“Act on a dream”

Reinventing the mother-daughter matching style, the bold and feminine brand SemSem is a brain child of an Egyptian designer Abeer Al Otaiba. At the heart of the line is her own daughter, Samia, whose nickname “SemSem” inspired the brand’s name.

 

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A cosmopolitan blend of Egyptian, Emirati, and French influences define the signature SemSem style. Abeer most recently unveiled exclusive Resort 2020 line on Net-A-Porter featuring dazzling evening-ready pieces inspired by Bianca Jagger and the legendary Studio 54 era.

In addition, SemSem has it’s own pop-up in Galeries Lafayette in Dubai Mall until end of February where you can shop never-before seen pieces. Below, get to know what inspires the designer and what it takes to run a global fashion brand.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Math and physics – I loved problem-solving from a very young age.

What was your first job?

I worked as a civil engineer with Orascom Telecom in Egypt.

 

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What inspired you to launch SemSem?

For as long as I can remember, I have loved expressing myself through fashion. As a child, every time my parents would go to Europe and come back with clothes, I would alter everything, adding my own personal touch. My background is in civil engineering, and because of that I have always had an inclination towards high design, attention to detail, high quality, and functionality. I took these principles and combined them with my lifelong love of fashion.

Fast forward to 2014, I launched SemSem, a line offering complementing collections for women and girls, and named after my daughter Samia’s nickname. She is without a doubt the inspiration behind the brand, and the special bond mothers and daughters share is what really inspires me. Coupled with my love for fashion, I had a desire to build a brand with a conscience where I could support and call attention to women supporting women through our collections.

Talk us through your daily routine.

As a mother, wife of an Ambassador Minister and business owner, I am constantly in motion. Being a mother who is present is my number one priority, so I always put my kids first. Each day, I want to be the first person they see in the morning, and the last one to kiss them good night. I almost always start my day by having breakfast with them – they are busy little people and I love hearing their stories first thing in the morning.

After I take them to school I am usually juggling diplomatic duties, philanthropic commitments, entertaining, and managing my business.  For SemSem, that means sketching designs, reviewing fabric samples, and overseeing various aspects of our production. Together with my team, we have cultivated some amazing relationships and successful partnerships including featuring two of our collections exclusively on Net-A-Porter. SemSem represents me and my background so I’m involved from start to finish. I am often up late answering emails and catching up on work – SemSem is my passion so the late nights and early mornings are worth it.

In spite of my very busy schedule, I also make it a point to set aside time for exercise – kickboxing is my workout of choice as I find it incredibly therapeutic.

 

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What advice do you have for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps?

Never give up and never be afraid to act on a dream. Remember your strength as a woman, surround yourself with a team you can trust as well as will fill your voids, and know we are often capable of more than we may realise. I am civil engineer by trade, but my passion has always been fashion. At a glance they may not seem similar at all, but I kept pushing myself to make my dream a reality.

Which fashion brands can we find in your work wardrobe?

I am most often in SemSem, but if not, you’ll likely find me in Chanel or Saint Laurent suits and blazers, an Isabel Marant piece or jeans, sneakers and a funky tee. I love discovering young, up and coming designers through my travel and work too.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

Be persistent, never stop learning and asking questions and surround yourself with people who challenge and inspire you.

 

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How has your background shaped you to the woman you are today?

Born from my experiences living in different parts of the world and a strong love of my Arab heritage, I very much represent the Eastern and Western cultures I grew up in. I am blessed to have been surrounded by supportive and inspiring people my whole life. I’m naturally someone who works hard and takes nothing for granted. To me, the most meaningful part of life is how we treat others and do what we can to make the world a better place. I always try to “pay it forward” and in this spirit, each season we partner with a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving gender equality, literacy, health, legal awareness, and education for women and children.

What has been the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

The biggest challenge has been finding the right people. I’m based in Washington DC, and I’m managing everything remotely: my staff is in New York and our clothes are produced around the world. Trying to juggle everything and find people to depend on, that I can trust 100 percent to understand my vision and what I’m trying to achieve is the hardest part.

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