Palestinian entrepreneur brings high fashion to the West Bank

Finding fashion in the Middle East isn't always easy, unless you live in the UAE

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For those living in the GCC - particularly in the United Arab Emirates - it can be incredibly easy to take the finer things in life for granted. Convenient transport, delicious world cuisine, and a myriad of shopping options are just few of the luxuries available for residents. In fact, according to several recent market reports, the UAE is the biggest consumer of high fashion/designer wear in the whole region.

For 29-year-old fashion entrepreneur Ruba Abdulhadi, living in the GCC as well as the rest of the Middle East, highlighted the massive differences in access to designer and luxury goods in her home country. And so an idea was born. The Amman-based Palestinian, along with business partner Badea Jaber, recently launched their shopping website Elmuda.com, which has become the very first website of its kind to deliver to the West Bank. Al Arabiya News met with Abdulhadi to find out more about the project.

How would you summarize Elmuda?

It’s an online ecommerce platform, where fashion lovers can browse more than 150 brands around the world… you can buy unique pieces from London to LA, Berlin to Lebanon, Paris to Dubai, and Milan to Palestine. The idea behind it is to give people in the region access to all different brands such as Rani Zakhem, Alexander McQueen, and Lina Brax bags, for instance.

There are lots of shopping sites in the region… what do you feel makes you unique?

One unique feature we provide is our content, as we are not only a shopping site. You can ‘shop’ for our content. We create a luxury lifestyle and that doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. It means better quality and service, and we set high standards in service just the way I would like to be serviced.

Growing up in Ramallah, I didn’t have much access to fashion and many other things. It was just a fantasy for me. But I certainly had the passion for it. And then when I was older, after completing a year-long exchange program at Harvard Business School, I decided to work towards realizing my personal passion. Because of everything that went on while growing up, fashion was sort of a defense mechanism - escapism if you will. Creating this business for me therefore is very personal, because I want to give ladies access to everything they thought they couldn’t reach starting with fashion.

Which explains where you are delivering…

Yes. We deliver everywhere in the region and to Palestine, but only to the West Bank, as we do not have access to the remaining territories. Unfortunately, it takes 10 days to deliver to the West Bank, but we are working on finding a way to be able to deliver in three-to-five working days like the rest of the region.

How important do you feel fashion is to the Middle Eastern woman?

Fashion is art and a way of living. You can’t really separate it from yourself, so even if you think you’re not fashionable enough, or not that into it, you definitely have a style that defines you, or in other words, reflects who you are. A doctor will dress differently to a filmmaker, and in the Middle East specifically, we see this a lot due to the culture we lived and grew up in. Each country in the region has a different fashion vibe, and in a way represents that specific culture. People in Beirut dress differently to Amman and differently to Saudi Arabia… each fashion statement can represent the country’s history, culture, political situation, religious beliefs, or even economic status.

I’ll tell you a true story; a friend of mine travelled from Ramallah to Amman, and then to Beirut - that’s an eight-hour trip - just to pick up a Hermès bag. Why? Because they would only deliver it to its Beirut store. And those are the kind of lengths the Middle Eastern consumer is willing to go for a unique fashion item.

Who are your fashion icons?

At the top of my list has to be Queen Rania of Jordan, as I love her effortless, chic look. Victoria Beckham’s style is powerful and sexy. She always uses the best fits for her figure and she oozes confidence.

Summer is coming up… What trends should we look out for?

One thing about summer is that you need to leave all your old uptight clothes to something more liberating. This season, it’s all about the minimalistic approach - less fuss in the color and fabrics. There’s a lot of denim-on-denim and whites, and I’m assuming that this trend has been inspired by our daily life as we juggle everything.

One item I love during the summertime is my low-top Converse sneakers in bright tweed, suede or, for the most signature look, classic white. The beauty about Converse kicks is that you can match them with virtually anything, from a pair of jeans or shorts, to dresses, formal or casual. If you want to spice up a neutral or bland outfit, stand out in statement sneakers by Yves Saint Laurent.

And what tips do you have for dressing during Ramadan?

The holy month of Ramadan and its family gatherings makes it my favorite month of the year. With Ramadan being in June, avoid anything too warm, as it will just irritate you while fasting. I would suggest two styles; kaftans are loose fitting, breezy and can be worn for Iftar and Sohour. Then there’s the androgynous suit, like the DKNY + Cara Delevinge collection.

What are your fashion no-no’s?

Wearing trends just for the sake of it. One of my favorite Salvatore Ferragamo campaigns is: “I’m not an illusion, I’m a woman.” Just wear what fits you and looks good on you. Less is more anyway.

Finally, what’s next for Elmuda?

Women are driven by trends and new things, so we aim to be different - in everything from the packaging, and voice and tone to the service. We’re also planning on signing new boutiques and designers, including Middle Eastern ones of course. The vision is to become the number one destination for luxury in the Middle East, providing people information on what to buy, access to these goods and the lowest level of risk possible for an amazing experience.