These Middle East Creatives Just Got Major Recognition from Forbes

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Forbes Middle East Women
Photo: Courtesy of Forbes Middle East

Last week, Forbes Middle East released its annual list of ’40 Women Behind Middle Eastern Brands 2021′, featuring female entrepreneurs running the region’s most well-known labels. The categories covered include: fashion, beauty, footwear, jewelry, and accessories.  Topping the list are global beauty moguls Huda and Mona Kattan and world-renowned designer Reem Acra, who are testaments to what women in the Middle East are capable of achieving when given the right opportunity. While some women featured have been in business for decades, for the emerging labels, being included on such a prestigious list can mean a lot. “Being part of the list definitely gives the brand more credibility. I’m sure this will open doors for my label and bring in more opportunities,” says Mariam Yehia, of the Dubai-based label Mrs Keepa, in an exclusive interview with Savoir Flair.

The methodology behind selecting the designers took into consideration various factors which include: celebrity endorsements, social media presence, media coverage, years of experience, and the number of countries the brand is present in.

Reem Acra
Photo: Courtesy of @reemacra

Country-wise, the UAE takes the lead with 15 entries, while Egyptian designers follow with eight entries and Lebanon with seven. “Designers that have been based in Dubai have been exposed to a lot of culture so I think our product has an interesting mix of our Arabic background and the international exposure we get in this city,” explains Yehia. Add to that, multiple fashion incubator programs and many initiatives to help nurture young talent, and it comes as no surprise that the country dominates in terms of well-known brands.

Many Dubai-based designers have mastered the contemporary category, and that includes Reem Al Banna. She launched her brand Reemami in 2009 and her ethical business model focuses on waste-reduction. Reem’s architectural silhouettes and experimental prints landed her in the spotlight as one of the most exciting labels from the region. Not only have her clothes been seen on supermodel Bella Hadid, but also on royalty. Last year, she forayed into a new creative terrain by launching a mask line, a wall art series, and a homewear line.

The region has been a hotbed of creative talent for years, but it has only been in the last decade or so where creators – especially female entrepreneurs – have gained the recognition they deserve. Middle Eastern designers have dressed everyone from Hollywood celebrities and award-winning artists to royalty.”We’re definitely seeing more talent in the region, and what we are offering now cannot be ignored. We are really a big force of artists – whether on the interior design level, fashion design, or jewelry design,” adds Yehia.

Also listed is Sandra Mansour who founded her eponymous label in 2010 and has gone on to dress celebrated fashion icons like Lady Gaga, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Gigi Hadid. Additionally, her immense talent lead to her collaboration with H&M last year making her the first Arab designer in history to partner with the brand.

Photo: Courtesy of @mrskeepa

The list also features Saudi Arabian designers who have gone international in a short span of time. Honayda Serafi established her label in 2016, and has dressed the likes of Priyanka Chopra and Lupita Nyong’o. In fact, Serafi has been nominated by the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce to head a project celebrating Saudi’s 89th National Day in September 2021. Meanwhile, Arwa Al Banawi‘s contemporary designs have been seen on Elaine Hendrix in the hit TV show Dynasty, which is known for its fashion. She has also collaborated with Adidas to reimagine their iconic ‘Forum’ sneakers, marking Adidas Originals’ first collaboration with an emerging markets-based brand.





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Fashion aside, the Middle East is also known for its jewelry, given how deeply embedded it is in the culture. Naturally, designers from this part of the world have mastered fine jewelry as is the case with veteran designer like Egypt-based Dima Rashid, whose elegant designs fuse tradition and innovation and have been worn by Queen Rania of Jordan. Closer to home, Dubai-based designer Nadine Kanso of the label Bil Arabi is also featured on the list. The designer’s cult pieces include her signet rings, and she is is known for the colorful enamel she often uses in her designs along with her signature Arabic calligraphy.

Nadine Kanso
Photo: Courtesy of @bilarabi

Trailblazers Karen Wazen and her sister Andrea Wazen also grace the Forbes list. Karen Wazen is the region’s biggest influencer with a following of 6.5 million on Instagram. Following her success on social media, she launched her eyewear brand in 2018, which has already become a huge success. Sold in the Middle East and UK on various e-commerce platforms including Farfetch, the influencer-turned-designer’s sunglasses were most recently seen on Demi Lovato. Her sister Andrea has an equally interesting story. Andrea Wazen’s nine-year old eponymous footwear label has gathered a serious celebrity following, including Hailey Beiber and Kylie Jenner. Last year, she won the prestigious Fashion Trust Arabia award for ‘Accessories Designer of the Year’, and also took home Footwear News‘s ‘Emerging Talents Award’.

Click here to view the entire list of ’40 Women Behind Middle Eastern Brands 2021′.


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