Founder & Designer, The Letter
Mohammed Rabi the founder & designer of The Letter, a brand currently based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
After honing the craft of art at the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco, Mr. Rabi established his contemporary luxury label; drawing inspiration from the Californian and Eastern cultures.
We had the chance to interview Mohammed, here's what he had to say...
Solstice: Having tried your hand at many artistic mediums, what made you stick with fashion design and create your own brand?
Mohammed: It was really inevitable that I somehow land myself in this art medium. As a child, my fascination for the arts mainly involved film. Beyond cinema, I would add psychology to dig deeper into what section of cinema I loved the most. The Terminator being my all time favourite movie, seeing Schwarzenegger wear a leather jacket and ride the motorbike really stood out to me. I saw how much confidence a single piece of wardrobe would give a fictional character and that really fascinated me as a child and now as an adult. Icons like Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen and many others wore bomber and biker jackets and the levels it would take them in terms of their personality and personal style resonated with me a lot. The goal since I started the brand was to make the man and women feel as cool as past and present icons felt when they wore a jacket.
Solstice: What inspires your designs the most?
Mohammed: As mentioned above, cinema plays the biggest role. Beyond that, so does music and iconic musicians, have attended various music shows from artists such as queens of the Stone Age, nine inch nails, black rebel motorcycle club, nick cave and the bad seeds, The Rolling Stones and many others a wardrobe that would be visible in the crowd during every one of these shows was the jacket. Whether suede, leather or cotton, the energy it brought out to the crowd and to the overall environment within the setting really made me love the piece and the construction of it even more.
Solstice: Please talk us through the process from design to finished product? What is your favourite part?
Mohammed: It starts with a sketch of what I want the jacket to look like, then what colour palette would suit this specific design the most, followed by the minor components such as buttons, zipper, additional designs such as paintwork or studs and how we could fit the pieces all together. Once an overall design has been set, I elaborate on the design more. Since I use high quality satin for the interior lining of each jacket, I look into that as well to find out how I can give the piece a classier look. Then comes the selection of leather samples, going through what quality level is the best and what would resonate most with the customers depending on what season the jacket is being made for. A lighter quality high end Napa sheep leather would be for spring / summer and a heavier duty leather for fall/ winter. Lastly, the construction of it, since highly qualified artisans have made it all by hand, we make the sample and observe the fit and once all those components have been green lit, we are all set for a final product.
Solstice: You've recently had your first London Fashion Week show. Could you tell us about your experience of LFW?
Mohammed: It was a major step for me, it was profoundly amazing due to the fact that I was able to have a dialogue with so many people within the industry, got to meet incredible individuals who have been working within this line for so long, and they educated me on how to progress and how to take advantage of the so many different forms of modern technology and how it can build your brand from the ground up. I got to explain myself, my process, my likes and dislikes, my hardships on how difficult it is to make a name for ones self within this industry and how patient you need to be. I learnt a lot, and look forward to keep learning and studying the industry within different locations, platforms and materials.
Solstice: The Letter is based in Dubai, U.A.E. What is the fashion industry like in the country? How have you found being based there?
Mohammed: We are starting to blossom, it's picking up but very slowly, as it should be. Many icons from all over the world are having talks here on how to lead the way into making The U.A.E a stop for fashion lovers to come observe and see how the youth are leaving a mark within their designs. Platforms like Dubai Design District are being available to us to go share ideas, thoughts and advocate on how to make the country grow in relation to the arts & the country is responding very well to it and giving us the opportunity to do it. A lot of exciting things will come from this region in the near future.
Solstice: Your latest collection 'Capsule I' draws inspiration from the sand dunes of the Middle East and the Redwoods of California. This very much reflects the fact that you studied in San Francisco and are currently based in Dubai. How has living in both U.S.A and U.A.E shaped you as a person, and as a designer?
