From Caribbean High Street To Dubai Couture

By Sandhya D’Mello
Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Modupe Omonze, founder of “Runway Dubai” shares her story of how she got into the fashion industry.


Uae women have been trailblazers in creating new ideas and Dubai is the land of opportunities — just do it right, be fair and there is no stopping you, said Modupe Omonze, founder of Runway Dubai.

Runway Dubai is a fashion media company and organixers of the Runway Dubai Fashion Show. Now in its fourth season, Runway Dubai attracts big names in the region and has also become a preferred platform for upcoming talents in the Gulf. Every season of Runway Dubai engages with Dubai’s growing fashion industry and features a display of couture collections by leading designers from several continents.

“Runway Dubai was formed due to the inconsistency and disappointments I encountered in the past from a few companies in Dubai.

I was determined after my heartbreak and it made me a stronger person. As a passionate designer, I don’t want to fall into the hands of people who don’t understand my vision. I also don’t want other passionate, talented and creative individuals like me to go through such a painful experience,” says Omonze.

In the first season of Runway Dubai, Omonze said the support from people was overwhelming, especially from those who knew her story.

“My dreams came true in Dubai and I feel blessed to be involved in putting Dubai at the forefront of the fashion industry.

People travel from all across the world every November and they always leave inspired. That is my motto. Through the years, we have grown so much, gained international recognition and inspired a lot of women in the region with creative campaigns such as #keepfitstayconfident that was endorsed by tennis star Venus Williams who joined us to promote awareness about staying healthy through fashionable initiatives,” she adds.

Number-crunching to designs
Omonze graduated in college with a mathematics degree and later went back to study fashion design and event management. In her teens, Omonze’s dad encouraged her and her sisters to pick up extra skills during summer holidays.

During the course of one such holiday, she signed up for sewing classes at a fashion training institute run by a family friend.

The classes sparked Omonze’s interest in the finer details of fashion designing. She spent most of the afternoons making dresses and blouses. Inspired by the institute owner, that interest transformed over time into a passion.

She got married at the age of 22. Her husband’s job entailed excessive travelling that took the couple from the United Kingdom to the United States to Trinidad & Tobago and eventually to Colombia, South America.

Relocating later to Trinadad and Tobago, Omonze immersed herself in the carnival culture of the small Caribbean island and its fashion. She partnered with the University of West Indies to organize trunk shows in the capital, Port of Spain.

Trinidad inspired her to take a closer look at the idea of style and its role as an expression of lifestyle, beliefs and environment. Omonze’s respect for culture is reflected in her work.

She also spent a few years in Colombia. By then, Omonze had transformed from a small-scale home business to a full-scale fashion label on Bogota’s upscale high street. She also had collaborations with high profile fashion houses across the region.
It was then time for Omonze and her family to move again for work to Dubai in 2011.

Bridging gaps
“Dubai was a very interesting location for me. Several home-grown designers were looking for expanded platforms to showcase their work and at the same time foreign fashion houses desired a credible fashion platform for promoting their couture in the region. It was my mission to help bridge gaps in the industry by introducing inspiring initiatives around fashion,” recalls Omonze.

These days, she works with designers and industry professionals all through the year and still takes out time to design her own label. Omonze agrees that her ‘back-up’ skill has become a life-long passion.

“My struggle in the fashion industry is in finding the right team. Work ethics in Dubai differ because residents here come from all walks of life and diverse cultures. There are some things that we have to put in place living in a country with rules that you have to understand and respect. Culture is a big base on our platform. Attracting funding for fashion shows is another challenge. Although the Runway Dubai platform has gradually gained support from reputable corporate sectors in the region, we still hope to improve the fashion industry here and let people understand what Runway Dubai stands for. From true life stories and empowering women to supporting diversity, it is valuable to support creative ideas and humanitarian gestures,” she explains.

The plan for Runway Dubai 2017 is to create awareness of corporate social responsibility initiatives and their campaign is called #fashionisaware.

“We will be involving designers to make signature blankets for underprivileged kids in the region for the coming autumn/winter season 2017-18. We are also inviting celebrities who support this initiative to show their collection on our platform this year.

My advice to women entrepreneurs is do not take no for an answer, stick with your passion, appreciate your weaknesses, embrace your strengths and most importantly, stay true to yourself and always do what you know best,” Omonze concludes.

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