Sunday, December 19, 2010

Meet Sheikha Hend Al Qassemi: A fashion-forward multi-tasker

Sheikha Hend Al Qassemi isn’t your typical fashion template. In the last few years the businesswoman, mother, artist, designer and editor has been leaving her mark throughout the region. The Polyglot caught up with the Sharjah-born, Qatar based Al Qassemi to discuss her latest ventures.

You recently opened a boutique in Sharjah’s Mega Mall, what makes it unique?
As you know in the last ten years the Middle East has witnessed an influx of mega-brands opening stores here, and what seemed to be missing was a venue for local talent from the region. With that in mind I opened Velvet Class, which serves as a laboratory, providing a platform for a new generation of Middle Eastern designers. Once a month we hold fashion shows at the store, as well as in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, to introduce new designers to our clients.

Who are some of the designers you carry in your store?
The store carries 40 designers from around the world that represent a diversity of talents and appeal to a large customer base. Homa Qamar is a St. Martins grad who does modern interpretations of abayas and sheilas. Mona De Sabkar, the Egyptian/German designer is influenced by her travels around the world as well as the work of Karim Rashid and Philippe Starck. Then there is Ali Fawaz who designs exquisite evening gowns. The store also carries a line that I design called Medici.

How important is sourcing new talent for the store?
It’s important to show the world that the Middle East is a vibrant and creative place. That is why I am so passionate about supporting and encouraging new talent in the region and its Diaspora. I travel extensively around the world from Beirut to London looking for new fashions and accessories to fill the store. Next April we are holding our first Miss Velvet design competition at the Armani Hotel, with cash prizes of 200,000 AED.

Do you see your reach extending beyond Qatar and the UAE?

As a businesswoman I’ve never felt limited geographically, and I am constantly looking to break into new markets. Recently I began organizing the Desert Show in Riyadh, which is a one stop shopping experience that brings together unique luxury items from some of the world’s top brands, as well as a few Middle Eastern names. The concept is similar to a multi-brand pop-up store, and we hope to attract over 20,000 visitors in four days.

What are your long term goals for your business?
In order to be a successful business we need to be profitable and generate revenues. But at the same time my long term aim is to create a business that makes a difference. I’ve always believed that “small minds discuss events, average minds discuss people and bright minds discuss ideas.” So at the end of the day, I hope that whatever I produce generates some sort of healthy discussion amongst people. I also think it’s important to encourage a healthy sense of competition and give new and upcoming designers the opportunity to amaze us.

In addition to fashion do you have any other areas of interest?
I am an avid architecture buff, especially since I studied Architecture and Design Management at the American University of Sharjah. I am a part-time researcher for the reconstruction of Doha’s Old Town and I recently applied for a PhD in Sustainable Architecture at Oxford. I also have a huge appreciation for the arts. I paint, sculpt and take photographs, which I’ve exhibited at art shows in Qatar and the UAE. I am currently collaborating on a book of Middle Eastern botany, for which I am photographing images of the region’s diverse plant life.

What made you decide to recently launch a magazine?
I initially started Velvet magazine as a means of promoting our fashion shows and the designers we were carrying at the store. But I soon realized it could a serve as a platform to provide positive role models to young men and women throughout the Middle East. It’s a fashion, health, beauty and lifestyle publication with a cosmopolitan appeal. My hope is to reach readers across the region; from the GCC countries, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and beyond.

Illustrations by Lama Khatib Daniel for DIA
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