Her journey with fashion began through modelling as a young girl of just 16 but the big leap came when she moved to Milan at 19. “I was a fitting model with a number of the big names in the fashion world so I learnt about building collections and core production,” says Jelena Bin Drai. With this first-hand knowledge under her belt, she fused her love for art and architecture with her design sentiment to create her own label.
Sharon Carvalho speaks to this talented designer, who has called Dubai her home for the past 15 years, and mother of three about her creations and the fashion industry in the region
When did you launch your label here?
It began two and a half years ago. Initially, we were under a different label but through feedback from friends and my marketing team, we changed the name from ‘Duchess’ to ‘Jelena Bin Drai’. I remember that when we changed the name, I was not 100% sure of the decision but it stuck and then the brand took off in the market to become an identity.
What is your process when creating a new collection?
We usually begin with a theme and an inspiration and then go with the flow. For instance, the last collection was inspired by England during the Autumn. So, you can see a lot of white and red and pressed wool fabrics. Then I sketch the initial ideas and develop it further with my team. We put together a full concept with all the patterns and final sketches and then work with our embroiders, who are in house. This is for the Couture collection. For Ready to Wear, we have a production house in Portugal that receives our sketches and puts the collection together.
How have you and the label grown?
I think the growing customer base is the biggest reflection of whether you are on the right path or not. Also, personally, I am satisfied with where we are now. Everything from the level of production to the satisfied customers and their response shows how much we have grown.
What are your plans for the brand?
We have been asked if we are adding a Cruise collection but we aren’t. We put together two Couture and two Ready to Wear lines per year and we also do two Eid collections for our local customers. Currently, we are taking our collection to Europe and that has us very excited.
How do you keep up with it all?
This business is not easy. It requires a lot of coordination and approaching department stores and individual boutiques. You need to invest a lot in the business but if you are persistent and believe in your brand, you will be able to make your mark. It takes a lot of financial resources and it is an organic, step-by-step process but if you are able to sustain, the reward is great. In the end, you have to let your pieces talk for themselves. For us, we have reached a point where we have customers from here and abroad, who come to our studio regularly. This shows us that they like what we are doing and what we have to offer.
What are your thoughts on Dubai as a city that fosters local talent?
There is a lot of young talent here. But the sad part is that while there are many that want to work in the industry, there are few that know anything about it. It takes enthusiasm, commitment and sustainability to make it so if a person only considers it as a hobby, they should stay away.
What about the fashion industry irritates you?
The attitude that buyers have towards designers. The whole trend of moving towards the consignment concept instead of buying a collection. That is why we’re making a move to Europe. We get approached by buyers and stores there but not in our own city. And this happens with a lot of local designers. This makes it difficult for brands to develop, as there is no investment from the stores. In Europe, if the store thinks you will sell, they will buy your collection and display it. Over here, politics comes into play. We’re lucky that we have our own boutique and we have a loyal customer base that comes directly to us. But for those that deserve the support, there is none. There is no faith. And it’s difficult for those that have only been around for a year to support themselves. With production, PR, marketing and dealing with competition, it takes a lot of time and money.
So what can established designers do to help?
There is always the possibility for collaboration between the designers or between the store and a designer. But even then, you need investment in the collection and production, which comes from the designer themselves.
What is the best critique you have received?
Any negative comment I have ever received from those in the fashion industry has helped me realise my mistakes and fostered growth. I believe that too many positive comments will have you stuck at the same level with no room for improvement.