T-shirt businesses are all over the world where nowadays everybody is selling T-shirts for self-expression, advertising, protesting as well as a souvenir.
T-shirt businesses are popular because of the product they sell – T-shirts – general-purpose casual and inexpensive clothing. In Qatar, Razan Suliman has transformed the concept of T-shirts from informal and unstylish to chic and high-end fashion. Her T-shirt label, FanillaCouture, personifies Arabic pop culture and fashion iconography, as Razan’s philosophy is to preserve the Arabic culture in fashion. Her T-shirts show an exceptional mix of cultural elements and vivid colours designed on high quality fabrics.
Razan is a 29-year-old Saudi self-taught graphic designer based in Qatar who established FanillaCouture in 2011. Prior to FanillaCourture, Razan founded Bylens, a Qatari photo stock photography business. Besides running both Bylens and FanillaCouture, Razan also works as a web developer in a private company, adding to her portfolio as a prominent entrepreneur in Qatar’s creative art industry.
It’s a one-woman show for Razan, which she admits, is a challenge until today. ‘Because I have an office job besides looking after my brand and I am also the CEO of Bylens, the first Qatari stock photography company, sometimes it gets really crazy but I enjoy it all to the maximum because I love what I am doing,’ she said.
Despite having studied information technology, her passion for graphic design made her consider a total career shift. ‘I originally studied information technology, but I always felt interested in fashion and used to draw since I was a young girl. My dad used to tell me I’m an artist and hang my pictures on the wall,’ Razan said. ‘But I always had this dream of doing my own work and building my very own brand which I founded in 2011. Since then, my label has enjoyed positive word of mouth in the Doha market and across the entire Gulf.’
Razan carved her way into the creative world by learning graphic design through online tutorials. ‘I was working with web development when I began to have a critical eye for detail and appreciate how the look of a website can really make it catchier. Since then I got interested in graphic design and started teaching myself all its steps through online tutorials,’ she said. Soon after, Razan began taking graphic design courses to take her passion to another level. Since then, she’s been designing for more than ten years. As a result, one of her first projects as a first designer was to create her own website, Razan Graphics. ‘I continued teaching myself and working on my own to further enrich my graphic design skills,’ she said. Then Razan began to work as a freelance graphic designer, designing logos, wedding invitations, websites as well as advertisements.
Before establishing FanillaCouture, Razan took some courses, which she believes helped her achieve success with the label. But launching FanillaCouture wasn’t easy. ‘I have gone through a lot of production problems when I kick-started my brand because I had no enough experience back then when it comes to printers and many times I would go with the plain t-shirts and then something goes wrong and the designs are not accurate in printing and all the t-shirts get ruined. It happened a lot but after so many trials and a lot of research now I have my high quality t-shirts and subcontracted team, which takes, care of all my printing,’ she said.
Today – and only in a matter of two years – Razan is becoming one of the top T-shirt designers in Qatar.
The Fanilla collection
FanillaCouture is available for purchase at Hamad International Airport (HIA) and will soon be available at 51East stores. ‘Meanwhile FanillaCouture also shares in a lot of events and exhibition throughout the year which is announced on the brand’s social media pages: Facebook, Instagram, and the website. Lastly, FanillaCouture ships to Bahrain, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and other places around the Gulf,’ said Razan. She is currently considering opening the first FanillaCouture store in Qatar but there are no specific plans yet.
Since 2011, FanillaCouture has launched six collections. ‘People love the fact that my brand has a story behind it. Every collection has a story behind its inspiration,’ Razan said. Throughout the years, the designs for collections have greatly developed. Her first two collections were mainly simple and plain white with simple designs in the centre of the T-shirt, which weren’t necessarily cultural. Her last four collections consisted of a transformed FanillaCouture, consisting of fully designed collage-like T-shirts. Her latest collection includes her first collection for men. Talking about her men’s collection, Razan said, ‘I chose to use animals that reflect dignity, power, fieriness and strength to symbolise the Arabic man. I mixed the use of animals with beautiful Islamic patterns as I believe Islamic patterns look very relaxing and complement my overall design making it look good.’ And talking about her new women’s collection, Razan said, ‘I was inspired by the Chanel hounds-tooth design so I tried to incorporate it but in a way that reflects the Arabic culture by doing it using the Arabic gulf icons. Since in our culture the man wears white and the woman wears black, I loved to combine both and then add to their harmony using nice colourful striking flowers.’
Commonly seen designs in FanillaCouture’s collections include images of women wearing an abaya and niqab with a batoola, surrounded by pop art. A batoola is a form of face veil or mask worn by older women in Gulf countries especially bedouins. Other popular FanillaCouture icons are the Palm Tree, Arabic kohl\kajal and Vimto, which is a popular soft drink in Qatar and the Gulf region especially during Ramadan. Animals are of great prominence in the designs of FanillaCouture including horses, lions, oryxs as well as birds. The designs also feature images of images of HH The Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, HH Sheikha Moza, Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and other public figures in Qatar and the region.
Note: Fanilla is the Arabic word for T-shirt.
FanillaCouture is one-of-a-kind in Qatar, making Razan a pioneer in the T-shirt business. ‘Being in the creative industry in itself is very challenging since designers have to seek inspiration in all their surroundings regardless of any work or personal pressures,’ she admits. Referring to when she first established FanillaCouture, Razan says starting something new was not her main challenge however doing it on her own was. ‘The main thing is when I decided to start my own business and self-fund myself; I didn’t take money from my parents. I wanted to be independent. I chose to work in something that I taught myself to take my passion to professionalism,’ she explained. Almost instantly, FanillaCouture gained momentum, according to Razan. ‘I was welcomed by very positive feedback and people love my work. Thanks to social media and word of mouth, the brand is doing better every day,’ she said.
FanillaCouture is most popular and appealing to young Arab men and women specifically in the Gulf region. However, Razan hopes for FanillaCouture to become a unique fashion statement label internationally especially in the West. ‘I dream to see FanillaCouture go international. It would really be delightful to see an American or a European wearing something that reflects the Arabic culture and heritage. It is sad how Arabs always wear what reflects the western culture and barely reflect their own. It would be rewarding to see FanillaCouture revive the Arabic culture not only across the Gulf but also abroad. I want it to be that brand that encourages westerners to wear what reflects our culture,’ she said. Through fashion, Razan is trying to merge the gap between the West and the East, and her weapon is FanillaCouture.
Having so much passion for design, Razan also supports the creative industry in Qatar through a series of workshops via ‘Razan graphics; fruit of her design passion school’. Currently, she is planning to be present in premium boutiques in Muscat, Bahrain, Jeddah and Dubai after having her t-shirts displayed at Hamad International Airport. Razan’s next big dream is to showcase FanillaCouture on an international level and see westerners wearing clothes that reflect the Arabic rich culture.
For more information on FanillaCouture, visit fanillacouture.com. You will also find FanillaCouture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.
Author: Ola Diab
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