Saudi abaya designer Suad Al-Zamil never thought she would start a fashion career until her 16-year-old daughter started asking her to buy an abaya every month to match the latest fashion trend. Al-Zamil thought it would a hassle to find exactly what her daughter wanted, so she thought of making one herself. Sue Abayas is named after Al-Zamil’s nickname
Al-Zamil graduated with a degree in math and science and worked as a teacher until she started her abaya label. “After designing my first abaya for my daughter, I received great feedback from her friends at school,” she said. “I never thought I would make this my fulltime job until her friends started asking me to design similar abayas for them.”
The handmade stitching and added accessories are what sets Al-Zamil’s abayas apart from others. “Ever since I was young, I was always admired for my fine stitching and ability to mix fabrics,” she said. “I even made a collection of tailored boxes for gifts. I used different fabrics and beads to make the boxes attractive so they didn’t need any wrapping.”
Word of mouth boosted Al-Zamil’s abayas. They became well known in her daughter’s school, and then word spread to students’ friends and family outside the school. “It has been six years now and I would say the business is really good. I don’t tie myself to a certain season, I just make my own lines and bring out three collections a year,” she said. “Almost every three months, I design one or two pieces, depending on the materials I find and depending on the inspiration.”
Crepe, silk and dentelle are the most-used materials in Sue abayas. “I always make sure that the fabrics I use are high quality. In the end I’m putting my name on it so I have to invest in good and high-end materials,” said Al-Zamil. “The accessories I add to all my abayas are all handmade. I stitch every single one of them. Now I have my team who helps me stitch all the flowers and beads I am using in my abayas.”
Al-Zamil does not sketch her designs before tailoring. “I am inspired by the fabrics. As I said I am very good with them as I know what goes well with what and what complements what,” she said. “When I look at a certain fabric, I constantly get inspired and start designing the new line and mix and match those fabrics.”
When Al-Zamil made her first pieces, she outsourced the finishing and couldn’t control the quality. “I kept looking for a better tailor but they were all the same. Then I decided to hire my own tailors and micro manage them to assure the best production,” she said.
Sue Abayas are a mix between the modern and traditional, thanks to Al-Zamil’s focus on innovation. “I always try to create something new that no one designed before. I focus on the hand stitched accessories that I add on each abaya,” she said. “My cut is known, every single abaya I design has a unique signature cut that complements the female body.”
Al-Zamil wants her clients to feel special and unique when they wear Sue Abayas. “I put a lot of effort into making unique pieces. I also work hard on the finishing and choosing the fabric. I want my clients to feel this,” she said.
Sue Abaya’s new collection features abayas that look like the traditional Saudi bisht, or cloak for men. “This would be one-of-a-kind with gold and silver beadings. I twisted it so it will look completely different than a man’s bisht thanks to the fabric and accessories I used,” she said. ” I used all black, dark brown and navy blue in this collection because it’s winter.”
Al-Zamil will open her first store in Jeddah soon.