The path to success, it’s often said, is paved with reality. It’s one thing to want to become a fashion designer, quite the other to be one with a flourishing business.

Ahead of the bi-annual Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD) this week, we asked some of the designers — both apparel and accessories — showcasing the event to tell us how they kick-started their brands, the challenges they faced and how they came out of it.

Ezra Santos, womanswear designer
Catwalk show on Friday, October 21, at 9pm.

“I started working as an in-house fashion designer for a well-known fashion house in 1993. It had always been my dream to have my own fashion house and by God’s grace, I opened my own couture house in 2004. It was not an easy journey for me because I’m not a business person. But with perseverance, guts and lots of prayers we are now on our 12th year in the fashion business. What I built with my team is a result of patience, strong will, courage, blood, sweat and tears. There’s a quote that I learned by Thomas Edison: ‘The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.’”

Amira Haroon, womenswear designer
Presentation on Sunday, October 23, 6.30pm.

“I have always loved collecting art, travelling, vintage pieces and Art Deco. In 2010 I decided to combine all my passions and launched Amira Haroon, a pret-a-porter label that is proudly made in Dubai. While it’s been a great journey, setting up the business was not the easiest and I find the biggest problem in this city is finding skilled artisans. At the end of the day I’m proud to dress today’s strong, modern Middle Eastern woman.”

Furne One of Amato Couture
Catwalk show on Sunday, October 23 at 10pm.

“I launched my label Amato in the UAE in 2002 after partnering with textile expert Rashid Ali. It means ‘beloved’ in Italian. From the very first collection, we touched a chord with the region’s fashion elite and the Emirates’ beautiful women. After taking part in international fashion weeks, from London to Los Angeles and Miami, we began getting noticed by celebrities from around the world. Stars who have worn our creations include supermodel Heidi Klum, Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry, Shakira, Heidi Klum, Nicole Scherzinger, Amber Rose and Nicki Minaj. Hard work and diligence are the keys to our success. But, you know, there are so many talented designers everywhere so I think you also need a little luck. Being in the right place at the right time. I was lucky.”

Arwa Al Banawi, womenswear designer
Presentation on Friday, October 21, at 3pm.

“I started in March 2015 to finally pursue my dream. I grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, drowning myself in arts and fashion. It’s not something that anyone can understand. It was even a challenge to convince my family that this was my passion and my dream. But my parents were my first school in fashion: my mother is a wonderful artist so I was exposed to that world from a young age, and I used to tell my father to get me a copy of Vogue every time he came back from Europe from his business trips. I took up fashion design courses with the London College of Fashion and kept practicing my sketching and started by designing pieces for myself. It was a hard, long journey as I also financed myself in the beginning because I wanted to challenge myself. Every start-up business is difficult and in fashion it also requires perfection and an open mind, not to be shy in envisioning a time or a story that doesn’t exist and being able to create it on paper and then on a catwalk.”

Faiza Bouguessa of Bouguessa
Presentation on Sunday, October 23, at 6pm.

“I started my label in 2013 but the first collection was launched in April 2014 only. In the beginning, not knowing what’s the next move was a real struggle. When you start, just understanding the market takes a lot of time and staying focused and dedicated is very key. It was important for me to deal with suppliers, clients, press and other contacts myself. It taught me a lot of patience and it helped me to understand all aspects of how to run a fashion business.”

Dima Ayad, womenswear designer
Presentation on Sunday, October 23 at 9.30pm.

“I started in 2011. I felt there was a need in the market for mid-market evening wear — somewhere between haute couture and high street. I started by designing for me, then my family and friends. I then tried a collection and was pleasantly surprised with how well it was received. And then the journey began. The highs and lows are in fact unforgettable. I received no funding and it was very challenging to receive financing to support the business. Until this day the cash flow is a struggle based on delayed payments coupled with advanced purchases of all raw materials and producing some collections on consignment. Local stores in specific are reluctant to carry regional talent. The GCC [is] more receptive but we struggle within the UAE. I wouldn’t change a thing about it all though; it’s been an incredible journey and so so much to look forward to.”

Basma Abu Ghazaleh of Kage
Presentation on Friday, October 21 at 5.30pm.

“I started Kage in 2009 with my former partner and childhood friend. We wanted to design clothes for the stylishly daring woman who dresses effortlessly. Although we were met with a great reception early on, we also faced numerous challenges along the way, typical to a start-up. The fashion industry is fast-paced and a very competitive business so it’s a constant struggle [that] needs commitment and drive. Every roadblock has been a learning curve that has positively helped shape Kage.”

Lama Jouni, womenswear designer
Catwalk show on Saturday, October 22 at 3.30pm.

“My eponymous label was created in November 2013. In 2007, I moved to Paris to study fashion design at Parsons Paris, and trained at some of the most respected fashion houses like Balmain and Rad Hourani. Life is so fast-paced now and the industry faces the same pressures, so expanding rapidly is a challenge. The key is to always stay true to my aesthetic, and make strategic decisions that would benefit my brand in the long run.”

