Sama Al Wasmi, who has been working in the fashion industry for the past 10 years, shared her experience and insight on matters arising today in the world of fashion with Passions Arabia’s Rawan Qabazard. Sama studied Communications in DC, with a minor in music and literature. It would be accurate to state that she is attracted to all things beautiful, be it music, design and art… “and fashion is the most accessible industry for someone who is attracted to these things”, says Sama, “I have always been very career oriented, and I am so lucky that I landed myself in a career that celebrates beauty and art.”
When did you start working in the fashion industry and how did it start? It started when I launched my first blog ‘highstreetq8’, way back in 2006, it was dedicated to street-style. The blog provided me with a platform to break social barriers, walk up to random strangers, photograph them, write about their outfits, and to basically have a positive conversation. It really had more to do with social commentary than fashion, to be honest; I focused on how fashion is a great way to showcase individuality. More importantly, I used the blog as a means to connect with complete strangers, to compliment and encourage, something we do not do often in the Arab society.
At the same time, I was lucky enough to shift my day job into the fashion industry, working for Topshop, one of my favorite high-street brands, and over time worked for several major retailers, high-street to high-end, from marketing to buying, my last role being Fashion Director for Al Ostoura, heading purchasing of over 130 brands. It has been a lot of hard work as it is a very tough industry, trust me; over four months of travel last year, despite the demands of fashion shows and Caviar Kaspia dinners, I was working 14 hour days, 7 days a week. I am grateful to have amassed a wealth of information and knowledge over the years through my interactions.
What do you think of the current state of the fashion industry? The luxury fashion industry is changing rapidly on so many different levels. The entire landscape has shifted from what the consumer wants, to the sheer quantity and speed at which things are moving. Today’s consumer is spoiled for choice, and is so much savvier, armed with a wealth of information at the touch of their fingertips. The industry has shifted from one driven by art and creativity, to one run by, essentially, bankers only interested in exponential sale and growth. “Slow fashion” is a much hyped term now (a term used to describe fashion that takes longer to produce, has fewer pieces in the collection, made to last for years). It’s ironic since this was the original ethos of the luxury fashion industry. Now it is a slave to newness, to reproducing the same thing, sold last season, in 15 different colors, producing it so fast that quality and creativity go out the window, leading to deterioration of ‘luxury’ fashion labels to the point where they are not that different from high-street labels. The end consumer is left questioning paying a premium for something that is no longer well made, creative, original and most importantly exclusive!
What do you think about the fashion industry here in Kuwait? Fashion is a unique commodity with an end goal to showcase consumer’s personality and individuality. Think of it like this, you will definitely go try out a new cuisine your friends are raving about; however, if all your friends start wearing the same bag or the same perfume, as an individual you may get a bit turned off by it, especially if you were paying a premium to purchase something special. It is also a shame, that there are only a handful of local retailers and designers that stand out, and we have not done much to push the industry forward or to create a real outlet for creativity and design.
If you were to change something about it, what would it be? The issue is always one of passion and knowledge, or lack thereof. We have a severe deficit of both of these when it comes to the fashion industry in Kuwait. Its’ not just the influencers who could care less about the designer behind Balenciaga, or the inspiration behind Dries Van Noten’s SS17 collection, or why is it that everything Phoebe Philo touches turns to gold to mercilessly be copied and pasted by everyone from H&M to fellow creative directors. I am talking about the retailers as well, who need to tune up their game from customer service to offering a satisfying consumer experience. I would also change the intensely damaging proclivity of the Kuwaiti population towards copy/paste, it is so inherent in our culture and stems again from lack of passion and knowledge. It makes me so irate when I see designers such as Najeeba Hayat (creator of Luidmilla), Noor Al Sabah’s Ecru or Razan Al Azzouni’s work being so flippantly ripped off.
Describe your personal style. There was a time I would have offered a considered response like “Audrey Hepburn meets Harajuku Hello Kitty”. Now, I look for comfort, I want to feel good about what I am wearing; it may be that it is ethically sourced, or because I know the designer produced something original and creative. I can say that I definitely care less about trends than I used to, but I think that is more an age thing than a style choice. When it comes to my personal style, I am different in the sense that I do not strive for perfection or even close to it when I am dressing. I do take the industry very seriously, but not when it comes down to my own purchases and personal style at all. I want to have fun with fashion, to take risks. It goes back to the fact that fashion has lost that sense of exclusivity for me, there are only a few brands that I feel make clothes for those with an artistic temperament. I do not dress differently for the sake of looking like an “individual”. I care about designers who produce beautiful, well made products: Dries Van Noten, The Row and Razan Al Azzouni are three such labels.
Who is your role model in the industry, and why? I have many, I respect anyone genuinely spreading passion and knowledge about this industry. I have utmost respect for the “greats”, Franca Sozzani, Diana Vreeland, Dries Van Noten etc etc. Specifically, I love Leandra Medine as she has created a platform for the “smart” fashion girl and is always a voice of reality and individuality. I love Ascia Faraj for being honest, raw and creating such cool and creative businesses like MESEOULKOOL and DESERTBABY. I adore Dana Hourani, who is focused on creating aspirational content that is more art than just an Instagram OOTD post. I love Anum from Desert Mannequin for her wealth of knowledge of the industry, her willingness to collaborate and share that passion with everyone she meets. I really enjoy watching people like Demna, taking the fashion industry for a very polyester driven ride; Delpozo for working hard to produce beautiful pieces every season; Natasha Zinko for just being so fearlessly brazen. I really admire a lot of people, there is no one role model or person I can really pin point to.
What are you currently working on? I am working on a super cool project that will launch upcoming February. I hope this project fills a lot of gaps in the fashion industry, both globally and regionally. Stay tuned!