Growing up in the UAE, big brand names from the Western world were among the most coveted items anyone could own. I'd eagerly flip through the pages of Tiger Beat magazine (yes, no shame here - I was a tween growing up in the 90's, what did you expect?) and among all of the pages of pictures of celebrities like Jonathan Taylor Thomas, I'd lust over items as simple as Lip Smackers chapstick, Hard Candy nail polish, and Con Air hair crimpers. "They had them in America where all the Hollywood celebrities live, so they must be cool," my 13-year-old self reasoned. It was the land where dreams that were bigger than anything I could fathom were possible, because they simply weren't on the cards for kids like us - expats and foreigners growing up in an entirely different world on the other side of the globe. (I've got another story about this, but that's one to share for another day). When friends came back from summers in America, they'd flaunt their Abercrombie & Fitch clothing with labels in the most obvious location possible, as a status symbol. It was a sign that their families could afford the finances and time to take them to the USA, and that they were one degree closer to that state of cool.
When it came to sportswear, it was all about the Nike, Reebok, and Adidas. It was during my travels to the rest of the world throughout my youth (which I will always be so grateful to my parents for) that I realized that this wasn't exclusive to us foreign kids growing up on the other side - the power of branding was a very real thing. Looking back, this is probably when my fascination with the power of branding and the media industry in general began. When I was in college, Von Dutch caps and Puma trainers reigned in the era of the pre-ripped-skinny-jean street chic. I grew up; athleisure evolved alongside me. Just as I started just wearing my beloved all-black gym leggings as trousers (they offered more modesty than other, more sheer leggings, and a more flattering cut than most trousers, all while serving up the same silhouette as skinny jeans anyway, I reasoned), people started looking at me less and less strangely when I even started wearing them out with heels and "normal" shirts. It was just easier this way - aside from the aforementioned reasons, I had also figured that this way, even in my incredibly busy lifestyle, they'd help me shave a few minutes off my time getting ready at the gym. I began scouring out more obscure brands from all over the world. I noticed more and more women around me doing the same thing. Athleisure became a movement.
But still, while the place of sportswear in everyday fashion has most certainly evolved, ultimately, the pieces still need to be functional. They still required a high level of functionality, so that we could actually carry on using them for that thing we held so dear - an active lifestyle filled with sport and movement. Yet despite all of this, I never imagined I'd see a sportswear brand created right here at home in the Middle East, let alone here in the UAE, that brought a level of chic and quality so high that it would, for me anyway, contend with labels from elsewhere - until Elevaete.
I'd first met the brand's co-founder Tanvi Malik at an invite-only women's networking event where I was giving a talk. She had seeked me out at the end, saying she was a fan of my work (at the time, I was the Editor-in-Chief of the Middle East edition of Women's Health magazine) and when she told me she was creating a homegrown activewear label in the region with a friend and business partner, both of whom shared a genuine love for sport I saw her eyes light up with the fire of genuine passion. With Tanvi's background in design, and Dana's in marketing, it was a killer complimentary combo. When Elevaete's first collection dropped, they used real, locally-based women in their marketing campaign. When their second collection, "For The Love Of Sport" landed, my jaw dropped at the unveiling - an elegant, private affair held on Emirati Women's Day. Beautiful cuts of jet black featuring striking Arabic calligraphy proclaiming words of love, passion, strength, resilience, determination, and dedication. Words we feel; words we embody; words they wanted each wearer to embody.
Tanvi and her business partner Dana Miskulnig had found Amna Albanna, a 21-year-old student studying graphic design at Zayed University, who is also the owner of her own design studio, Triple A Gallery. "When we were looking for an artist to collaborate with we were looking for someone who has a passion for what they do and takes pride in their work. We approached a few individuals from the creative community, went through publications on local artists, scoured social media looking for the right person for the job," Dana says, continuing: "When we spoke to someone from the Dubai-based creative space, Techarc, and they told us about Amna, we had a good feeling she was the one. She was a young Emirati girl and at her age, she has already started her own gallery and her passion shows through her work. We reached out right away and sat down with her and explained what our plan was, and she was immediately on board! It was a beautiful process from the beginning, working with her and translating her skills from paper to clothing."
The collaboration was an exciting process, particularly since they had to ensure that the words not only looked great, but that they made sense. They had to signify meaning, and they had chosen words that illustrated this love of movement, such as "passion" and "strength". The pieces also had to be well-made, and functional. "It was really fun problem-solving with Amna to see how to make the calligraphy fit inside a technical pattern that I use for the clothes. It was a challenge to figure out how to get the scale the same for all the prints but Amna totally stepped up and went through multiple iterations both by hand and digitally to get it right. I was a little worried about butchering her hard work when it came to applying it to the clothes, but I think we worked it out and Amna kindly checked that it was all okay. After that, it was pretty seamless and I'm really happy with how it all turned out!" Tanvi says.
Their hard work resulted in an exceptional limited edition capsule collection that not only looks stunning, is flattering, and functions extremely well (trust us - we've tried it everywhere from the gym to an airport and on the road - even in the office), but that represents strength, growth, and beauty in so many ways - as well as the chance to support a home-grown brand, created by women for women (and, once again, featuring locally-based female athletes in their campaign), that celebrates the Arabic language and culture, in a timeless design that can be used everywhere from the gym to everyday life. Which is what functional athleisure should really be all about. The items are affordable too, ranging from AED165 to AED295. You can find them online at their online store, elevaete.com/shop, at Sun & Sand Sports online (which ships internationally), or at their UAE-based retailers (available in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi). With two impressive collections already under their belt and this kind of growth in the sophistication of their work, we already can't wait to see what they come up with next.