Narinee Tchilinguirian, jewellery designer for Narinee
At The Showcase. All days.

“As an interior architect specialising in product design in Milan, my graduation thesis subject ‘Armenian contemporary design’ opened a new horizon before me, culminating — a few years later — in the creation of Narinee jewellery line, launched in the summer of 2015. It is a collection inspired by the Armenian architectural and cultural heritage, mixing traditional craftsmanship and contemporary manufacturing techniques and materials. The strongest challenge facing me was to understand the potential of the materials and to succeed in their combination. This required a long experimental phase, supported by personal savings.

During that short time, the collection has garnered a lot of praise, but it is still a very recent venture.”

 Rula Galayini, accessories designer
At The Showcase. All days.

“My academic background is in graphic design. I received a full scholarship at the Rhode Island School of Design. I went on to work in advertising, handling the creative direction for numerous fashion and luxury accounts. In parallel, I continued to take fashion design courses at Esmod, and London College of Fashion. I launched the brand in 2007 under the name of Poupee Couture with just $200 [Dh734.4] and continued to grow and remain profitable for six years. In 2014, I required financing for the evolution of Poupee Couture from a local business to a global brand. In order to do so I sought funds and business expertise through a crowdinvesting platform This resulted in Poupee Couture gaining over 165 per cent of its initial funding target in just eight days, making it the first fashion brand in the Middle East to be crowdfunded. On February 10, 2015, Poupee Couture re-launched as Rula Galayini, with a revised holistic identity.

At the early stages, the main challenges were convincing retailers to take a chance on a new brand and actually buy the products as opposed to working on a consignment basis. However, today, the brand retails in more than 13 cities including prestigious outlets such as Saks Fifth Avenue, and Galeries Lafayette. Through various online outlets, RG has a client base that spans over 30 countries in 4 continents.”

Said Mahrouf, womenswear designer
Presentation on Saturday, October 22 at 7pm.

“For 10 years after my graduation, I researched the special relation between the human body and architecture through clothing in the form of site-specific performances. I had the pleasure of creating performances for The New Museum of Contemporary Art, Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and many galleries internationally. After an exhibition of my work in Villa des Arts in Casablanca I was approached by Festimode Casablanca fashion week to create a collection to showcase at their second edition of the event, which I accepted. This was my first step into creating wearable clothing. Now six years later, I had the pleasure to show my collections among others at Pret a Porter Paris Salon, several editions of Mercedez-Benz Fashion Week Amsterdam, and showing for the fourth time at FFWD. I gained the confidence from my clients in Casablanca where I am based due to my presentation outside Morocco.”

Kristina Fidelskaya, womenswear designer
Catwalk show on Friday, October 21, at 6.30pm.

“From a young age, it was a natural love of art that sparked a desire for creativity. After studying at Esmod Dubai, I decided to start my own contemporary label, Kristina Fidelskaya in 2014. The modern contemporary woman inspired me to initially start my fashion line and she is my muse behind every collection.

Being privately owned, Kristina Fidelskaya entered a competitive market. Generally, young designers need to prove themselves among big labels because consumers are inclined to shop recognisable names. But we are lucky that the diverse nature of Dubai has given us the platform to grow our brand so that it is ready for the global market.”

Ahmad Al Sayed of House of Nomad
Presentation on October 21 at 9:30pm.

“Saleh [Al Banna] and I have been very good friends even before starting House of Nomad. He ran a family business while I was working as an online fashion content editor. With his expertise in running a business and my creative flair, we decided to fuse our talents and the brand was born in 2014 out of our passion for travelling with each design reminiscent of our travel stories.”

Ava for Hashe
Presentation on Friday, October 21 at 8.30pm.

“I started Hashe at the age of 19, in June 2012 with the sponsorship of Moet & Chandon after winning the award for best upcoming fashion designer in New England. At the time, I was studying management at Boston University and Fashion Design at School of Fashion Design in Boston. After completion of my studies in US, I moved back to Dubai and set up Hashe here in the UAE. During the past three years, the brand has evolved to include handbags and most recently accessories.”

Vinita Michael, jewellery designer and gemologist
At The Showcase. All days.

“For as long as I can remember, I had always been creatively inclined. However, it was only much later that I started considering design as a career option and applied for the Bachelors in Design in 2004 at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in India, with a specialisation in jewellery and precious products. I got married and moved to Dubai in 2012 but 2014 was when the brand as we know it today was conceptualised and started taking shape. It was registered as a Middle Eastern entity in early 2015.

There were a few teething issues when we started off. The first challenge was finding the right craftsmen, which is crucial in my line. The second challenge was setting up our recently launched e-commerce platform — Finding the right payment gateway was a challenge and delayed our e-commerce launch by over eight months. I am happy to say now that the platform is up and running and will be one of our major retail channels going forward.”

Don’t miss it!

Fashion Forward (FFWD) runs from October 20 to 23 at the Dubai Design District (d3). Limited tickets priced at Dh100 (one-day pass) and Dh200 (three-day pass) are available on Registration is mandatory. Go to