I was super excited to discover Tanzanian-born abaya designer, Fatmah Yakub, who is the first African luxury abaya designer I have come across and whose designs are bang on trend. Fatmah is the founder of her luxury abaya brand "An Nisa" which is Arabic for "the women" and it is definitely a brand that celebrates the femininity of a woman while retaining that element of modesty.
Rather than opting to design your typical Middle Eastern-inspired abayas, Fatmah has taken it one step further by incorporating international fashion trends into her designs, with a large focus on fabrics and prints. Take, for example, her abayas that incorporate snakeskin print fabric, animal print, oriental floral print, military-style studs and hardware and black lace over an underlay of bold blue fabric (this season's big lace trend). She has also done things I have never seen before - take her abaya-style cape which is the perfect modest and chic solution to throw over your skinny-jeans and top combo, and an abaya made completely out of leopard print fabric.
Fatmah, who swapped a degree in optometry for a degree in fashion, established An Nisa in early 2012, but she had wanted to design abayas as far back as her days in university in London. "In 2008 when I started university is when I started wearing abayas, and since I was living in England I found it very difficult to find the right abayas to meet my fashion taste. So every time I went back home to Tanzania I got some of my own ideas stitched and took them to England- and the response I got from friends and pedestrians was very positive so this gave me a little encouragement," she says.
The results are a line of abayas which appeal to every abaya wearer across the globe, from London to Tanzania and Malaysia to Dubai. Made from pure silk, Fatmah often uses elements like lace, chiffon and nada and incorporates embellishments such as imitation pearls, Swarovski stones, studs and chains. Her abayas have that element of "wow" without being too blingy. When it comes to her design process, Fatmah tackles designing abayas as a designer would when it comes to a full clothing collection, starting from the very basics. Fatmah explains, "When I start preparing for a collection I start off with my Pantone book whereby I select all my colors for the collection- then I start making rough hand designs. Once I have a general outline of the design, I make a detailed digital design so that my tailors can understand each aspect of the garment."
I think that other luxury abaya designers and brands around the region need to sit up and take notice...An Nisa is definitely at the forefront of African-based abaya labels and its popularity could soon take the world by storm!
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