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Unity without judgement

FASHION Saudi brand 1886 has an empowering message of self-expression without judgement—all while making high-quality streetwear that stands the test of time. Jack Yan talks to founders Fahad Al Jomaiah and Khalid Al Jammaz

First published in the November 2022 issue of Lucire KSA




Launched six years ago in Riyadh, 1886 has made its name known in Saudi Arabia as the country’s first streetwear brand, with a mix between modernity, heritage, and edginess. It’s grown strongly, and propelled even further thanks to Vision 2030 and the Kingdom’s support for young entrepreneurs—an enviable example of a Saudi-founded and increasingly global streetwear brand. Most recently it opened a retail shop at the Yacht Club in Jeddah, a further sign of its appeal among millennials and Generation Z in the Gulf region.

Fahad Al Jomaiah and Khalid Al Jammaz, 1886’s founders, see their brand as inclusive, championing a message of individual pride and accepting who you are. The name doesn’t come from the year—18 and 86 are lucky numbers for the founders. They understand that streetwear is a reflection of subcultures, and believed that their message, as well as their approach of using innovative fabrics, textiles and designs, would find resonance with today’s young consumers. Their aim, as stated on their site: ‘bridging fashion to the future by uniting the tradition of urban wear to tomorrow’s innovations and technical æsthetic.’

The duo met as students in London, with Al Jomaiah studying business management and Al Jammaz studying marketing. ‘Our encounter was purely accidental. We did not know each other before moving to the UK. What an eventful coincidence!’ the pair tells Lucire.

‘The fact that we were both Saudi made it easy to connect in terms of mentality and common background, but when we realized that we were both into fashion and streetwear trends, and we shared a passion for mixing and matching garments to create unique looks, we understood that together we could make something great. We had the same vision to create a Saudi label that represented our generation in that particular time in KSA.’

In their dorm rooms, they began gathering items that inspired them and pinning them to their mood boards. No item was too small: ‘from second-hand stuff found in the London market to new fabric samples. London is such an inspiring city with multiple styles that a simple walk ignites creativity. When our dorm room had pretty much no empty space left we sensed we were on to something.’

In the mid-2010s, there was little by way of streetwear in Saudi Arabia, giving the duo an opportunity. Fashion was dominated by traditional wear and international brands. With a third Jeddah-based behind-the-scenes partner and brand co-owner, Mateb Alzaidi, whom the pair call ‘the game changer’ who supports them in operations, strategy and logistics, they set out to make 1886 a reality.

Al Jomaiah and Al Jammaz knew there was a gap in the market-place, and they had a concept, but there were numerous hurdles to overcome. The primary one was changing perceptions about what a Saudi brand could deliver—that it could be on a par with international ones. It led to a search for quality producers, using the right materials with ethical and sustainable values that were in line with their own.

An early effort saw a Turkish manufacturer deliver everything in the same size, but labelled as different sizes, giving the men a quick lesson to evaluate their production houses carefully. That manufacturer was swiftly dumped.

Today, production takes place with a new manufacturer in Portugal who could deliver to the quality and transparency demanded by 1886. The company can now ‘guarantee transparency on processes, sourcing and production, and follow all phases of the cycle. Sustainability means to also guarantee the working conditions of our employees, fair working hours and fair compensations for their talents.’

As consumers themselves prior to starting 1886, Al Jomaiah and Al Jammaz say they understand that garments need to last. ‘With this in mind, our mission is to surpass our idea of quality and durability and make something that is precious because [it is] made with care and attention to the little details. Our goal is not surpassing what foreign labels are doing, but offer the best possible quality to our customers and making 1886 become synonymous with streetwear quality.’

On sustainability, they recently created a full collection using leftover fabrics of the one before, and 1886 expects to continue improving their production processes. ‘Technology is on our side and we can use it to make fashion a less polluting industry.’

In addition to manufacture, their design approach was particularly distinctive from day one. Rather than just choosing to be sustainable and doing quirky graphics, 1886 goes much deeper, and includes a distinct technological theme, namely a belief that technology is here to improve our lives, not make us subservient to it.

