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They say it's good to start young and the Al Zakwani sisters certainly did. Endemage co-founder Lubna Al Zakwani was introduced into the retail world from an early age: their mom and aunt had a small fashion boutique where they spent their time "designing and playing around with the fabrics." Fast forward to university, where she studied the craft, and as a graduation project decided to create their own brand- thus the beginning of Endemage. "Endemage is all about including the Omani tradition and culture through influences into each collection. We try to subtly introduce different inspirations without it being so obvious."
With workshops and tailors based in Muscat and the sales, marketing and PR sides operating in Dubai, organization is their mantra to a smooth-running business. "Coping with an international schedule is very challenging, but once your calendar is organized and deadlines are met, it is easier to run efficiently." And of course, they rely on each other. Lubna, whose background is in fashion design and PR, handles the designing of the collections, while older sister Nadia who has extensive background in business and strategy development manages the production, marketing and business aspects. Does being sisters affect their co-founder relaionship? "With any partnership, we end up in conflict and differences in opinion in certain matters, these are resolved easily."
The siblings built their client base by participating in pop up events and exhibitions regionally, cultivating their direct customer relations and "strongly believing in social media to fit into our marketing strategy of storytelling." How does she describe an entrepreneur? "Passionate, confident and persistent."
What were the unforeseen difficulties when you first started?
We started slow and took it one step at a time, which I would say is the best way to start a business. At first, we had some difficulties in terms of logistics and operations since our headquarters are in Oman. We worked with a few tailors between Oman and Dubai to ensure sufficiency in delivering orders and maintaining a certain quality. It's very important to study the market and learn how the industry works. It was all a learning process for us, and we are still learning each step of the way.
What are your top three tips for an entrepreneur to start a business?
First, study the market and industry before starting any business. Make sure you are offering something that's new or different and suitable to the culture. Second, make sure you have a decent capital put into place before you start, you will be faced with a lot of uncounted expenses. Finally, hard work and determination- it isn't easy working for yourself but if you put enough in you will get double of that out.
How did Endemage stand out among the many fashion startups?
Endemage offered the market a new concept of designs. Oman was, and still is, a very new market in fashion and as Omani designers we were the first to introduce ready-to-wear designs inspired by the Omani heritage. [This was] how we gained interest from clients, media and buyers. It was a matter of proving ourselves as trusted designers, which would have been the case with any startup business, but once you have gained that trust, it is important to maintain consecutive collections.
In your opinion, how much "risk-taking" is involved in being an entrepreneur?
It is about believing in your idea and remaining innovative. You have to take risks to achieve your goals but if you don't take those you will always think 'what if'.
What is your source of personal motivation?
I have always been ambitious from a young age and knew I wanted to have my own line when I started studying. Working alongside my sister Nadia is great motivation as we can be completely honest with each other and enjoy sharing ideas. Once we have an idea, [it becomes] the root to our motivation.
What moment in your career did you feel that you finally "made it"?
I wouldn't say [we've] finally made it! But the Vogue Dubai Fashion Experience was definitely a milestone in our career, which we consider the beginning and hope for more international recognition in the future.
Which MENA country do you think has the most supportive SME space?
UAE, and more specifically Dubai. I would say Dubai is the perfect city to start up a business with so much competition Dubai encourages young entrepreneurs to build their business ideas and turn them into reality.
What is your creative process? How do you collaborate on designs with your co-founder and sister?
Each collection is inspired of a particular thing; we discuss the idea and build on it together. After finalizing the colors and basic print, we source the fabrics and start with the designs. Afterwards, I begin with draping the different silhouettes for the collections, keeping in mind that our designs focus on complimenting the different female figures. Once we have confirmed the designs, we start with production. I usually prepare the first sample of each design, followed by trying it on different sized models and finally, we hand it over to our team to start with the final collection.
What is your daily routine like?
While in Oman my mornings are spent at the workshop where we manage orders and deadlines. While designing and preparing collections, we spend most of our days and evenings at the workshop working together and sharing ideas. Lunch is always at home with the family. Evening starts off with a short visit to the workshop to check up on pending work, and then out with friends or family. In Dubai, I usually work from home, when I'm not required to go for meetings with clients and buyers. I usually like to design when I'm alone.
What are your favorite apps or devices?
I was recently gifted with the latest LG G3, and the camera on it is amazing. I must confess I love to take selfies. I love my social media apps, especially Instagram and Snapchat.