New UAE Alumni Group
Lara Mansour studied MA Design Studies at Central Saint Martins, and after graduating moved to UAE, where she has lived for 10 years. Earlier this year, and after meeting several other UAL alumni living in UAE, she realised how beneficial a formal alumni group might be in helping to support and inspire other graduates.
With a little help from her friends and fellow alumni Tamilla Jazayeri (BA (Hons) Arts, Design and Environment, Central Saint Martins, 2009) and Pallavi Moghe (BA (Hons) Fashion Management, London College of Fashion, 2016) that dream is now being realised.
We caught up with the newly established UAE alumni group to find out about their exciting plans for the future.
What made you decide to come to London and study at UAL?
Lara: It’s a beautiful but slightly convoluted story. I was brought up in Africa, to parents of Lebanese and Hungarian descent. By the age of 15, when I finished middle school, I was sent to boarding school in London as my parents wanted me to see the world from a different perspective.
It was truly love at first sight. As a teenager, London offered me a wealth of knowledge, as well as endless access to the Arts and such a rich cosmopolitan culture – something that later became so innate in me.
After 3 years of living in London, I decided to move to Beirut, and undertake my bachelors degree, which I saw as an opportunity to learn about my roots, and to grasp a sense of identity – but I knew deep down I would always come back to London.
After I graduated from Beirut, and had worked in the city for a few years, all I could think about was my previous life in London.
I wanted to be in the West End again watching theatre and musicals. I wanted to be able to walk through Hyde Park and see what the latest exhibitions were at the Serpentine or the V&A. I knew it was time to leave.
For me a Masters signified real dedication – it meant I was a working adult who knew what I wanted out of my career, and that I had finally defined who I was. I had set myself goals and targets, and one of the items on my list was to attend Central St. Martins – and I wouldn’t take no for an answer.
So there I was, 8 years later, back in London, attending one of the most prestigious art schools – with people that were just as ambitious and hungry as me. It was a perfect moment, and will be forever imprinted in my memory.
Tamillia: Having lived in London for 7 years I can only say it was a lucky path. I’d heard so much about CSM during my two years at school in London, and after a year on a BTEC course, I wanted to be more involved in community projects, conceptual art and to move away from the computer! So I decided to leave and jump on a foundation course at Westminster College and eventually take a shot at a CSM Spatial Design course. CSM was the only university at the time which offered a good combination of spatial, architectural and artifact design.
Pallavi: From a very tender age I was very curious about fashion design. My interest in pursuing commercial fashion literature and magazines proved to be rewarding. I was exposed to numerous articles that described the creative vibe in London or spoke of its different sub-cultures as an inspiration for many designers towards building their collection. I was wanted to experience this and to explore a different perspective.
I began to find out about the career options available in the Fashion industry in London, and I prepared a visual portfolio when I was in high school. After a lot of university research and interactions with alumni and seniors from the industry, I was directed to UAL – in my case, London College of Fashion.
LCF is globally renowned as one of the most prestigious fashion institutions. I love the reputation associated with it but what led me to pursue a degree here was the promise of a hub for creative minds and access to its infinite pool of knowledge and talent. Furthermore, the access to industry experts who could share knowledge on various techniques, and the opportunity to experience a plentitude of trade shows, theatre, art and fashion exhibitions, combined with the cross cultural dialogue, was all very inviting. It was more than ‘a dream come true moment’ when I was accepted to study at one of the top colleges in one of the fashion capitals of the world.
What did you all study? Did you enjoy your time at UAL?
Lara: My BA was in Graphic Design, so I didn’t feel it would be worthwhile for me to repeat the same exact discipline. As a result, I ventured into the unknown with a MA in Design Studies. I embarked on a learning journey that concluded with a very personal research project that forever changed my life. It gave birth to my love for branding. My project was directly influenced by what was happening in the world around me in 2006, and the only way I could express it was to give it life and share it with the world. I am forever grateful to the friends I made, the lessons I learnt, and most importantly, the personal transformation it enabled me to have. Even today, our class of ‘06 is still in touch, and we keep each other abreast of all our news – we have done such wonderful things with our lives, and our careers.
