Rabia Z. - Modesty Meets Style

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With a gleeful personality and endless creativity under her belt, Emirati Rabia Z. has established herself as a unique fashion 
designer who merges Western style within modest parameters. She speaks to Rabi’ah.M on her success and how fashion is a self-expression.

The first time I met Rabia Z. was last year in London, at the Arabian Fashion World event organised by the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce. She came across as a very polite and friendly person, keen on talking to people and listening to their opinions. It was the first time I had ever heard of a unique designer such as her from the Emirates who had mastered the skill of combining Islamic modesty into Western style. She combines modern trends with traditional weaving in the tapestry of her Emirati-Afghani heritage. Her work can be described as elegant everyday wear, with an immaculate finish.

Rabia entered the limelight in October 2007, when she bagged the ‘Emerging Designer Award’ for her debut collection at the Dubai Fashion Week. She also earned the British Council’s ‘International Young Fashion Entrepreneur of the Year 2008’ award for UAE and GCC. 
In addition to her academic qualifications, Rabia enrolled 
in a master class series, led by 
Sir Paul Smith, and gained retail management training at Topshop and Selfridges in London, all of which has helped shape her 
fashion ideology.

She is a big fan of Yohji Yamamoto and John Galliano, but what truly inspires her are the people surrounding her: family, friends, 
and even strangers. Her first mentor was her mother, who owned a chic boutique. She recollects working 
at the Valentino store where the manager, Giorgio, and his fashion magazine stylist wife, Christine, mentored her, encouraging her towards freelance fashion design.

Rabia’s journey to the glitzy world 
of fashion has been a challenging one, and Rabia comprehends the depth and extent of the challenge she undertook. She clearly understands the challenges faced by Muslim women residing in non-Muslim countries, especially those who choose to adorn veils. Her ensembles represent the freedom of expression, rather than oppression, by designing moderate creations that help women dress modestly and smartly.

With her work having been showcased at various events at a national level within the UAE, Rabia was privileged when the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Arts and Culture attained some signature pieces.

Using the synergies of another energetic designer, Amber Feroz, Rabia launched the Demure Couture label to provide solutions for evening and special occasions wear. The label also carries inventive abayas (Arabic cloaks) with lots of colour, modern cuts, and creative textiles. She also launched her high street label, Ruby, at the Splash store in Dubai. March 2010 was a turning point for Rabia, as she became the first Muslim designer to showcase her fashionable conservative styles and veils in the USA at the Miami Fashion Week, styled by Kithe Brewster, one of the most prolific fashion minds in the industry today. Beth Sobo, the President of Miami Fashion Week, described Rabia’s collection as “nothing less than spectacular”, and “a true cultural experience for their guests from 
the West”. The ever-graceful and smiling Rabia met buyers from New York who said her label 
was ready for the American market, as it not 
only appeals to the Muslim market, but to 
those looking for something new and unique.

And in May 2010, Rabia was invited by Gargash Enterprises to participate at the launch of the exclusive Mercedes Benz SLS-AMG at a VVIP lifestyle fashion show to establish contemporary looks, taking the car as inspiration. Rabia was even invited to create a showstopper for the Arabian Barbie as a part of the iconic doll’s 
50th anniversary celebrations!

Expanding her role beyond the world of fashion, Rabia graced the World Islamic Economic Forum at the Young Leaders Sessions, speaking about her ideas on innovative market strategies, 
and has been tagged as one of the ‘100 Most Powerful Arab Personalities’ by Arabian Business News. She has also been a speaker at a number 
of leadership conferences: London’s Creative 
Arab Women Conference, British Council’s Global Youth Forum in Dubai, and Arab Women Leadership Panel of Columbia University’s Barnard College, alongside other respected women leaders such as H. H. Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi.

Rabia’s concept of ‘conservative chic’ has seen 
her create a partnership with Spirit of Arabia, 
a new company that aspires to provide awareness of fashion to a global audience 
of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In addition 
to her current position as a fashion designer and entrepreneur, she was selected as the Creative Director, and is working on a range of unique lines, including the Zjab, Zwear, and Zccessories.

Recently the UAE has earned a reputation for giving Emiratis – especially women – a platform to build and enhance their skills by taking on which projects of their interest. Rabia definitely agrees that launching oneself in Dubai is as easy as doing so abroad. Women have the opportunity 
to launch their labels and outsource production locally through tailoring shops.

It’s been three years since Rabia stepped 
formally into the world of fashion, bagging numerous awards, and receiving accolades 
and acknowledgements from the Gulf and internationally along the way. She has managed to win the hearts of women by tailoring something unique – one of its kind for Muslim women around the world. For Rabia, modesty 
is always in style.

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