Mohammed: My experience abroad was different than many others, I decided to take a detour and leave my comfort zone and Take a different direction. I went on my own, did my studies, interned but I networked with the locals of California and along the way made friends with people who today I consider brothers & sisters. I studied the culture, observed body languages and realized that when your watching a movie like Point Break (another favourite) and seeing how the characters walk and talk and how the wardrobe worn by them makes them look as cool as they do, it's not that different than the youth of California when your interacting with them on a face to face basis. That excited me, made me want to explore and learn more and made friends with people who worked in retail and learnt from them on how the industry worked and what struggles they all faced as sellers of clothes and tailors.
Solstice: The designs from 'Capsule I' include symbols from mainly Asian cinema. Are you a cinemaphile? What made you include this kind of iconography in your designs?
Mohammed: Cinema plays a big part in my designs, as mentioned above the urge to want to create something that can make another individual just look cool or boost up their self esteem is really what I strive for. I plan on adding a cinema related element in every collection I decide to design in the near future.
Solstice: Recycled ocean plastic makes up a proportion of your clothing, which is fantastic as becoming eco-friendly now a very important issue for the fashion industry. What are your plans for making your brand as sustainable as possible in future?
Mohammed: It's the start to my journey into wanting to explore the medium a lot more. I came across the material by luck, and it worked wonders for me. It's definitely a game changer to the fashion industry and brands are going to advocate sustainability a lot more when choosing garment. I hope I get to work my way into shifting the brand into an eco-friendly one very soon as that will make me have an even deeper dialogue to what I yearn to achieve as the brand grows.
Solstice: You have some gorgeous statement leather jacket designs. Have you looked at using vegan leather instead of the traditional animal hide leather? If not, would you consider it for future designs?
Mohammed: It's definitely something I am looking into and doing a lot more research on the matter. Variety is what it's all about, and the more you can offer the customer, the more you can grow your brand. If you add more benefits to what you are trying to accomplish, the deeper the story will get into why you started the brand in the first place. A shift will take place and you will become more than just a fashion label but an advocate for other important issues that we all are dealing with and climate change is one of them and a very important issue that we are all deeply concerned about.
Solstice: What are your plans for your next collection, after Capsule I?
Mohammed: I want to continue to further develop my creative side by learning more about the Industry, visit new countries and learn about different cultures. Study textile thoroughly to where I can incorporate my likings to elements that involve different backgrounds, different lifestyles and different fabrics that are popular in different countries around the world. I want to give outerwear a makeover and add other artistic mediums to my designs and yet have my love for cinema, music and culture visible in every one of my creations.
Solstice: Would you ever consider moving to one of the four big fashion cities, London, Milan, New York & Paris?
Mohammed: If an opportunity arises where I can set up shop in one of these fashion capitals, I would consider myself very fortunate and blessed. I plan on starting slow and marketing my way through the industry and hoping the brand keeps getting recognized by the public as well as individuals who have been in this industry for far longer than I have and with that I hope I am established enough to move abroad and set up in different countries.
Solstice: The fashion industry is famously cut-throat. What advice would you give to people just starting out as fashion design students / designers?
Mohammed: It's not easy. It will never be easy. Keep your focus on what you once thought could not be set in stone. Let there be an ounce of progress everyday, even if it's not bringing in the desired income you are hoping for. By trusting the journey, being patient with it, continuing to put in the hard work for it, the finish line will look prosperous. Everyone has a different strategy on how to grow their business, trust yours. Embrace the failures and enjoy the successes. Remain kind and humble, if others around you are succeeding before you, be happy for them. It's our intentions and the energy we put into this world that determine whether we will succeed or fail. Make sure the energy you are letting out is a positive one.
Solstice: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What are your hopes and dreams for yourself and The Letter?
Mohammed: I see myself still being a student, educating myself on how to progress further within the industry. I see myself struggling to do the one thing that we all think is an easy task but yet we tend to go off guard and letting our behaviors take a wrong route which is our egos. The day we throw our egos in the garbage, will be the day where positivity and success will follow us every step of the way. My dreams is to keep making a suitable income to make ends meet within a field which I love so deeply. My dream is to continue to learn more about garment and continue to make my customers feel good about themselves and feel good about the purchase that they made with The Letter.
You can view and purchase The Letter's designs from www.theletter.shop
Interview conducted by Katy Bishop.