Designer Mansuor Aziz Ahmad Image Credit: 3asrii

It takes guts to do a career 180, to give up an already successful business and take on something completely unrelated to whatever you’ve done. And what if your new venture is specifically targeted at a community you don’t quite belong to?

One Dubai-based Pakistani entrepreneur-turned-fashion designer is suiting up for that role by launching his line of funky kandouras. Called 3asrii, which means modern in Arabic, Masoor Aziz Ahmad says his take on the traditional Arab garment has been a long time in the making.

“The idea is to update the kandoura with accents of Western style without changing the fundamentals, only garnishing it with new elements. Even the brand name itself reflects the assimilation of something western — roman typography — into Arabic language,” he says.

A trading business owner, Ahmad, 31, who recently launched his first collection, wants to make this his full-time career.

“My resume is as far removed from fashion. But creative arts are my true calling and I have decided that I am going to make this 180 degree switch in my career and go after doing something I love.”

The Directory caught up with him to talk fashion, the challenges of working with such a traditional Arabian clothing and where he wants to take his label.

Why did you decide to start 3asrii?

I moved to Dubai three years ago and in this time I have gotten to really appreciate and respect the kandoura. It is a very elegant garment, but at the same time I think it leaves a lot of room for the expression of one’s personal style. Overall there is very little variation in the kandouras worn today with a handful of popular colours, and some differentiation in the finer details like subtle embroidery or the style of the kerkusha (piece of fabric that hangs from his neck). I believe that this could change.

As a young Arab male, you don’t wear the same style of pants as your dad, or the same T-shirt as your buddy. Why should your kandouras be the same? I respect the kandoura tradition and the young Arab male to have remained true to it, despite the massive influx of Western culture. But that guy should have an opportunity to wear a kandoura as unique as himself.

In a way 3asrii embodies the spirit of the modern Middle East — a meeting place of different cultures, tolerant and open to new experiences and influences.

Have you always been interested in fashion?

I have always had a creative streak in me and have been a risk-taker when it comes to my personal fashion choices. Throughout my life I have felt a pull towards the creative side of life and have been involved with creative projects on the side, satisfying my appetite bit by bit. I have acted in, directed and produced stage plays, designed websites and corporate logos, written some fiction, attempted playing an instrument and put together corporate marketing events. I am passionate about fashion but I have not had an outlet to channel this passion until now.

Has it been difficult to get the brand off the ground?

It has been difficult, yes. The biggest hurdle has been finding a sales channel for my brand without investing in an outlet of my own. You find a number of multi-brand stores for women’s fashion in Dubai where new designers can showcase their collections but finding something similar for men’s fashion has been a challenge. Also, my decision of making each design in very limited numbers does not go down well with traditional retailers who are used to working with large quantities. My philosophy is to ensure uniqueness and exclusivity.

Where do you manufacture or source your fabrics from?

I develop the designs myself and currently source the fabrics from within the UAE. My manufacturing is in-house so I can ensure quality at every step of the process. I want to support the local commerce related to fashion and have 3asrii be ‘proudly made in the UAE’ always.

How has the reception been?

It has been mixed and very interesting. To some people the idea is completely alien, sacrilege even, to have racing stripes on a kandoura. To others it is a “why hasn’t anyone done this until now?” moment when they see my designs. I respect everyone’s opinion and welcome criticism. I understand that my designs are and will continue to be polarising and are not everyone’s cup of tea.

How many collections have you released so far?

I have released my debut collection for the autumn/winter 2013. The designs in this collection really establish a baseline for the brand philosophy and point the way forward. This collection introduces you to the brand and its core design language. The designs are very basic, templates for the future in a way. The future designs will only push the envelope more, bringing more and more radical ideas. I have 20 designs in my current collection. The designs take inspiration from sports, fast cars and bikes.

Tell me a little bit about the customisation service you offer?

This is a unique product, as unique as every single person. The philosophy of 3asrii is to enable one to show his unique personal style. So I would welcome people to invest their thoughts into creating their 3asrii kandouras. Get in touch with me and we can come up with something that is truly and uniquely ‘you’. I will always be happy to sit with them and come up with something custom-made.

Who would you say are your target customers?

Any Arab, from the age of 15 to 45, who likes to take care of his appearance is who I am reaching out to.

There are already quite a few kandoura designers in the region. How would you set yourself apart?

Well for one thing my designs will not be taking the safe route, ever. My designs will always be avant-garde, always on the edge. 3asrii will have a very distinctive western influence, pushing the envelope of what a kandoura can be.

Where else do you want to take your label?

I would like 3asrii to become the go-to brand for fashion-forward young Arab men. In future we hope to add more formal designs and luxury fabrics to our line.

What would you say about the men’s fashion market in the UAE?

I think there is a gap in the men’s fashion market for local designers to come and create some magic, not just for kandouras but also for western wear. Local menswear designers should be supported in developing a locally relevant flavour and fashion ecosystem. On a more general level, Dubai is a melting pot of cultures but that has not resulted in as vibrant a fashion industry as it could have. In the more active women’s fashion market, I do not see cross-culture work being done, rather people are working in their own cultural silos. For example, there is an Arab fashion industry and there is an Indian/Pakistani fashion industry, with little or no cross-communication or borrowing of influences and ideas. Dubai has the potential for being a major multi-cultural fashion hub, like New York City.

For more on 3asrii, go to facebook.com/3asrii