A chat with SemSem’s founder Abeer Al Otaiba
It’s on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Alexandria, Egypt, that Abeer Shukry Al Otaiba’s story began. Interestingly, Fashion, which was a childhood dream for the designer, has not always managed to come first for Al Otaiba, who initially started her career as as a civil engineer, following her family’s footsteps.
Also an entrepreneur at heart, Abeer is the founder of Al Otaiba Investments, an international investment firm.
Now living in America with her husband Yousef Al Otaiba, and their two children, Abeer has always been a role model for Arab women, not afraid to challenge societal norms. SemSem, is a brand that is “inspired by love that connects and empowers females of all ages, races and backgrounds.” We wanted to chat with Abeer to know more about her incredible life and label.
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Can you tell us more about you and your story leading up to the creation of SemSem?
I was born and raised in Egypt to a family of engineers. I pursued a career in civil engineering as it came naturally to me – I am a designer and problem solver at my core, and I still enjoy finding solutions and creating infrastructure systems in my daily life. Fashion, however, has always been my passion. As a child and young adult, I enjoyed sketching and would spend hours drawing. This led to reworking clothes my own clothes – ripped jeans with designs sewn on, patches made from labels, and mixed styles.
I left my career in engineering when I became a mother – this major life change encouraged me to pursue my true passion of design and fashion. I felt there was something missing and hoped by creating SemSem I could fill a gap I perceived there to be in women’s fashion.
How would you define SemSem’s identity?
SemSem’s brand DNA focuses on luxurious fabrics and unique craftsmanship every season. Our signature pleats, asymmetrical shapes, metallic silks, tie dyed and ombré patterns, and flattering draped styles that move beautifully when you walk are key elements of the brand identity. As a brand we also strive to create pieces that will make women feel empowered, confident, and beautiful.
What are things that inspire you to create?
I am deeply inspired by my heritage, travel, and art. The Arab world’s vibrant culture, ancient history, and architectural wonders provide a wealth of inspiration for my designs, allowing me to create unique pieces that embody the essence of couture artistry and craftsmanship. The colors and sounds of the Mediterranean are simultaneously calming shades of sand and sunsets coupled with bold blues and greens. I love to travel and explore – art both old and new continues to inspire me. Geometric shapes and patterns are elements I hold dear from my engineering days.
Who is the SemSem woman?
The SemSem customer is an empowered woman who embraces her femininity, believes in her capabilities, and is unafraid to make a statement with her unique sense of style. My friends and colleagues who wear SemSem appreciate the harmonious blend of Egyptian heritage and modern elegance. They also value the craftsmanship, flattering fit, intricate detailing, and exquisite materials that go into each piece, while understanding the cultural significance and meaning behind each design. She is a global citizen with a discerning taste.
“The Arab world’s vibrant culture, ancient history, and architectural wonders provide a wealth of inspiration for my designs (…)”
Tell us more about your designs and your creative process; what makes a successful piece to you?
Female empowerment has always been a driving force behind my creative process. I want to create designs that make women feel confident, strong, and beautiful. Through my brand, I aspire to empower women to believe in their potential. When our clients tell me that they felt incredible and comfortable presenting an award or attending an event in our clothes, I know that the design has been a success.
What are some of your goals for the brand and where do you see it in the future?
My vision for SemSem is to continue growing and solidifying its position as a leading luxury fashion label, renowned for its unique blend of Egyptian heritage and modern elegance. Our goal is to expend the brand’s presence internationally, especially within the US and Middle East, reaching a wider audience that appreciates our unique craftsmanship.
Our recent launch at prestigious retailers in the Middle East such as Tryano, Saks Middle East, and Ounass is a testament to the brand’s growing recognition and success in the luxury fashion market. We’ve also expanded in the Unites States and are now available at all Five Story locations in New York, the Hamptons, and Palm Beach. In the future, I aim to strengthen these partnerships and establish new collaborations with international retailers.
I always envision SemSem as a brand that supports and empowers women from all walks of life. I hope to continue collaborating with various women-focused initiatives and organizations, using the brand’s influence to contribute to social causes that align with our values of female empowerment and celebration of diversity.
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