Culture shock and much to learn, is what I’ve experienced in my 2 months in Saudi Arabia. Lomar helped me realize both these things in only one day.
Going from fashionable thobe’s to remembering to not shake a married woman’s hand, (I’m sorry Mona Alhaddad) all of it has been very interesting.
Loai Naseem and wife Mona Alhaddad, a very interesting conversation mixed with happiness, hardship and ‘life’ in general. A laid-back couple with love being a substitute for ambition and passion used as an occupation.
After graduating with a Bachelor in Graphic Design in 1994, Loai worked in advertising for 10 years. He then went on to become Creative Director in ‘3Points Advertising’, while at the same time he was designing his first thobe (not to mention, simply as a hobby). “It was a challenge. From work to my hobby, juggling both was very tiring and mentally draining, but my beautiful wife always helped me get thru the rough times” says Naseem.
I had the honor of sitting down with this couple/team and finding out how Lomar is fast becoming a name in the Arab World and to the World (soon enough).
Now Loai Naseem and his wife Mona Alhaddad have started a new beginning in what could be a fashion statement or maybe even an icon in Middle Eastern fashion and culture. This is their story…
So, How did you start Lomar?
We Started Lomar in 2005 whilst still working for ‘3Points Advertising’ Agency. The idea came to me one night after work; I always found that taking my thobe off was a hassle, so I would often do it before reaching home whilst still in the car.
So one day I said, I wanted a zipper on my thobe (I can slowly see a grin arising whilst this story being told, It was like asking a child how his first sweet tasted), I went to 3 tailors, all of them said ‘no’ because they were scared, they didn’t want to change the ‘standard’ of the thobe. So I had my mother’s tailor do it for me.
The reaction? Ha, I had people coming up to me and asking me where I got my thobe from and if I can design one for them. At first I said no, as it was my hobby, time then past and Mona and me decided why not?
Next minute I know, we hired tailors to work in our saloon and got more sewing machines. Then came the biggest step, our first shop.
Mona, It must’ve been hard. Did you ever think ‘enough is enough, I give up, I want my saloon back’?
[Loai] Let me just say one word and then you continue.
The Love, now you continue.
[Mona] As a couple you have a lot of things that come in your way, I cannot let any of that stop me. I am always telling myself that we will achieve this; I will stand by him all the way. I could see it in his eyes that this is what he wanted to do and of course, I will always stand by his side.
[Loai] Every time I wanted to give up, Mona gave me power. It was hard but I worked incredibly hard for the first 2 years for something I loved and we achieved what we wanted to.
You work and live together. How does it feel that you’re always around each other and what are your aspects of men and women working together?
We simply enjoy each other’s company (smiles Mona). To make a marriage work, you need a lot of patience and understanding. At work, I like making classical thobe’s as Loai prefers to work on casual designs.
[Loai] Mona is the numbers and I am the creative [side] (said with a smart smirk). I truly love it. Mona inspires me a lot in my day-to-day basis.
As for men and women working together? I think you always need a woman’s perspective on certain situations; as a man jumps the gun but a woman takes her time and analyses.
What is so special about your thobes?
When customers come in, they tell me “I want a personal thobe”. I sit with them and create a ‘custom made’ thobe of their choice. Some may want a thobe for a vacation in Dubai, while some may want one for a business meeting and some may even want a specific thobe for a gathering with friends. Basically, every occasion is different just like every person differs from another. Every thobe has a different personality, both formal and casual.
Change, how do you see it?
People don’t want to change, but we all need change at times, they will change. A grandfather (Ahmad Fitahi) came in [to our store] to buy a thobe for his grandchildren, ended up leaving with a Lomar thobe for himself.
When I saw him I took him aside, asked his size, where does he go and what does he do. I made a design for him, now he absolutely loves me.
How drastic can change be?
I remember one day I wore a black thobe a few years ago when I was going for my daily exercise walk. The results where interesting. I had a lot of strange looks from people. On more than one occasion I had quite a few boys slowly drive past me and pull up next to me, when they realized I was a man and not a woman, that’s when they zoomed off hahaha.
A thobe needs to be given some personality. Black thobes a few years ago were unheard of, now it is becoming very normal.
Riyadh sees it as ‘feminine’ but that’s Riyadh, and that’s why Jeddah is ‘different’ right?
How is Lomar doing in more ‘hard headed’ cities like Riyadh?
We did more than 80 % formal thobes [with 20% being casual] in Riyadh, as they really don’t like the idea of changing the thobe . . . yet.
Are you aiming more towards the younger generation?
No, there is no age on style.
What are you ‘really’ looking to achieve from Lomar?
What a lot of people don’t understand is, I’m not trying to change the ‘culture’, matter of fact I’m trying to bring them BACK to the culture.
I see Saudi’s wearing jeans with cut holes in them, slowly losing their heritage; I want to bring them back to the thobe. Nobody can wear a thobe in the day and cut jeans at night, so I wanted to make them feel proud of wearing a thobe, a ‘re-defined’ thobe.
They seem to not like the traditional thobe’s so; I chose to give them an alternative.
How come the logo is not in Arabic since it’s an Arabian company and product?
We want to create a fashion. A fashion label [in English] is worldwide, Arabic is local. We are also aiming for Muslims overseas inshallah; we don’t want this to be seen as just an ‘Arabic dress’. I don’t want them to be wearing an average ‘too formal for the Western World’ thobe in fashion icons like New York and London.
I want Lomar to be a name that will be received by the Arab world and worldwide by Muslims, making them feel comfortable by wearing a thobe that has a touch of style.
Is it me or are you actually making a ‘fashion’ in Saudi Arabia, doesn’t that sound weird to you?
A lot of Arabs don’t really know how to put western clothes together as they just came out of wearing thobes each day of their lives, so a lot of people were used to that ‘plain-ness’ of the thobe.
So how can one know about fashion when they don’t understand it?
People now trust Lomar. We are in a way trying to educate them, as a fashion. We are just giving Saudi’s [and Arabs] what always wanted, fashion.
Did you ever see any of this happening? Did you ever picture Lomar being more than just an idea in your head?
As in find our way in this life?
Honestly I don’t know that answer, but I can say it was very hectic in the beginning. I worked in many businesses prior to Lomar and they were all a failure. I worked in construction for 7 years and advertising for 10 [years] even in real estate.
I was never happy. I worked and worked and never came home feeling happy. All I did was feel more miserable because all that came by me was misery and failure and a lot of hard times. I could only thank god for giving me Mona to pull me up every time I was down.
Sometimes I even brought her down with me. I remember when I used to have this rented billboard; at times a light bulb on it would pop. So I would go out in the middle of the night, climb the ladder and now and then it would take me hours and I mean hours! And my dear wife would be waiting in the car for me. Patiently, with no complaint.
It was very hectic at times but finally I can only thank God and my wife that I changed my business.
How about …
I will cry ok!
Hahahaha ok I think that’s enough then.
As I walked out of their office, a feeling of contentment settled within. Such was the story of Lomar of how it became, how it will become and how it will change our perspective on Arabian culture.