Our Exclusive Interview With Abeer Al-Otaiba Of The Luxury Fashion Brand SemSem
As I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I stumbled upon the most inspiring story of a woman who embodies the perfect balance of entrepreneurship, fashion, and philanthropy.
Her name is Abeer Shoukry Al-Otaiba, and she is the mastermind behind the luxury fashion brand SemSem.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Abeer is a true trailblazer in the fashion industry. She received her education in France, where she earned a degree in civil engineering. Armed with her technical expertise and an unwavering passion for fashion, she took the plunge and launched her own business – and girl, did she hit it out of the park!
In 2015, Abeer launched SemSem, a luxury fashion line that’s a testament to her love for fashion and her daughter, Samia. Known for its striking colors, intricate designs, and high-quality materials, SemSem is the go-to brand for women who value style and comfort. Every piece is crafted with the utmost attention to detail.
But Abeer’s achievements don’t stop there. She’s not only the Creative Director of SemSem, but she’s also the Founder and CEO of Al-Otaiba Investments, a private equity investment firm that specializes in the Middle East and North Africa.
As though that weren’t impressive enough, Abeer is also a fierce advocate of women’s rights. She’s dedicated to empowering women and girls around the world and is actively involved in various philanthropic initiatives, including supporting education and healthcare programs globally. Through her work with SemSem, she created job opportunities for women in the fashion industry.
It’s no surprise that Abeer’s efforts in female empowerment have garnered widespread recognition. She’s been acknowledged by numerous organizations, including the United Nations, Women’s Wear Daily, Forbes Middle East, and Arabian Business magazine. Her success as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and advocate for women’s rights is truly awe-inspiring.
Abeer’s passion for fashion and her dedication to making positive change in the world has earned her the title of role model and leader in the business community. SemSem isn’t just a fashion brand – it’s a movement. And Abeer is the fierce, fabulous woman behind it all.
In a candid interview with Ms. Al- Otaiba CIIN Magazine was able to delve a little deeper into the personal and professional life of SemSem’s founder, discussing everything from her early inspirations to her latest creative endeavors.
What sparked your interest in fashion design, and how did it lead you to start SemSem?
For as long as I can remember, I have loved expressing myself through fashion. When my parents would travel to Europe and come back with outfits for me and my brother, I would immediately begin adding my own personal touch to the clothes they bought us.
I’ve always adjusted my clothes for everyday and special events, to add my own unique perspective.
Being a mother opened a piece of my heart I didn’t know existed. SemSem is named after my daughter Samia’s nickname – she is without a doubt the inspiration behind the brand, and the special bond mothers and daughters share is what really inspires me. My love of fashion and my desire to build a brand that empowers women has always been my main driver.
What are some of the challenges you faced when starting SemSem, and how did you overcome them?
My first collection, launched in Washington in the fall of 2015, was a labor of love. Looking back, it’s humbling to see how far we have come. There are a lot of brands in the fashion space so finding our clients and rhythm took some time. The first few years felt like trial and error, but I ultimately found SemSem’s unique customer. I was patient, but also persistent.
What is your design philosophy?
I initially pursued engineering, specifically civic engineering. I’ve always been motivated to break barriers and rise above what is expected of women, particularly Arab women.
Engineering is all about functionality and attention to detail. But it also involves a great deal of creativity and innovation in solving design challenges, in thinking about forms and fit, and in using and combining different materials.
What inspired you to start your philanthropic work?
Through SemSem and in my daily life, I am dedicated to shining a light on gender equality, literacy, health, and education for women and children around the globe. Each season I partner with a different charitable organization because I understand the idea of overcoming personal challenges, and I am dedicated to supporting women not only in the form of funds donated but also in the form of knowledge shared. Sometimes education, mentorship, and friendship are equally, if not more helpful than, funding.
Can you tell us more about SemSem’s commitment to female empowerment and how do you ensure that these values are reflected in every aspect of your business?
SemSem is a brand with a conscience. As a mother raising a young girl, it is hugely important for me to support and call attention to women supporting women. The idea of giving back and being philanthropically active is bigger than corporate social responsibility – it is personal, and it is how I operate day in and day out.
Each season we choose a different charity because I understand the idea of overcoming personal challenges, and I am dedicated to supporting women not only in the form of funds donated but also in the form of advocacy and knowledge shared. Sometimes education, mentorship, and friendship are equally, if not more helpful than, funding.
Who is your fashion icon or inspiration?
I’ve always loved Jane Birkin’s laissez-faire sense of style – layered necklaces, vintage denim, peasant blouses, flared pants, and white t-shirts. I also loved Bianca Jagger during her glam studio 54 era.
What advice would you give to someone who would like to follow in your footsteps?
Never be afraid to act on a dream. Remember your strength as a woman, surround yourself with a team you can trust as well will fill your voids, and know we are often capable of more than we may realize.
What is your vision for SemSem, where do you see the brand in 5 years?
SemSem continues to expand in the Middle East, the US, and Europe. Our vision is to continue to grow a brand that women rely on to fulfill their fashion needs in a way that is healthy, sustainable, and reliable.
How do you hope for SemSem to continue inspiring women and girls to change the world?
I hope SemSem will continue to shed a light on the role women play in society as well as the importance of giving back to our community. The most meaningful part of life is how we treat others and what we can do to make the world a better place. As women, we are empowered by our actions, emotions, and struggles as well as our ability to balance a multitude of things while giving back to our community.
How do you balance your career, philanthropic work, and personal life?
I have three full-time jobs: mother, business owner, and diplomat. Being a mother matters to me more than anything else so I always put my children first. I want to be the first person they see in the morning and the last person to kiss them goodnight. In between my kids and SemSem, I usually juggle diplomatic duties, philanthropic work, and design. Designing for SemSem happens at all hours of the day and night. Like most working moms, I’m often up late answering emails and catching up on work.
Ultimately, I surround myself with supportive people both personally and professionally. SemSem is my third baby, so the late nights and early mornings are worth it. I am grateful to be in the position I am in and strive every day to set a good example for my children, colleagues, and friends.