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With Her Size-Inclusive Luxury Activewear Brand Maeya, Former Saudi Arabian Bodybuilder Somaiah Al Dabbagh Wants To Help Women Feel Comfortable In Their Skin Launched in 2020, Maeya's clothing line-up includes leggings, sport tanks, fitness shorts, t-shirts and loungewear designed for women, irrespective of their age or size.

By Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

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Somaiah Al Dabbagh, founder, Maeya

Finance. Bodybuilding. Fashion. Ordinarily, each of these would appear to be completely unrelated fields. But in the entrepreneurial journey of Saudi Arabian national Somaiah Al Dabbagh, you will find that all three had a collective role to play when she founded her UAE-based online luxury women's activewear brand Maeya.

You see, Al Dabbagh's career graph first started out as a finance professional- a job she held onto until 2014. But that was just before she became the first Saudi woman to have competed in a bodybuilding and fitness contest staged by World Beauty Fitness and Fashion (WBFF), a US-based international fitness pageant organizer. Indeed, in 2015, Al Dabbagh kickstarted her bodybuilding career by taking part in the WBFF Worlds Las Vegas. She then went on to partake in multiple WBFF female fitness competitions such as the WBFF Pro World Champion in 2017 and the European ProAm London in 2018. This was a career shift that resulted in Al Dabbagh even being awarded a WBFF Pro Card, a title that recognizes an individual as a certified fitness and bodybuilding professional. "I had a career in finance; it was a challenging and rewarding job that taught me a lot about strategy, planning, and attention to detail," Al Dabbagh recalls. "However, after some time, I realized that I wanted to pursue a career that aligned more closely with my personal interests and passions. That's when I discovered bodybuilding and fitness. It started as a personal interest, but it quickly became a lifestyle and a passion. I was fascinated by the science behind fitness and nutrition, and I loved the feeling of pushing my body to new limits."

Al Dabbagh's experience as a bodybuilder, however, opened her eyes to an issue that she herself needed a solution for. It was an observation that eventually led to the creation of her brand, Maeya, whose name is phonetically derived from the second half of her own first name. "As a bodybuilder, I struggled to find activewear that met my needs- clothing that was both stylish and functional," she says. "That's when I realized that there was a gap in the market that I could fill. I had the business acumen from my finance background, and the personal passion and understanding of the needs of fitness enthusiasts from my bodybuilding experience. It was the perfect combination to create Maeya. So, the journey from bodybuilder to entrepreneur was a natural progression for me." Launched in 2020, Maeya's clothing line-up includes leggings, sport tanks, fitness shorts, t-shirts and loungewear designed for women, irrespective of their age or size.

Source: Maeya

The brand's underlying ethos, therefore, is to marry fashion with functionality. And Al Dabbagh says she spent plenty of time doing the groundwork to bring this vision to fruition. "I founded a brand aimed at providing stylish and highquality wardrobe options for women from all walks of life," Al Dabbagh explains. "After two years of research and brand development, my goal was to empower women and enhance their confidence by offering versatile and fashionable activewear for daily use. As a fitness enthusiast, I identified a market gap for activewear that combined fashion and functionality. And so, with Maeya, my goal is to make a positive impact on the world by promoting physical and mental well-being through a healthy and active lifestyle."

With a direct-to-consumer (D2C) and businessto-consumer (B2C) multichannel retail model, Maeya sells its products through its online store as well as via select retail partners. "This strategy increases customer loyalty and lifetime value, as customers can purchase Maeya through multiple touchpoints and the revenue model is based on the sales of our products through these channels," Al Dabbagh adds.

But the key to Al Dabbagh's endeavors in making Maeya accessible to the masses has been to make sure it is inclusive of every woman's unique body shape. Through this, the founder hopes more women will feel comfortable and confident enough to foray into their own individual journeys towards healthy lifestyles. "At Maeya, we strive to create activewear that not only performs well, but also makes women feel empowered," Al Dabbagh says. "When a woman wears Maeya's clothing, we want her to feel comfortable, stylish, and supported in whatever activity she's engaged in. Our clothing is designed to move with the wearer, providing a perfect fit and offering the support and coverage needed for any activity. Our commitment to quality, style, and innovation is at the core of everything we do, and we believe that this is reflected in the experience our customers have when wearing Maeya."

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But part of feeling your best is to also look your best. And Al Dabbagh says her startup has left no stone unturned in ensuring it offers a collection that is fashion-forward and chic. "At Maeya, we believe that fitness and fashion are not mutually exclusive, but rather an essential amalgamation," she says. "We therefore place a strong emphasis on style and design, taking inspiration from the latest fashion trends, to create unique and distinctive pieces that our customers will love. While my own preferences have certainly influenced Maeya's offerings, we strive to offer something for everyone. Our activewear collection is designed to be inclusive, and to cater to a wide range of personal styles and preferences. We also place a strong emphasis on customer feedback, constantly seeking input to improve our offerings, and ensure that we're meeting the needs and desires of our customers."

