When you first meet Abeer Al Otaiba you wouldn’t guess she’s a mother of two, and the founder of the philanthropic fashion brand SemSem that’s going global.
The glamorous Egyptian fashionista wears high-waisted red trousers with a matching red high-low top, and new-season Gucci heels with pink lip appliqués. Look further and you’ll see glimpses of Al Otaiba’s love of motherhood. Her wallet and phone case are from Dolce & Gabbana’s Viva la Mama collection, depicting children’s drawings embroidered and embellished onto black leather inscribed with “I love you mom,” and when she refers to her fashion label, she fondly calls it “my third baby.”
Al Otaiba worked in civil engineering in Dubai before marrying her husband and relocating to Washington DC in the United States. She launched her luxury-clothing line SemSem four years ago, right after her daughter Samiya was born.
And while engineering and fashion may seem worlds apart, Al Otaiba says her background in engineering and attention to detail helped in determining functionality of the clothing.
“I noticed a void in the market,” she says. “I wanted to coordinate with my daughter but at the same time I didn’t want to be too matchy-matchy.”
For autumn/winter 2016, SemSem’s clothing line combines form-fitting silhouettes with interesting textures and embellishments. Bomber jackets feature hues of cotton-sweets pink, and sport beaded badges, while semi-sheer lace tops are paired with leather skirts and stud detailing. The children’s clothing echoes the playful-but-polished sentiment, with mini-me versions of the women’s range.
“I call it a collection inspired by love, the love every mother has for her daughter,” says Al Otaiba.
At her recent trunk show in La Serre at Vida Downtown Dubai, Al Otaiba gave guests a sneak peek of her upcoming spring/summer 2017 collection of elegant kaftans and separates made exclusively for the UAE market. She also spoke about the charities she works closely with. “We’re all about women helping women. So each season we partner with different charities around the world,” she says.
At the start of each season, she’ll pledge to donate a certain amount to the charity, and will follow through with the promise, regardless of whether she meets her sales targets or not. For her debut collection, she teamed up with Egypt-based non-profit charity ADEW (The association for the development and enhancement of women), and helped in building a shelter for abused women.
For autumn/winter 2016, SemSem has partnered with Every Mother Counts, a non-profit foundation that promotes safe pregnancy and childbirth in countries around the world. Al Otaiba also works with women’s collectives in countries like Afghanistan and the Philippines — the smock detailing on one of her autumn/winter 2016 dresses for instance, was produced by a women’s collective based in Madagascar.
While you often hear of women dabbling in their own fashion brand as a hobby, Al Otaiba has quickly proven her determination to make SemSem a well-reputed label worldwide, defined by its top quality textiles and charitable DNA.
For starters, her team of eight includes designers and managers who have experience working with labels like Zuhair Murad and Dolce and Gabbana. SemSem has also already caught the eyes of celebrities who are keen to endorse Al Otaiba’s charitable plight.
In February, Hollywood actress Blake Lively and celebrity jeweller Lorraine Schwartz hosted a lunch at New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman restaurant for SemSem.
“What’s interesting about SemSem is you don’t get that very literal ‘mommy-and-me look,’ like if you were walking down the street wearing the collection, it wouldn’t look like ‘Oh God, what are those people doing?’ That’s embarrassing,” said Lively to WWD. Al Otaiba explains that it’s important to keep a balance between coordinating outfits that are both cute and practical. “I wanted it to be age appropriate, I didn’t want the mom to wear a tutu and the girl to wear embroidery from head to toe,” she says.
Since establishing SemSem, Al Otaiba has had a baby boy, but that doesn’t mean she has a vision to design a boy’s clothing line anytime soon. “It’s cuter to see a girl in a tutu or dress than a boy, they love to live in tracksuits, shorts and T-shirts,” she says jokingly.
And, while she her brand has quickly gained a celebrity following including Taylor Swift and Kourtney Kardashian, Al Otaiba remains grounded and dedicated to the SemSem vision: “what sets us apart is our brand values, which are family and giving back,” she says. “It’s about teaching your kids about giving back at a very young age.”
SemSem is available online at www.Semsem.com, and the brand is popping up at Level Kids at City Walk in Dubai until December 29.