Yemeni girls keep up with fashion

Published on 31 December 2012 in Report
Ashraf Al-Muraqab (author), Ashraf Al-Muraqab (photographer)

Ashraf Al-Muraqab


Ashraf Al-Muraqab

Fashionista, Fatima Abdulwahab Al-Ghorbani shows off styles in her shop.

Fashionista, Fatima Abdulwahab Al-Ghorbani shows off styles in her shop.

With cold weather comes the opportunity for Yemeni women to branch out of the all black Abaya and add some flavor to their wardrobe with colorful sweaters and sweatshirts. Ranging from toned-down, elegant cardigans to loud, zip-up sweatshirts trimmed with fur and covered in rhinestones, there’s a sweater for every personality.

While also keeping women warm, sweatshirts provide cover for those wanting to express their fashion sense.

“Under the pretext of cold weather, we have deviated from the imposed norms and succeeded in making our society accept this,” said Najwa Al-Qaisi, a private sector employee.

University students, Hayam Noman and Noha Al-Qadasi, go winter shopping to find suitable clothing for Sana’a’s chilly season. While keeping them warm, fashion is an important calculation for these young women.

 “Girls are looking for trendy, fashionable clothing,” said Noman.

Noman, a seasoned shopper, said that Sana’a’s bustling clothing stores are teeming with options at price ranges suitable for anyone’s budget.

The black Abaya, black niqab combination is so ubiquitous in Yemen that women across social, cultural and economic classes follow the unofficial dress code. There is no law enforcing the dress, but that hasn’t made it any less popular for university students, government workers and sex workers alike.

According to university student Asma Al-Amri, the trend towards colorful sweaters on top of the black dress is new.

“Female university students and workers, both in public and private sectors, wore sweaters over the Abaya to fight the cold. New colors and embroidery started to appear only during the past five years,” she said.  

As clothing store owners caught on to demand of the additional clothing, sales began to soar. The trend is not just big with young women, say clothing store owners—women of all ages wear are following suit.

Fatima Abdulwahab Al-Ghorbani, a Yemeni dress designer, said that Yemeni women vacillate between traditional and modern styles.

Al-Ghorbani grew up in Italy and studied fashion design. She remembers her father encouraging her to join the field.

Al-Ghorbani claims she is the first Yemeni female designer to organize fashion shows. She has put on six fashion shows in Italy and Europe and is now planning to establish shops in Dubai and Kuwait.

Al-Ghorbani brands herself by the hand-woven designs she creates on fabrics. It is an ancient practice that she worries is dying out. She tries to convince those who can weave to teach their children. More and more, parents are declining to pass on the skill. They say that the pay is poor, and their children are better off learning other trades.

There are other drawbacks to handcrafted designs and designing in the region in general.

Handcrafted pieces have to compete with cheaply-made, mass-produced goods selling at much lower prices.

Because her designs are not very popular in the local market, Al-Ghorbani is about to open a shop in Dubai. She expects that Yemeni products will be very popular due to their high quality.

One of the most disturbing problems regarding clothing design is the ease by which someone may steal your ideas. She complains of the absence of intellectual property laws in Yemen, pointing out that many people emulate her designs without penalty.

However, Al-Ghorbani tries to embrace the positive.

If someone copies her work, they help spread Yemeni fashion and influences, she says.

“I’m happy because my efforts are fruitful.”