Name: Layla Asga Al-Siyabi
Type: Fashion design label
Nationality: Omani Bangladeshi
The world of fashion, although highly popular and extremely visible in our contemporary media, is also often cloaked in secrecy. There is an air of mystery as to how people, particularly designers, enter into and thrive within the profession. A young fashion designer and entrepreneur Layla Asgar al Siyabi talks about her journey in this highly competitive industry.
What sparked your interest in fashion?
My interest in fashion began when I was in my early 20s, when I started to truly enjoy imagining how I could transform articles of clothing and reinvent them in my own unique way. This ‘imagining’ was brought to life by my passion for sketching designs, and this creativity was accompanied by an awakening curiosity about techniques such as design and tailoring.
By constantly attending the relevant courses, learning more, and designing and making items over repeatedly, I developed my initial curiosity and passion into various skills that have become vital to my success in the industry. I have tried to achieve a working balance between practical tailoring skills and innovative and interesting sketches.
When did you start your journey in this field and how has your work grown since you began your own label?
I officially began my journey two years ago, when I decided to form my fashion brand LAS. I recently rebranded this after my own name, “Layla Asgar”. My progress into the industry has been slow and steady, which I believe is the best way to flourish within this industry in the long term, and within life in general. You have to have patience, give yourself the time to learn and develop your skills, and recognize those moments of creative inspiration that can make all the difference.
As a result of this integrated approach my business began to flourish after approximately one year. For me, the most exciting result has been the many opportunities I’ve had to work with different and talented individuals who have given me a platform to express myself through my designs.
Do you have any background in this field?
I majored in business management with a focus on marketing, which has benefited me a lot in my approach to the business, helping me to effectively market and build my brand. And the courses I undertook in fashion design and sketching at VCUQatar have definitely helped to further my career.
The fashion industry is notoriously competitive. Given this, when you began, how tough was it to generate sales?
To be honest, in the fashion industry things change so constantly and quickly from season to season. You have to be always ready, knowledgeable about current styles, and dynamic in your approach. Most importantly, to be successful you have to be at least six months ahead of the latest trends.
You must accept that there will be no returns in profit for at least a year to eighteen months into the business, so you need to hold your nerve and invest time, effort and money despite this. Constantly researching the needs, desires and attitudes of your customers will give you an upper hand and a higher chance of delivering exactly what the market needs. Of course, the ultimate goal for anyone in the business is to ‘think outside the box’, and develop unique designs that start your own trends.
Do you use social media like Facebook and Twitter to promote your business, and how effective has this been?
We primarily use Facebook and Instagram, and I am constantly updating my website. Social media plays a hugely important role part in modern business development, and it really does help to stay connected by using the internet in this way. It also results in highly useful feedback from customers and fans alike.
Do you have a showroom or an in-house boutique?
I conduct most of my business online through my website but I do have a space at home to design, create and explore my ideas.
Where do your fashion design ideas come from?
They are inspired by many different factors – the natural world, cultural events, even sheer artistic impulse, but the main aesthetic of my brand is the fusion of particular cultures, more specifically the khaleeji with south Asian styling. I then try to design, create and market that fusion in order to make it appeal worldwide.
Do your works reflect Qatari culture within this fusion?
They are essentially a result of cultural and stylistic fusion, but are always influenced by many aspects of my life in Qatar.
Could you explain how you manufacture your designs? How many staff do you employ?
All my pieces are made in Qatar at the moment, and I am very proud of that fact! We are a small team of five, but in the future we wish to expand and grow into an entire design house.
Tell us about any up and coming fashion shows or events.
I usually have an annual fashion show, but last year had several other trunk shows and participated in many exhibitions. I hope to expand on the numbers of both in the future,
Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
Well I am currently working on a brand new collection, and I have just started a new blog entitled ‘beingLayla.A ‘, which focuses on family life, fitness, and fashion. It also tries to promote the notion of ‘good works’, by which I mean attempting to encourage and empower other women to do the best that they can with their lives. I want to inspire women to follow their dreams, and it has proved to be a great platform where I can do just that and express myself at the same time.
Fashion is a tough industry, as I have discovered over the years, and you can either find yourself, or lose yourself. And I have definitely found myself! The blog keeps me grounded and helps me remember why I began my journey in the first place. I also put together vlogs on my YouTube channel to showcase family life in Qatar.
Where do you source and buy your raw materials? Are they from local markets, or are they imported as well?
To be honest, I try to achieve a mixture of both. I try to support the local economy, as well as avail myself of diverse international materials.
What requirements are demanded by the government to undertake this kind of business?
I would say that it is highly advisable to get your brand name trademarked from the business bureau, and to put any other names for the business on hold for the future. A lot of Qatari women are allowed to have home businesses as permitted by the government. And if you wish to expand and open up a boutique, then you must follow the rules of opening a business in Qatar.
How do you finance your business? Do you ever take loans from banks?
When I started, I had savings stored away to use for travel, but I used them to finance my first collection. I haven’t taken a loan from a bank and do not plan to do so at the moment. As the business has grown, I have been able to handle all the necessary finances with a little help from other resources.
What kind of obstacles did you encounter when you started your business?
There were many in the beginning, and I was particularly affected by the realization that, initially, you don’t make any profit. The main focus is to get your brand out there and become recognized. Other major obstacles I encountered were a lack of supplies and good high quality tailoring.
What kind of challenges do you face now?
Quite literally, to take the next step, I definitely want to grow but I want to take the smartest, reliable way towards making it to the next level. At the moment I have yet to work that out, but I am hoping that, with perseverance and patience, I will be shown the right path to take.
What advice would you give to somebody thinking of starting a similar fashion business?
I would urge them to plan, plan and plan again. Do your research, map out your future options and possibilities, and don’t be afraid to push yourself.
What are your plans for the future of the business?
As I mentioned, I would love to own a design house, or my own boutique. I would love to expand to all the GCC countries, and to showcase at major fashion weeks around the world. My dream is to open a store in Oman, where we plan to return and retire.
Do you have a message for our readers?
Yes, I would urge and encourage them to try something new this year, whether in the field of clothes, food, attitudes or language. Working in this industry, I am aware of the need to inspire our younger generation to be more proactive, and we must all do our part in the community to leave a legacy behind.
To conclude, I would simply echo the words of the famous French designer Coco Chanel: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.