Marriam Mossalli - Author and Founder of Saudi's leading luxury communications company interview
Author, business owner and overall Girl Boss interview - #OHGinsight
Since she founded Niche Arabia in 2011, Marriam Najeeb Mossalli has become the leading voice for Saudi Arabi in the luxury consultancy field. After starting her career as a journalist, Mossalli is now an established name in the fashion industry, with Niche Arabia standing as the major consultancy firm specialising in luxury marketing in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Mossalli’s entrepreneurial company has been praised as a key player in elevating the global status of the Saudi Arabian fashion industry.
Born in Sri Lanka, Mossalli lived in Korea and Malaysia, before attending boarding school in Switzerland. She then moved to Washington and studied at The George Washington University, graduating with a major in Psychology and a minor in Film in 2007. She then established the “Life & Style” section in the English daily Arab News while working as a news journalist and features editor.
Today, Mossalli continues to write for international titles, including Harper’s Bazaar Arabia and Marie Claire Arabia, alongside her blog ShoesandDrama.com. She published a book on the disappearing crafts in the rural Saudi Arabian region of Asir and co-authored another called “Glamour Globals,” which scrutinises obsessions with material displays of wealth. Mossalli also conceived, curated and edited the book “Under The Abaya,” which features street style images submitted by Saudi Arabian women. Only a week after posting about the book, she received over a thousand submissions.
What was the dream?
“My mission has always been to champion Saudi talent, whether it was through my writing as an editor at the newspaper or my IG feed on @shoesanddrama.
You’ve written a book, run an international communications agency and guest edit to key luxury magazines - how do you juggle workload and which is your first love?
I could lie and say “balance," but my husband would call me out on it! Lol, I’m a total workaholic, but I love what I do so it makes my addiction easier. Also, I have an amazing team of strong women who make me look really good! #nicheGIRLS
What made you set up Niche Arabia and what have been your biggest achievements?
I saw a void in the market and decided to fill it. Saudi Arabia has always been a strong luxury consumer and I wanted to be that bridge between international luxury fashion and our market.
Being recognised by former First Lady Michelle Obama was pretty cool, but being validated by a group of my international peers through my inclusion of this year’s #BOF500 list really meant a lot to me, personally.
Why did you write the book ‘ Under the Abaya’ what audience is it aimed at and what is goal intended from the content?
Under the Abaya: Street Style from Saudi Arabia (2018) was my humble attempt to reveal the woman underneath: the diverse, ambitious Saudi female. I wanted to include our doctors, engineers, students, fashionistas, and entrepreneurs. I’ll tell you a secret: It’s not really about fashion at all! Lol, it’s about us, women, and revealing who we are to the outside world.
What misconceptions do you think there is about Saudi women in fashion and how is the landscape changing?
With today’s media and its political agenda, there continues to be a lot of misconceptions surrounding the Kingdom. My goal is to shed those misconceptions; whether it’s through my IG feed, a non-profit street style book, or the articles I write in international publications.
How do trends change from western markets to the Middle East and how should brands update to compensate?
For Saudi Arabia, a country that wears the abaya (a robe-like garment worn in public), the fashion underneath is quite similar to what you would see internationally. Hence, why I authored the book: Under The Abaya. I wanted to show the similarities, and through fashion create a connection between the West and the Middle East.
Have you ever come under scrutiny for your views and how do you ensure your values are rooted in your culture?
Not at all! I think with the whole government endorsement through initiatives of SaudiVision2030, I’ve been supported more than I could ever imagine. In fact, by coincidence, I launched the book at Jeddah Art Books, an initiative by MISK Art. I think women are seeing more women in the public, speaking at DAVOS, forums, and conferences… they are witnessing the shedding of this long held taboo: that a woman can achieve as long as she doesn’t reveal herself. When I did my book, I had planned to hide the identities of the women in it to be culturally sensitive… 99.99% not only asked I show their face but wanted their Instagram handles mentioned below! :)
What are the key challenges communicating brands in the Middle East?
One of the key things I’ll tell brands is not to be condescending. Since they know so little on the consumer (other than she is a big spender) it’s easy for them to make assumptions about her. The Saudi consumer knows what she wants. She follows international trends, and nowadays, has been setting them. Rihanna follows many Arab fashionistas; Huda Beauty is based in Dubai and mimics the beauty trends here… Middle Eastern women are finally being recognised as the trendsetters there innately are.
How did you start to build your profile as a journalist?
I established the first Life and Style section in the leading English newspaper in the Middle East. And that really put my name on the map. I wanted to show the creative talents of Saudi in a post 9/11 era. The response from Saudi was sticking because it was something new for them: to narrate their own stories, instead of having Western media do it for them.
Who/what inspires you and why?
Honestly, I’m obsessed with the talent coming out of Saudi currently. And I’m honoured to be part of a community of women who support each other! So whether its a Princess running a charity, a talented fashion design student or a style blogger putting herself out there...the women of Saudi are truly my inspirations!
What would your closest friends say your best and worst habits are?
That I’m a workaholic… lol!
How do you define success and how do you measure it?
When I get DM's or comments from the next generation telling me how something I did inspire them to pursue their dream, I really feel a sense of accomplishment. Like their ambitions suddenly becomes mine. Saudi is going through a transitive period, where we are growing out of the “First Saudi whatever” to competing internationally and striving to be the best, regardless of nationality or gender. I’m excited to see the next wave of “bests” coming from the Kingdom.
Buy Mossalli’s book and read her blog?
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