Source: Maeya

With great fashion, however, come great sustainability responsibilities. After all, the global fashion industry is currently in the midst of advocating for products and operations that don't harm the environment. From circular fashion models that reuse and recycle fabrics, to the use of plastic-free resources, fashion sustainability is a global movement that began after the revelation of some distressing studies. As an entity that views itself as a part of the fashion ecosystem, sustainability became a serious point of consideration for Maeya as well. "We take great care in selecting materials that are not only comfortable and durable, but also safe for our customers and the environment," Al Dabbagh says. "We strongly believe that using non-toxic fabrics is the right thing to do, as it aligns with our values of promoting wellness and sustainability. Many conventional fabrics and synthetic materials used in fashion today can have harmful effects on the wearer's health and the environment, so we prioritize selecting non-toxic materials. It is our responsibility as a brand to make a conscious effort to minimize our carbon footprint, and leave a positive impact on the world, and using non-toxic fabrics is just one way we are working towards achieving that goal."

Indeed, in a bid to stay true to their sustainable fashion goals, Al Dabbagh and her team have also come up with a "mix and match" option for their clothes. "Our decision to offer mix and match options for our activewear collection was rooted in our commitment to sustainability and promoting a circular economy," Al Dabbagh explains. "We wanted to offer our customers the ability to extend the life of their activewear wardrobe by allowing them to combine various pieces to create new looks and styles. This not only enables customers to get more wear out of their existing Maeya pieces, but it also helps to reduce waste and promote an eco-friendlier approach to fashion. Additionally, our mix and match options offer versatility and allow customers to customize their active wardrobe to fit their individual style and preferences."

Of course, creating a startup that so seamlessly ties together fashion, fitness, and sustainability is no mean feat for a new entrepreneuer. When asked how she managed to bring such a concept to life, Al Dabbagh credits Maeya's success to her days as a professional athlete. "As a bodybuilding and fitness athlete, I had to put in a lot of effort and dedication to achieve success, and the same principles apply to entrepreneurship," she says. "I learned that there is no substitute for hard work, and that every challenge can be overcome with determination and resilience. Overall, my experience as an athlete has been invaluable in shaping my mindset, and preparing me for the challenges of entrepreneurship."

Somaiah Al Dabbagh, founder, Maeya. Source: Maeya

That would perhaps explain why -in a true show of how no job is too menial or insignificant for an entrepreneur- Al Dabbagh took it upon herself to juggle many responsibilities at the same time.. "I have taken on multiple roles, including photography, social media management, marketing, and customer service, allowing us to prioritize finances towards the product and maintain financial stability," Al Dabbagh reveals. "Until January 2023, we operated with only a few freelancers as needed, and I personally handled tasks that I was capable of executing effectively, which not only saved costs, but also allowed me to build my skillset. The quality of our activewear has generated sales and sustained steady growth without external investment, and my ability to effectively manage the business with limited resources speaks to my entrepreneurial spirit and efficiency."

Throughout Al Dabbagh's journey, there is an easily observable level of self assuredness that many entrepreneurs would aspire towards. So when asked what her advice would be to those who are still grappling with fear or doubts, Al Dabbagh shares an important reminder. "Recognize that fear is a natural emotion, and that it can often be a positive indicator that you are stepping outside your comfort zone, and onto the path of growth and achievement," she says. "It is important to acknowledge your fears, but it is equally important to challenge and overcome them. Another key piece of advice is to focus on the positive outcomes of taking the leap of faith, such as personal and professional growth, financial stability, and the ability to make a positive impact in the world. These positive outcomes can serve as a source of motivation, and give you the courage to move forward despite your fears."

As for Maeya, the next step forward for the brand lies in expanding its online presence, whilst simultaneously opening physical stores, starting with one in Dubai. "Our objective is to collaborate with additional online retailers in the UAE and globally, and potentially broaden our range by offering athletic wear for men and children," Al Dabbagh reveals. "While customers in KSA and the USA can presently purchase items directly from our website, we have plans to partner with Ounass and Namshi in the future. Furthermore, we are seeking an online retail partner in the UAE, and we hope to work with Bloomingdales in due course. Going forward, our focus is on expanding into new markets in the GCC and USA, while continuing to offer innovative design, meticulous attention to detail, and exceptional quality products to our customers."

Related: Being A Female Tech Entrepreneur In The MENA Region: Opportunities, Challenges, And Lessons Learnt

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

Features Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed is the Features Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East.

She is an MBA (Finance) graduate with past experience in the corporate sector, and was also co-founder of CyberSWIFTT- an anti-cyberbullying campaign that ran from 2017-2018 as part of the e7: Daughters of the Emirates program.

Ahmed is particularly keen on writing stories involving people-centric leadership, female-owned startups, and entrepreneurs who've beaten significant odds to realize their goals.

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