Sahar Jamal Said comes from the Libyan city of Al-Bayda. She is. She is a Civil Engineering graduate and research assistant at the University of Omar al-Mukhtar, and is doing a master’s in Civil Engineering. Yet her real breakthrough began with design. She was keen to have a distinctive look and a particular outfit, not easily found among the mainstream clothes available in the local markets – this led her to consider designing her own clothes.
She challenged herself and set a clear goal, and one month was enough for her to learn sewing.She simply took her old clothes and unstitched them, then re-sewed them. She repeated the process over and over until she was able to cut and sew.
After that, she began making her own clothes. At first it was merely a hobby, but she was then surprised by many women asking her about the pieces she was wearing, and decided to create a simple design project.
Burning the Candle at Both Ends
First, she bought a set of fabrics and within two weeks designed and sewed five pieces in different patterns and had them professionally photographed. Then she coordinated with a special driver to deliver clothes to customers in their homes, at reasonable prices.
Sahar believes in her project and makes sure the pieces she designs and sews are flawless and look like imported fashion. She gives each piece a part of her soul and breathes life into it. Each has a special name that fits its design and colour, and expresses her state of mind when working on it.
“For instance, I chose the name ‘Rose in a Desert’ for a desert sand abaya with a flower in the middle that I sewed. I embellished it with hope, and believe it conveys an optimistic message that everything is possible.”
Sahar is a meticulous person who pays attention to the minutest detail and spares no effort or time to make her work impeccable.
“I make sure that the photo shoot of my items is professional and shows the product at its absolute best, and that the packaging is classy in a way that attracts clients. I even send thank-you cards to every client I work with.
Carving Out a Niche
The young designer wanted a special name for her products and yearned to carve out a niche for her brand.
“I designed a logo for my work that combines my initials and a musical note, since music is my second passion and I actually play the piano. The design of the logo is inspired by the symbol for sol [G]. I noticed that when reversed, it becomes like an ‘s’ combined with a ‘j’, my initials. I therefore adopted it.”
Sahar says the SJ brand currently covers official, practical and coloured abayas, and she hopes it will include all kinds of clothes in the near future.
“In the beginning, I thought about designing something practical and elegant and at the same time suitable for our society and religion. Hopefully there will be new designs for various types of clothes – dresses, scarves, pajamas and others.”
Sahar has a Facebook page where she exhibits her designs. “Thank God, the page has many followers from all over Libya, but unfortunately the delivery service restrains me as it is limited to Al Bayda. I am going to broaden it soon to include all the Libyan cities. The project is simple yet successful.”
Sahar works from her own room but is working hard to open a small company or a sewing workshop, so that she can make more items and provide the required quantities for the shops she deals with.
"I don't design clothes. I design dreams." —Ralph Lauren
She talks about one of her ambitions in life: for Libyans to rely on themselves and achieve self-sufficiency without having to import from other countries.“We are quite capable of dispensing with imports and relying on local manufacturing only, if we make a little effort,” she asserts confidently.
“My family is my first support. They always tell me that as long as I am on the right path, there is no need to be afraid. And I do not forget the role of my great father, who stood by me in this project, because he is the one who deals with stores to supply me with the fabric when needed.”
The only trouble Sahar has with her family is the fact that they want her to focus more on the scientific field; they fear that this project will become a distraction. But she does not consider it a mere personal challenge: in its success, she sees the success of the Libyan woman and proof that this woman can achieve her goals on her own.