Welcome to Emirates Woman’s latest series ‘Spotlight on Saudi Arabia…’ where we speak to some incredible entrepreneurs based in the Kingdom to find out about their career paths and what led them to where they are now; what their daily routines look like; the advice they’d give to those starting out, and the hurdles they’ve had to overcome in the world of fashion.
While being recognized as Saudi Arabia’s youngest jewellery designer, and being born and raised in the Kingdom, Lillian Ismail reignites the faltering flame of her heritage by blending contemporary elements with Islamic-inspired concepts in her designs.
Ismail launched her namesake jewellery line back in 2013, with all her designs being handmade piece by piece locally in her hometown, Jeddah and Emirates Woman sat down to speak to her on how she’s made her mark in the fashion and accessories industry.
What inspired you to launch your label?
Lillian Ismail started as a very humble collection of 7 pieces, which I designed for my high school American diploma graduation project. I did not anticipate the growth of the 7 designs into a jewellery brand. I have been always fond of art and design and I was leaning more towards fashion at that time. The fact that a few of my classmates were thinking of creating a fashion line made me want to explore the world of jewellery. Also, in 2013, there were only a few local businesses owned by Saudi female designers and wanted to enter a field that lacked the power of women and compete with the dominance of the male power.
How would you define the fashion scene in Saudi Arabia and how has it evolved over the years?
I believe the fashion scene in Saudi Arabia has been always active and up to trend as we look back at black and white pictures of our parents and grandparents. The fashion scene in Saudi Arabia always keeps growing, but what I appreciate the most, are the efforts put in developing traditional concepts in design and creating unique contemporary versions of them.
What is your approach to daily dressing?
My initial approach to daily dressing when I first started working was stylish formal and heels were a must. Moving forward, I am leaning more towards the smart casual look because it is more practical to move around in and around my studio, as believe a pair of cool sneakers can add a stylish touch to even a semi-formal look.
How have you managed to scale the brand growth since its inception?
Growing the scale of our brand was a long journey from exploring different design directions, different branding styles, and mainly by expanding to multiple retailers locally and internationally. Also, working on a variety of design styles from statement pieces to everyday pieces, which targets a bigger target market.
What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers?
The world of fashion and design is very competitive, so push yourself, step outside of the box and bring something new to the market. Never be afraid of taking risks, as ultimately the world of business is all about doing that.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you overcome this?
As a designer and young business owner, I have faced multiple challenges since I started with no experience in both fields. I ventured into the field with no academic background in jewellery, but I managed to complete my Bachelors in Fine Arts in Jewelry Design at Pratt Institute in New York City. Moving to the United States after establishing my brand in 2013 in Saudi was the main obstacle in growing my brand between 2013 and 2017. It was not easy managing a business, designing, and studying at the same time. I had to take a step back and minimize the scale of the brand, during the four years. I can also say that I learned to run my business the hard way as I had no mentor to guide me. I travelled to India alone at the age of 21 to look for the right stone suppliers and established a strong relationship with a production team without working on a business plan or setting a budget. However, in the long run, I believe experience is the best tutor in the business world.
How do you manage to empower women through the world of fashion?
Empowering women in the field of fashion and jewellery is very important, since we are using our products as a medium of expression not only to express ourselves as artists and designers. Our creations allow the wearer to express her personality and individuality. I also enjoy working with female freelance graphic designers and photographers, and I am happy to say that an entire team of female designers are jewellers are behind the success of Lillian Ismail.
Lastly, what fashion brands can we find in your wardrobe?
I do not have a specific brand in mind, but now that I have been asked I think I own a good number of Valentino purses and heels. I think the elegance and femininity of their designs with the accent studs that add a bold and edgy look tell a lot about my personality. I am very open to exploring new brands but here are some of my favourites: Zara, Abercrombie & Fitch and Zimmerman.
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