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THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi painter Nasser Almulhim discusses artwork inspired by loss

DUBAI: While Arab womenswear designers continue to take the international fashion scene and celebrity red carpets by storm, menswear is still a work in progress. Understanding the need to fill the gap in the market, cousins Abla and Raneen Kawar launched ARAK, creating unique designs for men and also shining a spotlight on Arab culture. 

With sustainability and community at the forefront of the brand’s ethos, ARAK is a social enterprise, empowering local women and preserving their fading culture. Here, the duo discusses their label, fusing fashion with technology, and why showcasing Middle East traditions is so important. 

Tell us about the idea behind ARAK.

We launched ARAK (meaning “I see you”) with the aim to preserve our Arab heritage by using artisanal skills and techniques in the production of our pieces, namely cross stitch embroidery. We grew up in a family that values sustainability and caring for the environment, so it’s important for us to carry out those values. 

Why focus on menswear?

We noticed the visible gap in the market, particularly with Arab menswear brands. So, we wanted to fill that gap by incorporating traditional Levantine embroidery through our designs. As part of our sustainability efforts, we only want to offer consumers garments that are not offered in the market today.

You say ‘each garment narrates a wider narrative,’ how so?

Each collection we produce has an overarching narrative, which the designs are inspired by, and then each piece has a hidden narrative to tell – the story of the woman who spent endless hours creating it.                                                                                                                                  

Most of your artisans are underprivileged women in Jordan, why was this important to you?    

Part of ARAK’s ethos is female empowerment. We provide the women with jobs and the opportunity to be financially independent and to help them provide for their children, all from the comfort of their own home. It was important to support these women and destigmatize the taboo around women working in traditionally conservative households.

How does your relationship work with the local NGO in Jordan?

ARAK works with a local NGO based in Amman, for the production and operation of embroidering the pieces in order to ensure quality and consistency. The local NGO launched in October 2020, aiming to help women build sustainable income as well as build their skills professionally. They work with a not-for-profit academy which offers 100 percent free artisanal courses for members in a bid to continue advancing their skills. We offer the women work with fair wages and ethical working conditions.

ARAK’s designs also fuse tech with tradition, tell us more.               

Today’s world is shifting towards being more tech-dependent. So, it was a no brainer that the initial step we would take as a brand was to implement a woven QR code attached to each garment. Our QR code allows purchasing customers to track how to care for their garment, be introduced to who made it, and identify our transparent practices. We hope to integrate more tech-savvy solutions to our brand in the future.   

What was the inspiration behind your SS21 collection?                     

Re-discovering our country from a new lens, particularly appreciating the little things as well as the beautiful landscapes that we took for granted pre-COVID-19. The designs in this collection, translate the beauty of the Jordanian landscape through embroidery.                              

What’s your opinion on the representation of Middle Eastern talent in the fashion industry?

The region is filled with incredible talent, many that are yet to be discovered. We believe that representation of the Middle East for what it is still has a long way to go to be perceived in the light it deserves. ARAK aims to do that by making sure all our work is supporting local talent, from the production down to the photographers, models and anyone involved in the creative process of our journey.


THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi painter Nasser Almulhim discusses artwork inspired by loss

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