Senka Ali, the designer behind Liyana Design, is originally from Bosnia, although she grew up in Germany. In 2015, she moved to Dubai. The fashion industry has become more authentic and more inclusive, but still, there is a lot to be done. When it comes to modest fashion, we are experiencing a quantum leap in recent times.
Modest fashion is about choice. It is about pieces that resonate with the wearer and provide a fashion-forward approach respecting their beliefs.
INTERVIEW: SENKA ALI
How would you describe yourself?
I am Senka from Sarajevo, Bosnia, and I am a girl with a dream. I always had the idea of making the world a bit more beautiful by creating quirky and fun fashion.
How did you come into the fashion industry?
I have in my own way always been into fashion. I used my poor little brother as mannequin. He was so beautiful! I used to dress him up, make him a hairstyle and even accessorize him. I was just a refugee kid back then living in Germany. Back in Bosnia, I can’t remember which year it was, but I remember the day we got cable TV. With cable TV came the fashion channel and I was hooked! Hopelessly in love with everything the models wore gracefully along the catwalk. That day the designer in me was born. I would sketch, draw, dream and imagine, but it wouldn’t be until many years after that I would actually start fulfilling my destiny.
Why did you decide to start a fashion brand?
Without a formal fashion background, the chance of landing a fashion job was close to zero, and yet I was determined to succeed in fashion. So, the only solution was to make it in my own and that is how Liyana Design came to life. By the way, Liyana is my daughter´s name. So, these are my babies!
How do you define your style?
I’m lucky to come from Bosnia, which is and has always been the crossroads between the East and the West. While the western lifestyle, as well as fashion sense, is deeply embedded in the lives of people, so has Islam and modest fashion has always been a part of it.
The Bosnian woman is special. You will see her at 7 in the morning fully dressed up yet looking so effortlessly stylish. My designs embody what is modern and trendy while keeping it within the Islamic guidelines. You can recognize my designs as bold and colorful, yet practical and comfortable.
My signature piece is the Angel Abaya, a simple but feminine Abaya design. It has small frills on the sleeve and beautiful big angel wings on the back. It was sold across the continents. The first batch was produced in white and pink linen mix fabric. I am proud to say that one of my special orders made it all the way to the Hajj. Currently, I’m trying it out on different kind of styles and items.
How did you become a “modest fashion” designer?
I realized that in modest fashion we had two categories. Basics for a regular price, or funky exciting styles with a price tag above an ordinary girls’ budget. That’s what I am working on, producing exciting, practical, high-quality modest fashion while keeping it affordable.
ABOUT THE MARKET
What does it mean Dubai for you?
Moving to Dubai was my first over the continent experience. There are so many upsides here, for example living without winter and snow which for sure makes life a bit happier. The mix of culture opened my views and my perception of things. Dubai still has to learn from Paris, New York, and London when it comes to fashion, which is actually a potential as we are quite open for innovation.
What advice would you give to your younger self- starting a business?
My advice would be to not to wait for circumstances but to create them.
How do you perceive the local market?
I might not be the first to say it but the current market is very low compared to the previous years. That is affecting small business like mine because when the economy goes down there is a major cut in the “want” items as we might not need the new dress, but we need to keep eating and paying bills. But surprisingly that might not be a bad thing for me as I’m a newcomer plus I’m a one-woman business with plenty to learn so the slow business gives me a chance to not be overwhelmed while following my passion.
How did you overcome the obstacles you found?
In the world of fast fashion, it is very challenging as an independent designer. Social media calls for us to buy new outfits for every picture we make. Big fashion houses sell fast fashion for throwaway prices, offering everything under one roof solutions and an all-consuming, aggressive marketing strategy. I found the solution to be in producing high-quality items which are versatile, you will want to wear them over and over and style them in many different ways. If you check my Instagram profile, you will see a collection of styling ideas and videos of my current line.
Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by the lifestyle of the everyday woman. Women are capable of so much and having so many roles nowadays their outfit should not compromise any of them. The perfect white dress, for example, can go from office look to dinner party with simply adding a piece of colorful jewelry or wear the yellow skirt with a black blazer during the day and spice it up for the night.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about being a fashion designer?
I think the biggest misconception is that the fashion designer has a lavish lifestyle full of parties, fashion shows and wearing beautiful clothes. The truth is that 90 percent of the job is footwork. Exploring, researching, trying, discovering, carrying, ironing, folding and packing. It’s a very competitive business, but that’s a part of the excitement.
What is the best part of being a designer?
It’s definitely the people I meet along the way. Especially in the modest fashion industry, there is a society of likeminded woman, working hard and supporting each other. My favorite place to sell is at the Ripe markets currently as I get to know the people and share my passion with them.
ABOUT LIYANA DESIGN
What sets Liyana Design as a brand apart from the rest?
I’m offering a collection of unique designs in limited quantities but for a midrange price. I believe that having some fewer mainstream items should not be reserved for those with deep pockets. I source, design and stitch locally, here in Dubai, which makes it easy for me to answer to customers’ needs and react to new fashion trends.
What are the future plans for Liyana Design?
On a short run, I plan to set my business on a solid foundation. On the long run, my heart is in Plus size and teenage modest fashion.
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