A little over a decade ago, Abdullah Aleisa and his friend Abdul Ghafour Tfouni sat musing over issues of the day. One issue that crossed their conversation was that of style, and how today’s Gulf men, when wishing to dress in the traditional style of national dress – the dishdasha – were encumbered by the limitations of style offerings while in everything else they were avant-garde thinkers and innovative creatives. Wasn’t it time for a change?
DAGLA opened its first store in 2012 and, with a passion to make national dress relevant once again, has since opened four more in Kuwait. Based on the pure principle of focusing on the finest details, Abdullah Al Essa and Abdul Ghafour Tfouni have built an enviable reputation for highlighting quality while respecting tradition.
We met Abdullah Aleisa to learn more.
What was the lightbulb moment? What inspired you?
Over ten years ago I was sitting with my partner, and we were talking about how we like to change the status quo. We were reflecting how traditional clothing has been with us forever, and how the experience hasn’t changed. At that moment we decided to do something about it – to upgrade and update things. We talked it through, and immediately decided that it was something we must do. I’m driven by the aim of raising the quality of living – in any way. With DAGLA, we’re addressing our culture, our heritage, our men – all the right elements when it comes to redefining the way we live today. We were pioneers then, and are today.
What is your aim? We guess it’s to contemporize on the traditional. How?
It is not as simple as contemporizing the traditional – we have two elements. The first element is to create a quality experience – so, it’s the same thing, but through better quality. A better quality of thread, a better quality of stitching, a better quality of buttons, a better quality in measuring. It’s all about quality. A detailed finish. It saddened us to see the way men were dressing, what they were accepting as being ‘right’.
Are you exploring new fabrics and construction techniques?
Always. We started with traditional fabrics, and then kept adding to that. We introduced a lot of designs, and initiated a lot of collaborations – using local talent where we can. We inspired the creation of nice pieces that balance the tradition with the contemporary – it’s a fine line.
How often do you come up with contemporary designs?
It changes every season. In fashion, you have to be ahead of the game. In our first three years we created similar designs and demand started to grow. Then innovation kicked in. I think we’ve created a beautiful impact and also created a demand for something that wasn’t in the market before us.
Where, other than your boutiques, is DAGLA currently available? What are your future plans in this regard?
We have five boutiques. We opened our first in 2012 – it was and still is a small space yet highly frequented in Dahiat Abdullah AlSalem. Today our flagship store is in Blockat. Furthermore, people may call, book an appointment and we can visit them at their home or office. But this is not the essence of DAGLA. The essence is living the experience by visiting us in tore – the same as with any designer… Gucci, Prada… the experience is gained by visiting the designer at home. It’s the same with us.
Our current plans include a move from our tailoring roots to become a retailer – we’re focusing on creating a brand. From being a tailor, we’re remodelling to become stores where customers can buy everything that relates to the style they want to be dressed in including shoes, accessories and bags. In the future we’ll be ready-to-wear as well as tailored… and it’s happening as we speak! We’re aiming to compete on an international level.
We’re also creating an online store to cater to men’s fashion buying in general. Effectively, this will be our sixth store.
What are the key details that define a quality dishdasha?
It starts by taking the correct measurements, and by the tailor understanding what is right. There is a standard – there are correct proportions. Then we move to cutting – this must be handled by a master cutter with great experience. Very few people can take this ‘recipe’ of numbers and create an actual garment that fits and works and looks right. He’s like our executive chef. The right stitching is critical – everyone notices poor stitching. Good stitching needs the best skills and the best machines – we have both. We also give time to the process – it can’t be hurried. Then the finishing – the buttons, the collar, the cuffs. If we’ve done it right, it will always look right and feel right on the owner.
All of these we can still address through ready-made, at least to some extent, even though there may be compromises to make. Through our experience, we can gauge what are typical standard sizes, and we understand fully the correct proportions. We can tailor ready-to-wear products with excellent accuracy and fit.
What is your feeling about traditional dress in today’s world? When and where should it be worn?
I believe traditional dress can be worn every day of the week. However, until now we haven’t received the opportunity to do so. At DAGLA, we create dishdashas of many forms – from casual to formal and everything in between. There is a huge demand from people to find a dishdasha they can wear for every occasion – this is what we are tapping in to. We’re preserving a tradition by making it relevant today.
Now a little about your life and style…
Other than the way a man dresses, what are the key identifiers of his style?
I’m a big fan of integrating your personal attributes into how a man showcases himself to people. Whatever that takes. There’s no standard recipe. Build up accessories that reflect who you are and how you feel about yourself. It’s an individual process.
When not dressed by DAGLA, what will we find you in?
To be honest, I’m sure that as time passes and our retail collection grows, 80% of what I wear is from DAGLA. It’s a lifestyle. Outside that, I dress casually.
In general, how well does the Kuwaiti man adapt to fashion and adopt new styles?
They’re ahead of the game. They’re daring, they’re trying new things. They’re always on top of what’s new on an international level. There’s no question, we are early adopters and are happy to push the style-envelope. This is something that we should take credit for. We’re aiming to see the same bravery in the area of the dishdasha!
Five-minute quick-fire Q&A!
When are you happiest?
In the mountains.
What is your greatest fear?
Not being able to have an impact on people’s lives and, ultimately, death.
What is your earliest memory?
Jumping on my parents’ bed with scissors in my hand. I was only two and half years of age and ended up hurting myself in the chest and was rushed to the hospital. As such, later in my life, it was quite serendipitous when scissors became part of my life and career!
What is your most treasured possession?
I’m not attached to material possessions. I could lose everything and still be happy. Having said that, I do love my ski boots – skiing is an essential part of my life.
What is the trait you most admire in yourself?
I try to always be in synch with people and the world around me.
What is the trait you most admire in others?
What would your superpower be?
Who would play you in the film of your life?
Denzil Washington would do a good job.
What is your favourite word?
What is top of your bucket list?
I want to ski on all five continents.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
My biggest pleasure is to travel. But I feel no guilt when I do!
What do you owe your parents?
They passed on to me skills of individuality and independence.
How do you relax?
Meditating, or simply being at home with my family.
What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
What keeps you awake at night?
Sometimes stress! Usually because I over-think things. Isn’t it the same for everyone?
How would you like to be remembered?
I truly don’t care to be remembered. While I’m alive I want to make a change and improve people’s lives. Whether they choose to remember me won’t be my concern after I’m gone. By then, it’ll all be about the next generation.