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Qatar's first male fashion designer leads cultural change and inspires a generation

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Fahad Al Obaidly designing his menswear collection in Doha, Qatar.
Fahad Al Obaidly designing his menswear collection in Doha, Qatar.   -   Copyright  Fahad Al Obaidly
By Rosie-Lyse Thompson  & Nazneen Zahan

SCENES shines a spotlight on youth around the world that are breaking down barriers and creating change. The character-driven short films will inspire and amaze, as these young change-makers tell their remarkable stories.

Fahad Al Obaidly is creative in the literal sense of the word. The fashion designer-mentor speaks the language of creativity and expresses himself through art in his homeland, Qatar. Fahad's passion can be seen at every step of his comprehensive portfolio of work.

A curiosity for fashion

"My passion for fashion started when I was really young," Fahad explains to Scenes. He recalls television's influence on his mother, which led her to be more creative with her designs. "All of us were obsessed with Mexican TV shows and my mum was really fascinated with the dresses," says Fahad. "I remember she was sitting and sketching every dress very quickly so she could make it locally."

Fahad Al Obaidly
Fahad Al Obaidly designs clothes that celebrate traditions with a modern and contemporary twist for men and women in Doha, QatarFahad Al Obaidly

This process would spark a creative curiosity in Fahad. He wondered why his mother would go to such great lengths for her clothes. "Making those dresses is her own way of expressing her identity as a woman." This gave Fahad the inspiration to learn more. "For me, it was important to study fashion and really develop my skills from a technical point of view."

Following his fashion studies, Fahad needed professional experience. Sadly, there are no male fashion designers in Qatar. "Our region was complicated to plug into," Fahad recalls of his early career.

Due to a lack of other options, he was forced to leave Qatar and move to Europe. For six years, he travelled through Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Turkey and Paris. His final stop was at The Institute Marangoni in Milan, one of the country's most influential fashion schools, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in fashion design.

Rosie Lyse Thompson
Studio 7 is a concept store that promotes designs and crafts from the Arab world in Doha, QatarRosie Lyse Thompson

As an unknown designer in Europe, Fahad had to start from the ground up. "I threw myself into Malta. I was organising fashion shows there, not as the organiser, but as an assistant."

Learning the ropes

Once inside the industry, the hard work began. Fahad was able to gain a better understanding of how international fashion operates. "Working with an atelier as a pattern maker really helped me push myself and develop my professionalism," says Fahad.

Fahad returned to Qatar in 2014 and introduced his menswear brand 'Fahad Al Obaidly', also known as FAO. Having to make a living as an up-and-coming designer had its challenges. However, he always focused on what he loved. "I kept my money for living or buying fabric," says Fahad. "It really helped me when I came back to Doha to understand that this industry is pure business and not a luxury and lifestyle industry," he adds.

Rosie Lyse Thompson
Scale7 is a fashion and design business incubator programme at M7 in Doha, QatarRosie Lyse Thompson

"I did my first fashion show without even having a label, even a logo," Fahad recounts. Despite having no business plan nor digital portfolio, he was determined to pull the show off. "I just showed them my collection, and I said I want to do a show, and the community really endorsed me." This was the lucky break he needed, "I saw the market was really positive about my collection," recalls Fahad. Today, he designs clothes that celebrate traditional Qatar clothing with a modern and contemporary twist for men and women.

M7

At M7, an incubation hub for fashion and design, Fahad is the Head of Public Programmes, where he shares his knowledge and experience with young Qataris and residents to help them start their own businesses. "I think, what makes my position here at M7 unique, is that I come from the same market that those designers hope to establish their brands," says Fahad.

Established under the leadership of the Chairperson of Qatar Museums, H E Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, M7 is the latest initiative developed and funded by Qatar Museums to help build a solid creative hub in Doha. "M7 is not only a building, it's an ecosystem," says Fahad. Through comprehensive programmes, M7 equips aspiring creative entrepreneurs with the skills and know-how to realise their business ambitions.

M7
M7, an incubation hub for fashion and design in Doha, QatarM7

The establishment offers training, workshops, incubator spaces, a ground-floor public café; a concept store; a co-working space and two exhibition galleries. "So what we did is create an environment where all those creatives can succeed," explains Fahad. "Through Studio 7, we have around 41 brands that actually celebrate their creation, making well and selling."

Entirely funded by the Qatari government, the creative hub supports local designer brands ready to export internationally. "When I see the government putting investment with me, they are saying they believe in us. They believe that we can be the new voices for the creative economy here in Doha," he says.

Additional sources • Kati Mendoza