.للقراءة بالعربية انقروا هنا
By Vittoria Volgare Detaille
Many countries around the world have seen a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases and the Gulf region has not been spared. Because of the pandemic, wearing face masks for protection in public has become mandatory in all the Arab Gulf States.
As we adjust to this new way of life, some think we might as well be fashionable while we reduce the spread of the virus.
At the beginning of the health crisis various designers in Europe, both small and established ones, have stepped in to alleviate the initial shortage of masks. In a second time fashion brands have started to get creative and produced them in a myriad of styles, and patterns. In the Arab world, designers have adapted to this new norm as well.
These stylish face masks are not medical grade ones but are reusable, washable hence sustainable. Additionally they add some enthusiasm and brightness to this new necessity.
To avoid being accused of capitalizing on a global crisis, the prices are often affordable or part of the proceeds are donated to the needy and vulnerable communities.
Four Gulf designers tell Sekka why they ventured into the production of what has become essential.
The danger of the spread of the virus in the Gulf region and across the globe was hard to come to grips with for a lot of people. As uncertainty set in, Bahraini brand Annada, founded by sisters Nada and Noor Alawi, wanted to help and give back to the community in a positive and useful way.
Annada’s masks are sustainable and reusable to reduce waste. Images: Annada. Click on each image to enlarge it.
The brand started in 2011 by partnering with artists in Bahrain and the Middle East to create silk, wool, and cashmere scarves and over time has expanded to include apparel, leather goods, and paper goods. With the health crisis kicking in, they have teamed up to produce unisex face masks that marry fashion with art, all handmade in the Kingdom.
“Annada is a brand that at its core aims to bring joy and happiness to people through art. So we started there. We knew there was a growing need for protective gear, with shortages of medical masks being reported globally. Our goal was to contribute to the production of masks for the public, in the hope of leaving the medical-grade ones for frontline workers”, Nada explains.
The sisters also wanted the masks to be sustainable and reusable to reduce waste. “We repurposed our existing cotton scarves and stitched them into double-layered face masks. They are designed to be breathable, washable, adjustable, and of course artistic – in true Annada fashion”.
Furthermore, in the spirit of giving back, 25 percent of proceeds go to the International Women’s Association in Bahrain that supports over 600 families in need, they tell us.
Giving hope is the main drive behind this new venture. “In a world where everyone is covering up to protect themselves, we don’t often see a friendly smile from a stranger. Hopefully, a piece of art can bring a lighter feeling. We aim to bring joy, happiness, color, and beauty into the lives of people who love to be surrounded by art”.
Works by three artists were selected to embellish the face masks sets: Blue Sea by Iraqi Ghassan Mohsin, The (I) in Me by Bahraini Maryam Nass, Her Story by Kuwaiti Amira Behbehani. After an overwhelmingly positive response they added Oasis by Bahraini painter Abbas Almosawi. Each set comes with three masks and each piece is cut from a different section of the same artwork.
“We got a lot of feedback from customers who were very excited to see a mask that was colorful and uplifting. Many gifted the mask sets as a way of connecting with their friends and family during a time of social distancing”. The fact that the masks are marketed as 100% made of natural fiber, cotton, and silk, comfortable on the face and reusable was met with a lot of positive responses as well.
Nasiba Hafiz, Saudi Arabia
Jeddah born and based designer Nasiba Hafiz is known for her eccentric and innovative style inspired by old Arabic movies, musicals, and actresses. Daughter of the late and renowned Saudi publisher Hisham Ali Hafiz and a graduate from the London College of Fashion, she started her label in 2011. Since then she has never been afraid of experimenting with her creations.
Nasiba Hafiz’s designs are bright-colored, daring, and different. Images: Naisba Hafiz. Click on each image to enlarge it.
Her designs and prints are often bright-colored, daring, and minimalist. The face masks she has been producing since the beginning of March follow the same philosophy.
Nasiba tells us how she ventured into the creation of this new accessory during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I saw a few of the international designers making them and I thought why not try since I already produce tote bags and other items from scrap materials. So we basically recycle whatever fabric we have. We don’t throw away anything”, Nasiba says. Sustainable, washable, and reusable, they come in various colorful models.
The whole proceeds of the first batch produced in March were donated to a charity in Saudi Arabia, she tells us.
FMM , UAE
Emirati visual artist, fashion, and graphic designer Fatma Al Mulla created fun masks with colorful designs inspired by Arabic pop culture. Through her brand FMM, she proposes models adorned by funky oud bottles, sadu weaving [embroidery in geometrical shapes traditionally hand-woven by Bedouins], a smiley face and floral motifs prints.
“FMM is a trendy brand that reacts to the needs of society. I started creating masks because I wanted my community to benefit from my brand…I wanted to uplift our customers and society with a positive inspiring design on a mask… Our prices are also not high for a reason, we do not wish to profit as we wish to give back to society”.
Established in 2012, FMM is a collection of pop culture-inspired dresses, abayas, and t-shirts infused with Khaleeji and Middle Eastern tradition, culture, identity, and Arabic language.
The message behind the brand? “I would love everyone to know that there are proud and amazing people living in the Middle East and we have a lot of culture and inspiration to share with the world”, Fatma says.
At the moment the masks come in a variety of materials: cotton, jersey, and crepe fabric. As customers are loving the product, Fatma is also looking into creating a design with filters.
Lomar, Saudi Arabia
Masks are not a novelty for Saudi thobe-focused fashion house Lomar. The Jeddah-based luxury brand has been producing washable face masks since the outbreak of MERS, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome that was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. Back then Lomar was already offering masks with modern prints and which were marketed as coming with disposable activated carbon filters. To face COVID-19 the new LOMAR face mask collection will be available in the coming weeks.
Lomar was founded in 2002 by Saudi entrepreneurs and couple Loai Nassem and Mona Al Haddad to innovate and modernize the design of the thobe, a long dress worn by men in the Gulf, without giving up on their heritage.
“We want to pass the message that you can protect yourself with a touch of style”, Christophe Beaufays, designer and associate art director of Lomar says.
Started as a brand to cater to men, in 2014 they launched a new line for women that rethinks the abaya as well. As the past meets the future in Lomar’s designs, the mask will also follow this philosophy and will be perfect to be matched with their garments.
Vittoria Volgare Detaille is a freelance journalist and translator. After having studied Arabic Literature at the University of Napoli “L’Orientale”, she collaborated with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and with the Italian Press Agency ANSA. She has lived for more than 10 years in the Middle East (Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya and Kuwait) and is currently based in Singapore.
The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.