I still pinch myself every time I remember that the fashion frontier of Dubai is being driven by an African Woman. Our position as Diasporas is so powerful because we bring a different perspective to the already existing. This hidden strength, if properly harnessed can catapult us to unprecedented heights. This is the story of Modupe Omonze the founder of Runway Dubai.
Mo as she is fondly called was born in Nigeria. Her family however moved around quite a bit as her father worked in a multi-national oil company. The family after several stints abroad settled down in Portharcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria where Mo completed her secondary education.
After a degree in Mathematics also in Nigeria, she got married to her engineer husband who works in the oil and gas sector. Her husband’s job involved a lot of off-shore assignments causing the family to move from United States to Colombia then to Trinidad and Tobago and again to the United Kingdom. After the UK they would eventually settle in Dubai.
In Mo’s formative years, her dad was keen that his children developed hobbies; sewing and cooking then became her main interests. Much later Mo explored her sewing talent in Trinidad and Tobago to a certain extent but honed it further in Colombia. She developed her own fashion label on Bogota’s upscale high street where she later became well known as she collaborated with some high profile fashion houses. Her business however had to close down as the family moved to the UK. While in Surrey, Mo did a lot of in-house creations but was reluctant to sow any roots as she was not sure of how long they would be live there. The next move which was to Dubai seemed to be a long term one and Mo immediately immersed herself in fashion designing again. Some challenges along the way pushed her to the point that she realised that there was need to put structures in place for fashion designing to take centre stage in Dubai.
According to Mo as quoted in her interview with Khaleej Times;
“Runway Dubai was formed due to the inconsistency and disappointment that 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” To bring about a change to the fashion scene and grow the hidden talent base she had discovered in the Gulf, Runway Dubai (RWD) was birthed in November of 2013 amidst tremendous support from sponsors and supporters. Since then Runway Dubai has become a part and parcel of the country’s notable events for November of every year. With each new season, Mo’s innovative spirit continued to push for fashion and change. Runway Dubai would not only be about fashion as its success could be used to drive social responsibility and creative campaigns. Some of the achievements of RWD over the years include;
Design Challenge where aspiring designers compete for a spot on the Runway to debut their winning collections.
#keepfitstayconfident initiative with Venus Williams aimed at empowering women and raising awareness about diabetes which is one of the leading causes of death in the Middle East.
In 2016, Madeline Stuart, the world’s first professional runway model with Down’s syndrome opened Runway Dubai. Madeline’s aim in fashion is to “erase the stigma and discrimination against the disability”.
#fashionisaware is the new initiative for 2017 and it will involve designers making signature blankets for underprivileged kids in the region.
RWD of 2015 (season 3) was particularly special as Mo and her team decided to showcase Nigerian Fashion powerhouse NHN couture, owned by Mrs Harry Ngonadi. Her showing on the runway was spectacular, with a collection named “traditional urban chic” which climaxed with the story of an Efik bride.
Today RWD is the most notable stage for established and emerging designers in the continent; it is also gaining international recognition. What makes supporters identify with Mo’s vision is her utmost respect for their culture, belief and environment. These attributes are the mainstay of the Runway Dubai platform. It is no surprise therefore that a lot of the designs showcased are infused with the Middle Eastern exquisite and colourful style. Regarding the future, Mo explained to Khaleej Times –
“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”.
We wish Runway Dubai the very best as we are sure 2017 will be a show stopper as usual.
Many thanks to NHN couture for pictures, Runway Dubai for supporting this article and Khaleej Times for texts in quote.