“Sometimes being a rebel can be a good thing,” says Marriam Mossalli.
Unapologetically fearless and a woman who is truly paving the way in Saudi Arabia, Mossalli discusses how she’s broken down barriers for creatives in the Kingdom and how she’s putting Saudi Arabia on the map, with her luxury agency Niche Arabia and the Saudi Style Council.
Can you talk us through your career?
“A long time ago in a far-away land…” is literally how I feel when I think of the beginning of my career! Saudi Arabia was completely different – trunk shows and fashion presentations were restricted to private palaces, and our models were basically any girl comfortable having her picture taken. Fast forward 10 years later, and we have Saudi models opening PFW shows, local designers being worn by Beyonce, and public fashion shows are the norm. I began my “fashion” career as editor of the Life&Style section for the leading English daily in the region. I was constantly travelling for shows when I thought to myself: why are we not doing this in the Kingdom? We have the clients, yet nothing is catered just for us. Enter Niche Arabia. I was 25 and way too young to start a consultancy, but I saw a void in the market and took the chance. The rest is as they say is “happily ever after.”
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How did you end up becoming an entrepreneur?
I think I always had the drive in my blood. Ever since I was in elementary school, I was selling something. In third grade, you would find me outside on the bleachers at recess selling friendship bracelets, or homemade neon slime… and with a whole sales team of friends! By fourth grade, I had “graduated” to handheld fans, which I sold at market price, but had then removed the batteries to sell separately.
Can you talk us through the concept that is Niche Arabia?
I’m basically the “Olivia Pope” of event and fashion comms! We assist major international agencies and brands on how to speak to the Saudi luxury consumer. Whether it’s automotive, hospitality, F&B, or retail, Niche Arabia is the eyes and hands on the ground for many of the biggest names in luxury. We know everyone and have our hand in everything. It took me a little over a decade to get to this point, but I was always committed to my country when many people my age were beginning their careers abroad – I fought to find my niche in Saudi, and it paid off. Today, we work with the most prestigious client, and my government on many groundbreaking initiatives and campaigns.
You launched the agency 10 years ago – how have things evolved since then?
When I started, Niche wasn’t just the first, it was the only bespoke luxury consultancy! And it stayed that way for years. Today, you have a few international agencies attempting to take a part of the market share, but they have one key component missing: they’re not local. At Niche, we are our target audience. We know how to reach us because we are essentially talking to ourselves. Add a professional reputation, and we are able to push the boundaries and turn the taboo into pioneering.
In addition to Niche Arabia, you also founded the Saudi Style Council in 2019. What is the goal behind the Council?
Our goal is to become a resource for the Kingdom’s burgeoning creative industry. We are a not-for-profit trade association that focuses on nurturing local creatives and the surrounding ecosystem, from models and art directors to photographers and content creators.
The year before founding the Council, you organized the very first mixed public fashion show. What an incredible achievement. How did this come about and what was the motivation behind it?
I had amazing support from not just my team, but our clients for tagging along for the journey and agree- ing that it was time. I always say, being traditional and contemporary are not mutually exclusive. You can respect one’s culture yet still push the envelope in terms of expression.
What are the Council’s plans to develop the fashion space in Saudi Arabia?
We have so many amazing things lined up: From the launch of our 7alaga [English: Farmer’s Market] – a retail concept housing local brands, to our sustainable showroom, which invites local designers to place their items for free, in order for them to be available to stylists and content creators.
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What are your hopes for the future of women in Saudi Arabia?
To continue to strive to be the best in their respective fields… the “first” syndrome needs to end, and we need to normalize our participation and with that, strive to be the best not just as Arab women, but also as individuals within our industries.
How do you feel the fashion space in this region differs from other parts of the world?
We are so embedded in our culture, which I absolutely love! And since we are starting a bit late, it allows us the opportunity to lead not just catch up. It’s definitely our time now.
You’ve worked incredibly hard, where do you get your motivation from?
I’ve always been motivated. Even as a kid, I’ve always looked at things and said, “How can I contribute? How can I make that better?” If I weren’t an entrepreneur and philanthropist, I would have become an inventor. I think that drive comes from having parents that were never still. Both my parents are super active in both their social and professional lives. I don’t think anything is more beneficial than having real-life inspirations to model your path behind, which is why mentorship is something I advocate strongly.
What advice do you wish you had received on the be- ginning of your journey to success?
Learn to say no – I always did everything. Perhaps it was some innate millennial FOMO translated into my work ethic, but I always tried to do everything. Now, my favourite word is “no.”
Looking back over your career and since launching the brand, can you tell us about some major hurdles you’ve had to overcome?
At 24, I was walking into the offices of Burberry and Prada trying to convince them to take a chance on a kid in an enigmatic market. It wasn’t easy but I never took no for an answer. And ten years later, we’re still setting the pace for activations and campaigns in the luxury sector.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, what are some milestones from your career, so far?
Being invited by then First Lady Michelle Obama as the only Arab fashion industry person to the White House’s annual Celebration of Design Gala. Being voted as one of the top Instagram accounts to follow by Vogue Magazine – US. Thank you, Rihanna! Making the Business of Fashion #bof500 list in 2018 and the British Fashion Council’s global New Wave Creative list.
This is ‘The Renegade Issue’, championing people who are breaking the mould. Who would you say is a renegade?
Anyone who doesn’t take “no” for an answer; who refuses to accept the status quo. My mum always told me: “If you don’t like it; well, then stop complaining and do something about it!” Sometimes being a rebel can be a good thing.
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