fibers and dyes, innovation today has made it possible for us to help save the ocean for example! Collected plastic waste from the ocean, can now be up-cycled into durable fashionable materials.
What are the inspirations behind your three current collections?
My debut collection MANHATTAN was an homage to New York. The city is where my heart is, and where I’ve lived for many years. The architecture of the New York City skyline was my inspiration, particularly the silhouette lines that reflect the Empire State Building, the distinctive art deco ornaments and the graceful Chrysler Building.
The DECO collection was created in collaboration with fellow Saudi designer, Haute Jeweller Nourah Al Faisal; founder and designer of Nuun Jewels. The collection celebrates the sophistication of the Art Deco era, in combination with a luxurious spirit and finish. Nourah and I found that we share a love of timeless elegance, and we believed that our design aesthetics complemented each other.
NAUTICAL is about sailing away to a destination unknown. Exploring new coasts, cultures and ports. Inspired by sailor suits, seashell shapes and the glamorous yachting lifestyle, the collection offers timeless silhouettes; from daytime chic to sophisticated soiree looks.
When it comes to design, I find that most of my shapes/lines come from architecture and bio-geometry, with an emphasis on craftsmanship and material. Inspiration on the other hand, is always a reflection of the current mood and surroundings.
Why is Dubai the future of fashion?
In the past couple of years, more and more Middle Eastern designers have been stealing the spotlights on the red carpet. From Ashi Studio to Zuhair Murad, Arab designers have been dressing members of the royalty and celebrities and gaining international recognition. The launch of Vogue Arabia one year ago, has also helped introduce Arab designers to the world.
In the UAE, Dubai has created D3. The Dubai Design District is a (free zone) government initiative that’s been developed to serve design, innovation and creativity. Major international luxury brands and start-up businesses have rushed in to be part of the community and establish a base there. Many of D3’s initiatives include supporting and promoting local and regional talents. Through top of the line workshops, studios, a Design institute, fashion shows and design exhibitions, D3 has managed to be a desired destination to all things trending. Consequently, it is receiving international media coverage.
The fashion world is always seeking new, up-and- coming designers. The Arab world has a lot to offer, and Dubai is the best platform out there. In my view, it’s the new ‘Big Apple’!
What challenges lie in bringing a fashion brand to an international audience?
In today’s world, bringing a fashion brand to an international audience is becoming easier to achieve by the day. Thanks to e-commerce and social media platforms, marketing a brand to the world is now just a click away! The only challenge here, would be getting more likes, retweets, and shares that would eventually lead to media coverage and sales.
Tell us about the fabrics you love working with and challenges in ethical design.
I love working with innovative and naturally sourced materials. The 100 per cent silk fabrics used in my MANHATTAN collection are treated with Nano technology (stain free). So, I’m happy to let my clients know that they will be saving on energy and water, as they do not need to wash their garments!
Sourcing sustainably made materials has not been too easy for me. Unfortunately, most textile factories mix synthetic blends and non-eco friendly dyes with their natural fibres. And sometimes, naturally made and dyed fabrics are produced in very poor countries with sweatshop labor conditions!
Thankfully, being green is starting to become trendy, and some companies are taking initiatives towards sustainable practices, by using alternative energy powers, and producing innovative products. I have recently discovered that we can create faux-leather materials from pineapples, and silk like materials from oranges. This is very exciting news to me, as its biodegradable and socially responsible.
Is it still more challenging for women to succeed in the fashion industry?
I have not been faced with any challenges being a woman.
What are your brand’s current goals?
Current goals for SADEEM include working and collaborating with charitable foundations, in an effort to empower underprivileged communities, preserve heritage hand made products and artisans work, reaching a wider market, and dressing celebrities on ‘Red Carpets’.
Photo credits: Manhattan photoshoot taken by Thomas Northcut in NYC
Deco collection, fashion show photos – Timur Emek in Paris
Nautical collection photoshoot by Irene Sekulic in Malaga
Model: Ana Santos