Tamilla: I studied BA (Hons) Art, Design and Environment and specialised in Spatial design. I remember it wasn’t easy. All I had in mind was fresher’s week and having a good time, but we had it tough right from the start which was perfect. It set the tone for the next 3 years and put us on the right track. The graduation day and all of the work experiences that came after made me realise that it wasn’t only about the education at UAL, but meeting great individuals with a diverse range of nationalities, cultures and ideas – the creative minds that had made it but came back for more or those who were simply striving to succeed.
Pallavi: Initially I had set out to pursue a degree specialising in womenswear fashion design but with the International Preparation for Fashion foundation course I was exposed to the business side of fashion, which I found more interesting. I realised how vital this was, almost like the life support system to the creative design mechanism within any brand. I switched and have recently graduated with a BA in Fashion Management from LCF.
Over a span of three years, I learnt all the aspects of building an agile fashion brand and the techniques to sustaining the business – from creating the right product assortment with a competitive advantage, to capitalising on marketing approaches. It was a course with the right balance between technicality and creativity. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at LCF and it was an exhilarating experience overall at UAL – from the morning sessions that stimulated our intellectual capabilities, to evening sessions covering insights from industry experts.
Various modules on the course have not only enhanced my employability but also given me the confidence to tackle challenges. UAL has a big network of successful creative alumni and students so it is a very inspiring place to be. I believe I made use of the opportunities provided by UAL to maximum advantage and I am keen to apply all of the skills and knowledge I have gained to pursue a professional career in the global fashion industry.
What have you been doing since you graduated?
Lara: I graduated from CSM 10 years ago, and I have been a busy bee ever since. After graduating from my MA, I spent a few years working in London for boutique design agencies further perfecting my core competencies. Then in 2008 I was offered a role in Abu Dhabi with WPP’s global branding agency Brand Union. During my tenure, I worked mostly with Abu Dhabi clients such as Al Hilal Bank, Sorouh, Mubadala, and TDIC’s Saadiyat Island brand. In 2010, I joined Abu Dhabi’s investment arm, Mubadala, as their Brand Manager acting as an in-house resource powering the brand’s strategic milestones. I led the branding initiatives across various sectors including healthcare, real estate and hospitality, oil and gas, financial services, and renewables.
Captivated by my love for branding, and with my experience in conceptualising, delivering, and executing strategic brands, I left the corporate world and founded my own branding agency Brandly Works in 2016. The role I play is one of a marketing advisor, brand strategist and communications specialist who helps various brands such as traditional family-run businesses, government entities, mature corporate organisations and startups to develop and grow while ensuring they have a clear competitive advantage in today’s world. The UAE is only 45 years old and transforming daily, and I am so excited to support all of the innovation and thriving creative initiatives in this ambitious and growing country. Our role is to really power these brands, and to ensure they not only look better, but also sound better, and most importantly of all – perform at their best.
Tamilla: Too many things! I started with an architecture firm in Indonesia and combined work and the pleasure of travelling for the first year. But I very quickly realised my short attention span needs more variation. After my return to the UK I worked in Visual Merchandising for Habitat stores, followed with @home brand and Bloomingdale’s Home Dubai in UAE. After many store renovations and window designs, my passion for furniture design grew further. I was designing fixtures and furniture for Bloomingdale’s home store at this stage and sincerely enjoyed the design process and became eager to learn more about materials and the manufacturing process.
I found UAE’s furniture market to be quite repetitive and I truly struggled to find the right piece that was unique, eclectic, yet functional and affordable for my new home. That’s how TAM design firm was established. TAM is an exclusive bespoke design firm based in UAE, specialising in high-end, contemporary furniture and interior design for boutiques, commercial and residential projects. Inspired by Bauhaus and the Cubism era, I started experimenting with materials and forms. I collaborated with highly skilled craftsmen in Dubai to produce limited collections, and bespoke pieces for residential and commercial projects. It’s been the best decision I have ever made.
Pallavi: Alongside university I did several internships in fashion marketing and PR with smaller independent brands in London and Dubai that have helped me to gain different perspectives as well as theoretical knowledge.
