FASHION Saudi designer, Sara Rayess (right), launched her Foulard brand in 2011 after noticing a lack of stylish headscarves in the market. Today, Foulard is a go-to brand for elegant and stylish headwear. Qurratulain Wahab met up with Sara to find out more
From the July 2019 issue of Lucire KSA
Qurratulain Wahab is the editor of Lucire KSA.
Sara Rayess has had a lifelong interest in fashion, and shows that you can turn a hobby into a well known brand—in fact, one that’s good enough to show on the London catwalks. With a perfume, Lili, now also under her belt, Sara continues to grow her presence in the fashion and beauty worlds.
Can you tell us about your background?
I was born in Riyadh and raised in Jeddah. I’m actually half-German, half-Syrian. I have four brothers and I’m an only daughter. My father is a businessman and my mother is my source of support. I studied graphic design at Jeddah’s Dar Al-Hekma University. Although the university had a department of fashion design, I was interested in graphic design.
How did you become interested in fashion design?
As I was the only girl in the family, I was somewhat like a doll for my mother. She would take great pleasure in dressing me up in style so in that sense I’ve been aware of fashion since my childhood.
I started designing as a hobby right after I enrolled at university in 2010. I’ve always worn a headscarf—what we call a hijab—but I wanted to be fashionable at the same time. In my teen years, I used to look for headscarves to match my clothes but there wasn’t very much variety to choose from. I also wanted to change the mentality about the hijab which I believed could be elegant, stylish and fashionable. That’s when I got the idea of creating my own headscarves. After I graduated from Dar Al-Hekma University, I took a course in fashion design in London. There were many basics I needed to know about the fashion industry. Since my friends on the course were from different countries, that diversity also empowered me very much.
Where does the brand name come from?
Foulard is a French word for scarf. You know how in every family, there are particular words the family use among themselves that may be different from the usual words that are used? In our house, we always called a scarf a foulard and I chose it as the name of my brand to give it a French vibe. I’ve always been inspired by the French sense of style and elegance. Foulard is about mixing different cultures with modernity to create something new. For example, my creations are often inspired by classical films. I like actresses such as Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot.
What were the challenges you faced?
There were many: finding the right fabrics, getting them stitched, embroidery, quality assurance, being up-do-date, photoshoots, finding models, locations—all of those were very challenging tasks. I started selling on Facebook because Instagram wasn’t a thing in those days. When we started, we were the only brand selling headscarves. We had no competitors. In those days, there was nothing called ‘modest fashion’. I wanted to show people that you could be modest and wear a headscarf and still be fashionable and trendy. That was the hardest part. People were not very familiar with that idea and so it was difficult. But the way we entered the market convinced people to like the products. We’re not just selling scarves, but we’re a trend-setter. Part of our marketing strategy was providing people with ideas how to create full outfits.
Did you find much support for what you were doing?
My family has been very supportive since the beginning. One of the biggest motivations was the positive feedback that I got from my customers. My first customers were family members—my mom, sisters-in-law, cousins, and aunts.
In 2017, you took part in London Modest Fashion Week. How important was that for your brand?
It was actually the organizers who approached me about participating in the show which was the first modest fashion show to be held in London. It was a great experience and was somewhat of a milestone for the brand. We designed exclusive outfits to go with the headscarves. Foulard was the only participant from Saudi Arabia and it offered great exposure for me and the brand.
Can you talk more about your collections and what inspired them?
My first collection was Happy Scarves. It was a spring–summer collection and consisted of many bright summery colours. Now we have over 15 collections and each collection has a different story and background. My latest collection, Mandaloun, for example, was inspired by the oriental patterns that you see in old Syrian houses. There is a very particular pattern used on windows and doors and this is reflected in the designs of the headscarves. Last year we collaborated with another brand called Third Culture to launch the Lam Shaml headscarf. It’s a patterned headscarf with illustrations representing a country or a culture. Another collection is called Tayr which is the Arabic for bird. I wanted to express the idea of freedom and so a bird was embroidered on every scarf. This is my personal favourite and my go-to headscarf. Most of our headscarves are made of voile and viscose because these fabrics are easy to wear. They don’t slip. They’re breathable and are good for the hot and humid weather in this part of the world.
You recently launched a perfume.
Yes, we launched our perfume called Lili in April at Jeddah’s Social Space. It was created in uae. It’s a mix of warmth and sweetness, with French roses, touches of saffron, and earthy wood interlace which gives it a beautiful fragrance. Three years ago, every Foulard that was shipped was sprayed with Lili. The customers would always ask about the perfume, saying it smelled so good and wanted to know where they could buy it. That led me to launch the perfume. We also sell headscarf essentials, such as pins and undercaps and limited edition occasional-wear kimonos. We have local and international customers and we ship worldwide.
Where do you see the Saudi fashion and beauty industry heading in the coming years?
The modest fashion industry is growing. Many brands have a separate modest collection and I see myself and my brand in a very good place. With Vision 2030, there is much more support being given to entrepreneurs. They are being provided with such amazing platforms to put themselves forward and they must take advantage of these opportunities. •
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