Shaking up the status quo – Marriam Al Mossalli

Marriam Mossalli, a role model and a name which has proven well that Saudi women can be remarkably outstanding in their presence in the international fashion scene. After spending five years working passionately for a number of Saudi publications, today she is known as the owner of “Niche Arabia”, “Shoes and Drama” fashion blog, and the Editor-at-Large for Marie Claire KSA.

 

Marriam, could you please begin by telling our readers what Niche Arabia is?

It’s a luxury consulting company that runs on the blood and sweat of Creatives. We don’t just think out of the box, we refuse to acknowledge the box’s existence. In this region, people tend to do what they’ve always done–a bazaar-like exhibition, a boutique opening with fruit cocktails and cupcakes. Niche Arabia is about changing the redundancy and shaking up the status quo, while effectively engaging the customer. I always tell people “Niche Arabia is about elevating the experience, whether it’s in retail, entertainment, or candy!”

In terms of services, we specialize in digital PR (ie. social media, engaging regional online influencers, etc), creative marketing (we LOVE collaborations between international brands and local designers!) and one-to-one marketing (we basically know everyone!).

 

We would also like you to reveal the concept behind your blog “Shoes and Drama”.

Shoesanddrama.com is a unique web-blog in that we’re not a bunch of 20-year olds telling you how awesome it was to sit front row next to Lauren Conrad! We’re seven editors based in KSA, Holland, Spain, NYC, Dubai and Italy, all in our late twenties, early thirties. We’re a website written in the manner of a blog, meaning it’s a collaborative effort with unique voices that share the same love for fashion truth, and yes, sarcasm! Think Perez Hilton but for fashion! 
We’re essentially a blog for the disillusioned fashionista, who is sick of neon and spikes, and wants to know what’s in and not product endorsed by Kim Kardashian. Our reader is a young entrepreneur or a busy mom, who doesn’t have time to scour the internet for the perfect power suit or maxi dress, she wants no-nonsense fashion and she wants it now! And that’s basically where we come in. Oh, we also tell it like it is, which sometimes doesn’t make people happy. Hence, the Drama part!

 

How did your story with fashion all begin?

I’ve always been a Creative, and actually studied to be a scriptwriter. I began in Advertising, writing TV Commercials and company profiles. I really excelled in my work with the fashion brands and designers; eventually catching the eye of a magazine oriented toward design. I eventually became Editor-in-Chief before being pouched by Arab News, where I co-founded the Life&Style section, then the most popular weekly lifestyle publication in the Middle East [based on sales and distribution]. The success of the publication relied heavily on the fact that we were the first to become a global platform for Saudi talent. I was nationalistic editor and really pushed my team to focus on the local talent, rather than the regional, and because of certain global anomalies (9/11, the recession, etc) all eyes were on us. Even when I attended fashion weeks or interviewed international designers, I always curated both through a Saudi eye, which my readers appreciated.

I stayed there for a few years, while simultaneously being a promiscuous freelancer for a number of international and regional publications. That’s when the idea of Niche Arabia was born.

 

Knowing all about Niche Arabia from you indicated that there is a huge drive in the background for such a great idea to see the light.  What was the number one inspiration that led to Niche Arabia, a business that is first of its kind in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf?

Kara Ross. Yes, the accessory designer. I was in her NYC showroom during fashion week and we were talking about the lack of penetration of international brands into the Saudi Arabia. The fact that it’s hard to even just physically access the country due to strict visa restrictions makes it an enigma, an enigma with one of the highest gross per capita. So all these brands I kept meeting internationally kept voicing they same concern, they all lacked someone they trusted, who could be their eyes and hands on the ground in Saudi. I had basically been giving advice and lending my expertise for years as a fashion editor, it was time to take it to the next step. I saw…a niche, basically, in the market and knew it had to be addressed.

Our goal is to offer people a unique experience through our various brands and professionally executed collaborations. It’s about creating buzz, getting people excited, and then delivering the goods! We’ve become known for our creative collaborations, in which we help international brands basically “ARABIZE” themselves to make them more appealing locally.

At Niche, we’re trying to change the age-old tradition of Arab woman going to Paris and London to buy their wardrobes. We want them to buy it here, and why shouldn’t she? The Arab woman is an important enough segment; she deserves access to the latest trends and at the same price as anywhere else internationally. She deserves limited editions and exclusive capsule collections tailored to her. Under that Abaya, lies a true fashion icon, and she likes to shop!

 

Speaking of Abayas and fashion icons, could you tell us how you perceive the Western stereotypes of women in the Gulf? How far/close are they from being accurate?

I think people are just curious. We’re these “covered” characters with no voice and no identity to them, when in reality the women of the Gulf are some of the most progressive and proactive women I’ve met! My dream is to create a platform where young girls in the West post Sheikha Mozah and Queen Rania pics in their lockers or on their mood boards! I want our role models to be seen as international role models, our fashion icons as influencers of the international fashion scene–and we’re getting there. It’s really just at our fingertips!

 

We have seen that a good number of fashion shows have been hosted lately in Middle Eastern cities, such as Dubai and Beirut. As an expert in the fashion industry, do you think there is a potential for the Middle East to become a hub for the international fashion industry in the near future?

Definitely. I actually came up with the slogan for Style.com Arabia’s motto: The Fashion Capital of the Middle East, during a meeting with Conde Nast’s marketing team! I think we have so much creativity pouring out of this region; it’s now just about harnessing that talent and nurturing it to a higher level of professionalism and quality.

 

We can see today that a handful of ambitious fashion designers are emerging from the Gulf, what advice would you like to give them?

BRANDING. It’s all about brand positioning! The biggest problem I see with designers, brands, even boutiques, is that they only think about today. They never take into account tomorrow. When creating a brand, it’s about creating a legacy, not just the sales for this year. Compromise, but never sacrifice your brand. Things take time and patience. Ok, now I sound like a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book. I’m going to stop now.

WORDS: ERUM AL HOWAISH

ILLUSTRATIONS: SCOTT NELLIS

  • Noel Kurdi

    Amazing interview! As someone who knows Marriam, this article/interview gives a 360 view of her talent, humor, and drive. I don’t not expect to see anything less than spectacular from her in her future endeavors.

  • Abdulmonim Jalal

    Marriam :) …you are perfect

    and nice interview .

  • http://www.facebook.com/marriamnmossalli Marriam Mossalli

    thanks so much for the comments! :) xxx

  • Ghadah WH

    Every part of the world uses their traditions and history as a branding methodology and I’m glad to see that we are starting to do the same rather than being affected by the media and never-lasting trends . Thanks Erum and marriam!

  • Salman

    Well done, Erum.