‘We are very much inspired by the theme related to space, planets, utopia lands that you can find only in futuristic tales,’ they tell Lucire. ‘It is very inspiring to see how humans have used the technology to shape their world. 1886 expresses this moment in time through fashion. Our ideas come from the continuous change we witness and the fascination of a world where AI and robots will be the norm.’

When asked to define this further, they say: ‘Yes, we are attracted by the new technologies applied to fashion and textiles. Experimenting with the latest weaving technique or manufacturing process is in our DNA.’

An example they gave was a 3D-printed corset that they presented for 100 Saudi Brands, an event supported by the Minsitry of Culture and the Saudi Fashion Commission. ‘The piece features a 3D-printed top featuring an asymmetrical design inspired by the story of and Galatea’s eternalized beauty, coupled with cashmere puffer pants, hand-sewn in the 1886 studio. The look was completed with 3D-printed gloves and a mask with the same ornate design.

‘Our promise to our customers is to use technology to make more durable and sustainable garments.’

1886’s values include unity, so it sees itself not only as a retail brand, but one that spearheads a community. Think of any top brand and there is a community behind it, often organized by satisfied owners and fans. Called the Flying Monkey Club—taking its name from the graphic that appears on 1886’s sweatshirts and T-shirts—it was created by Al Jomaiah and Al Jammaz themselves to bring its supporters together.

‘The Flying Monkey Club concept is absolutely casual,’ they explain. ‘We wanted to come up with something that was fun, imaginative for 1886.

‘Clubs are usually exclusive and have a set rules to comply to, we wanted the exact opposite. A non-club open to anyone where there is no judgement and where its members can express themselves without following a set æsthetic or a defined way of being in the world.

‘The monkey represents an intelligent, cunning and funny animal. We made a graphic that looked cute. Something that makes you smile and it is not serious.

‘The first time we offered the Flying Monkey Club cards to our clients we ran out in one day. It was incredible.’

The brand has stayed consistent to its aims, and an earlier release referred to ‘awkwardness without scrutiny.’ They elaborate: ‘There is a sense of belonging that pervades the people who wear 1886. They all feel they are part of a community that is not judgemental. Fashion is self-expression and if you put limits to it it ceases to exist in its highest form.

‘The Flying Monkey Club is not a physical club but a mental space where people look to the future with curiosity and are open to experimentation.’

In another sign of the founders’ involvement, and their desire to be one with their customers, the duo still head to the shop floor personally to get feedback directly. ‘We love to be part of the same crowd that supported us since the early days. We are definitely unconventional from this perspective. Usually founders sit behind their desk most of the time; in our case you can find us easily at a pop up, in store or at an event talking and chatting to our clientèle. This is because our clientèle sees us just like them: we like the same things and we grew in the same background, we share the same optimism for the future and we are eager to contribute to the transformation that is happening around us. We are proud of the community we have built through 1886.’

Vision 2030 has been a boon to 1886, especially in a country where 70 per cent of the population is under 25. ‘As you can expect, this makes the country incredible vibrant and ever changing. HRH [the Crown Prince] unlocked what was in the air for some time that has helped the country to accelerate even further and propel the Kingdom to a new level. The government supports young entrepreneurs to set up their business, and this is why you see so many companies owned by young entrepreneurs under the age of 25. How inspiring is that?

‘If this policy wasn’t there, we would have launched abroad in places like London, Berlin or Milan, but we are proud Saudis and starting off in Riyadh, our city, makes us even prouder of what we achieved in such a short time span.’

That expansion has seen them get strong awareness in other GCC countries, as 1886’s reputation grows organically. Domestically, they have found Jeddah as welcoming as Riyadh, and culturally similar: ‘we are equally attached to our tradition, welcoming towards tourists who are discovering our beautiful land for the first time.’

The next step is for 1886 to open across the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar. And their ambitions are clear—and, with how they have progressed so far, achievable. ‘The long-term goal is to open in each city from New York to Tokyo by way of Milan. A challenging goal that we are ready to embrace with perseverance.’ •




Jack Yan is founder and publisher of Lucire.




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