It also played a crucial role in contributing towards research on my final year thesis. The topic focused on the impact of UAE luxury fashion brands social media on brand loyalty amongst women living here. Through my work on this dissertation I came to realise the value of brand loyalty especially in an economic downturn. I wanted to delve further into how fashion brands can maximise brand loyalty more precisely from the creative element of the products they offer. I decided to venture into buying and merchandising.
Currently in the UAE, I am assisting the buying and merchandising team in the womenswear category at Tommy Hilfiger, which is franchising under the Apparel Group in this region. This hands-on experience has not only developed my core competencies but also strengthened my ability to analyse retail data and sales. I am confident that my understanding of strategic and operational retail functions will contribute to taking my career to the next level.
Lately, I have also taken to photography and writing a blog on the changes facing the fashion industry.
Additionally, I am passionately involved in initiating the UAL alumni group UAE chapter. This has introduced me to two other lovely seniors in creative fields who are involved with this initiative. Our meetings and discussions have led to some constructive creative brainstorming, stimulating new ideas.
What made you want to set up an Alumni Group in UAE? What do you hope to achieve from it?
Lara: I have met several UAL graduates in my 10 years living in the UAE – and I always thought it was such a shame that we didn’t have a formal group to help get introduced to one another. There are so many ways that we can support, inspire, exchange, guide, and benefit one another.
Earlier in the year, I decided that I wanted to set up an alumni group, but since I live in Abu Dhabi, I reached out to my friend and CSM alumni Tam so we could both try and set something up together and represent both the Emirates (Abu Dhabi and Dubai). Once we had reached out to UAL, we were told there was another Dubai resident interested in setting up a group, and that’s when we were introduced to Pallavi.
It turned out to be just perfect, because we each bring something different to the plate, and collectively, we think we can bring a lot of benefits to UAE alumni. These are some of our ideas, of course, we will start small, and then as we grow momentum, we will start to hit some of the bigger initiatives.
- Networking Opportunities – Get to know each other
- Contact Listings – Provide everyone with the groups individual names, roles, and contact details
- Creative Brainstorms – Share creativity and inspiration with one another
- Mentors in the Field – Provide a platform for mentorship programs for new alumni in the country
- Experts in the Field – Bring in key speakers to talk about specific subjects
- Resource Pool – Have access to high calibre talent pool and encourage referrals
- Communicate Job openings – Share job opportunities across the network
- Communicate Design Event listings – Share event listings that are happening in the country
- Advisory Roles – Provide advice & counsel for freelancers looking to set up their own businesses
- UAL Loyalty programs – Create a loyalty program for UAL alumni across select venues & facilities
Tamilla: Since I moved to Dubai in 2012, I felt that I was missing out on so much of what is happening in London – the cultural events, the annual graduation show and the alumni gatherings. I have been eager to re-create those fun evenings of socialising, sharing ideas and supporting like-minded individuals. Luckily quite recently Lara proposed setting up an UAE Alumni group on whatssap! And there it was, a light bulb moment!
Pallavi: The fact that there was no UAL alumni association in the UAE or any Middle East region was enough to spark the idea of creating one, especially after realising that a large number of people from this region have pursued degrees in different creative disciplines from colleges under UAL. Upon enquiring I found out that there were two other young ladies in UAE who were also keen on setting up a group and was introduced to Lara and Tamilla. We met to further discuss our vision and I can already see the significance for all from such an affiliation.
For me, the most important thing is the idea of creating a network of creative minded individuals who can not only inspire but also mentor newcomers like me in the industry here. There is already a lot of creative energy surrounding arts and fashion in the UAE and this group will certainly be instrumental in providing an opportunity to connect with people from the industry as well as channelling creativity.
With this group we hope to establish a platform to nurture new talent, discuss job opportunities, share ideas and grow it further to connect people from across the globe. We all share the enthusiasm and are looking forward to organising networking events and talks by experts.
We wish to recreate an atmosphere constantly buzzing with innovation and insights that Lara, Tamilla and I truly miss about our time at our respective colleges. We hope to create a wealth of perspectives to provide a breeding ground for new ideas.