DUBAI: Recently the UK’s Daily Telegraph published an opinion piece on Nike’s new plus-size mannequins, which are part of the sportswear giant’s move to become more size-inclusive. Author Tanya Gold branded the mannequin “immense, gargantuan, and vast. She heaves with fat.” The daily was attacked on social media for fat-shaming — and leading the conversation in the Middle East was Dubai-based Lebanese designer Dima Ayad.
Ayad re-posted the article on her social media, with the caption, “Shame on you,” and — in a separate video — asked why the Telegraph had allowed the piece to run. She followed that up with images of her own vigorous workout — proving that one’s fitness levels are not solely dependent on one’s size.
Ayad is well-qualified to speak on the issue. Not only does she have her own only curve-friendly eponymous fashion label, she is also a marketing professional at US-based e-commerce platform 11 Honoré — a size-inclusive luxury fashion portal that recently started delivering to the Middle East.
Ayad has no formal training in fashion apart from a three-month course at Dubai’s Esmod. She graduated in business with emphasis on marketing from The American University in Dubai, and went on to do some hospitality courses at New York’s Cornell University. It was while she was back in Dubai (where she has lived since she was two), working in the marketing department at Atlantis the Palm, that she began designing clothes — a move sparked by her frustration at how little was available for plus-size women in the region’s retail outlets.
“Fashion is a part of a woman’s life whatever industry she’s in,” Ayad says. “I think — considering I struggled with fashion for so long — I thought about it more, and spent so much time finding things that worked for me that I began to understand certain intricacies a little more. It came to me naturally; there was such a glaring gap in the market (for) women like me who didn’t fit in the ‘average’ (size) bracket. Why were we alienated? Why weren’t we accepted? I wanted to help make a change.”
It’s been eight years, and her label now retails on several international e-commerce platforms.
And fashion is now what she does full-time. Two years ago, when her close friend Ghizlan Guenez, decided to start a luxury fashion e-commerce website that was all about modest fashion, The Modist, Ayad found her fit in the fashion industry.
“The complete shift to fashion was only ever going to happen if something incredible came along. It was the boldest career move I ever made,” she tells Arab News.
Ayad became the company’s marketing and PR director and within two years The Modist has become one of the most respected fashion companies from the Middle East. Her label still retails on the website. It gave the seasoned marketing professional exposure to the international fashion industry and while she was there she heard about 11 Honoré’s launch.
“It was like a dream come true. Luxury fashion for sizes US 12-24! Some of my favourite brands too,” she says. “I chased Patrick Herning, founder and CEO of 11 Honoré, incessantly to meet and showcase my collection.”
11 Honoré’s runway presentation opened the last edition of New York Fashion Week; 12 designers were asked to be a part of the show and Ayad’s label was the only one to be selected from the Middle East. And when Herning decided that the region would be 11 Honoré’s first international market in April this year, it was only natural that Ayad joined the team.
A multitasker at heart, Ayad, recently announced that she would be starting her own sportswear line.
“Being and feeling fit is for everyone and Sportswear should be available for purchase in abundance. And here we are in 2019, struggling to find the few pieces that fit in sportswear. This frustration has led me to look into it deeper,” she says.
Ayad has previously designed an athleisure capsule collection but this will be a full performance workout line. “As far as the inclusivity conversation goes, I think this region has begun to embrace it; we’re still at the beginning, but we’re getting there,” she says.
While Cosmopolitan Middle East did feature the region’s first plus-size model, Ameni Esseibi, on its cover this month, Ayad feels women still need to celebrate their bodies as they are. That is why she started her “You… As is” collection, and for the summer she has tied up with well-known jewellery designer, Nadine Kanso of Bil Arabi to create T-shirts that read “You… As is” in Arabic calligraphy.
“I strongly believe in collaboration and connection. There is so much talent in this region and we need to open our minds and expand our horizons,” she says, adding that she is currently working on another collaboration project — this time focused on shoes.
Ayad is happy to be a “Made in the Middle East” label and works with several ateliers based in Dubai, though her fabrics are sourced globally.
Designing is clearly about more than clothes for Ayad; it’s about starting a conversation. She literally wears her beliefs on her sleeve (or shirt front) and encourages other women to do the same. Her hope is that. within five years, the Dima Ayad label will be available in department stores all around the world.
“The idea is to work with women globally, to have seminars about size inclusivity, and to overcome barriers and stigmas and feel free,” she says.
And, of course, the designer will always have one foot in the marketing world, but then you never forget your first love.