Meet the Dubai-based designer who believes every woman has a right to feel confident and beautiful
Amaal Al Khatib talks to us about the message her fashion brand The White Platform wishes to convey through its exclusive 'masterpieces'.
What goes through the mind of an up-and-coming fashion entrepreneur while deciding to take the big plunge into starting one’s own brand?
The global fashion industry is known to be fickle and unpredictable not to mention cut-throat, and for a designer just starting out in the business, it seems prudent to keep a finger on the pulse of ever-changing trends and styles and conduct extensive market research before taking a major step.
This is exactly what Amaal Al Khatib, a young Jordanian designer based out of Dubai, did prior to the launch of her brand The White Platform — a “Maison de couture” that designs and sells evening, bridal and luxury ready-to-wear garments.
And the hard work definitely paid off — since its inception in 2019, the brand has launched five collections including a capsule collection.
In a Zoom chat with City Times, Amaal — who has lived in Dubai for over two decades and studied fashion design in the city — reveals her joy at being able to create ‘masterpieces’ for women of every shape, size and race, as well as satisfaction at seeing beautiful and confident women flaunt her outfits.
To begin with, we asked her what some of the challenges and rewards of starting her own brand were, especially in an environment flooded with different brands and choices. Amaal reveals one of the main issues while kickstarting the brand were a couple of problems she faced when she was by herself in terms of market research and didn’t have a big team.
“But when I hired a really good team, we were able to do professional market research. In 2019, we did not sell a single dress. But then, during the Covid-19 (pandemic) and till now (2021), we have sold almost 200 dresses. This is because of the research we did, focusing on one specific strategy for our brand. For example, if for The White Platform I was going to sell only party dresses, it wouldn’t be unique. That’s why we focused on masterpieces and that’s how we made women feel empowered, beautiful and confident because it was just a single (and unique) piece, per customer.
Getting to wear a one-of-a-kind designer outfit is a fashion choice most women would make given the opportunity and Amaal says her masterpieces cater to such discerning fashionistas.
“What I mean when I say masterpiece is that, along with the team, we finalise only one design of the dress, and we don’t duplicate it. We don’t sell it again. So it’s a unique design, like an art piece, a canvas or a painting. No one can copy an art piece. And that’s how we succeeded in our brand.”
The White Platform is an unusual name for a fashion brand; Amaal believes it symbolises purity and power; she also feels white as a backdrop breathes life into any colourful outfit and gives it the potential to shine.
She shares, “When I enter a white room, an empty room, I feel very powerful. I feel very peaceful. And this (philosophy) is somehow blended into my design mantra — for example with the masterpieces, if a woman is wearing one that is very colourful in a white room, she would stand out. So this is why somehow it (the name of the brand and what it stands for) is very personal to me — you become the centre of attention, basically.”
Creating a work of art
Much love, hard work and attention to detail goes into creating any work of art and the same obviously applies to a designer’s attitude towards his or her collections. And because her brand churns out unique designs — we were naturally curious of the process that culminates in Amaal’s masterpieces.
“With a collection, we start with market research, which I always believe is one of the most important strategies for the fashion industry. We gauge what the market needs the most and as a team we see what we are inspired by. So we do a lot of mood boards, showcasing different trends — we see what’s ‘in’ or ‘out’.
“And after the mood board we start with the drawings, and the variations. We do over 250-300 sketches and then choose the best ones. Then we start the production!”
It can take anywhere from 30 to 150 hours to complete an outfit — from conceptualisation till the final product, Amaal says. “It depends on the design. But the minimum hours spent on design, embroidery and with pattern-making would be around 30. Sometimes it can take up up to 150 hours. For example a wedding dress takes weeks and weeks… because we use hand embroidery, we don’t use a machine. The pattern making doesn’t take much time… but the hand work does.”
And what happens if a customer has a particular design or inspiration in mind when they approach The White Platform?
“If a customer wanted to come in and design (their own outfit) we would always listen to what she likes, and (take note of) the colours that she likes. Even if she has any inspiration, if she was inspired let’s say by a flower, or a bird, or if there is a specific embroidery that she likes, we are able to do that. And as per our brand, we never copy other designers. Even if a customer comes over and she says, Amaal, I want the same dress as say, Zuhair Murad, we won’t do that.” She emphasizes however, that popular patterns may be remade but with “a lot of changes”.
The handwork and designing for the brand’s outfits is done in Dubai, with materials being handpicked and sourced from India, Turkey, and Russia. Every designer probably has a favourite fabric and Amaal is partial to that soft and fine material so often seen in delicately patterned dresses and gowns — tulle. She says, “I especially like transparent tulle. We are able to do a lot of colourful embroidery which looks more beautiful on tulle than any other fabric.”
How to order a masterpiece
Amaal’s designs, she tells us, are available through The White Platform website as well as a physical store located in Jebel Ali. “We also have a social media handle. There are some customers who come to us for alterations and customisation of their dresses, but we also offer more of a ‘coming home’ service. Someone from the team would visit your house, take sizes, customise your outfit —all done at your home itself.”
A lot of conversations about the importance of body image and self-esteem have emerged in recent years, and Amaal hopes her brand effectively conveys the message that her masterpieces are for every woman. “Our designs are for all women. Our message is not about having the (perceived) perfect body shape for the dress to fit you perfectly. It’s more about feeling and looking beautiful. I do not want any woman to feel insecure. I believe every woman has the right to feel confident and beautiful and to be the centre of attention.”
You’ve stayed in Dubai for many years. How has the UAE inspired you in your work and how has it helped you further your career?
In Dubai, women are supported to work. This is one of the first things that gave me a push. The second is that I have seen a lot of women playing a huge role in big companies and I found this very inspiring.
Also, I don’t think I would get such an opportunity if I was living somewhere else because Dubai supports young entrepreneurs when they want to open something for themselves, to work on themselves, and even to complete their studies.
And I realised this when I opened The White Platform, because I had a lot of support from other women entrepreneurs, telling me ‘you can do this’, or ‘you are able to do this’. So it was a big challenge, but I have faced it and I honestly thank them, the women that have supported me in Dubai.
What first inspired your interest in fashion designing and when did you decide to take it forward as a career?
It all started when I was a child. My grandparents were tailors back then in Syria. And I would always see my grandmother stitching and designing, and she would even make party dresses for her neighbours; she didn’t have a shop but she would do it at home. When I turned 15-16, I actually decided that I wanted to become a fashion designer. But I have always had it at the back of my mind that I didn’t want to be just any fashion designer; I really wanted to make a mark. I really wanted to affect every woman in a really good way.
What are some of your favourite personal fashion choices — on a work outing, in evening wear, or for a special occasion?
I honestly love simplicity. To an event, I would perhaps wear a black dress. My favourite colour is black — I love it so much, but I like to add a touch, for example pink embroidery, or a gold belt. To work, most of the time I wear a suit but with Nike shoes! I’m more on the go; I don’t like to spend so much time choosing the right dress, because I know what suits me.