Tell us about yourself.
My name is Feiruza Mudessir, a fashion designer specialising in African-retro designs which I feature through my brand Finchitua. I hail from the beautiful African country of Ethiopia, but I was brought up in an Indian boarding school in my younger years. I moved to Dubai after I finished higher education.
I’ve lived in Dubai for many years, and naturally, it has become my second home. Dubai is an incredible city, eclectic and cosmopolitan, and for this reason, many cultures converging in this part of the world inspire me to create designs that are more culturally-inclusive than ever; of course, mainly inspired by my African roots.
Tell us about your brand Finchitua.
Finchitua is an Ethiopian word with the root word ‘finchit’, which means ‘the girl with a gap between her teeth’. In Africa, a 'finchit' is considered to be a unique beauty. Finchitua, as a label, aims to showcase a unique, distinctly style—precisely like a ‘finchit’.
The Afro-Retro collection became one of the pioneering designs that embody Finchitua as a brand. It’s a versatile denim collection that reflects my Ethiopian roots, with the retro vibe that never gets out of style. The Afro-Retro collection features hand-woven detailing and embroidery, with pieces that cater to both men and women.
Today, my Afro-retro line has definitely progressed to the next level: a truly edgy modern streetwear inspired by African-retro fashion that reflects my chic, streetwear fashion. My main clientele is mostly Africans and Europeans, as well as trendy individuals who love wearing street style clothing. I figured I also had to design an abaya in my Afro-retro collection. It took off, quite surprisingly, and now my GCC clients are my best customers.
Would you say your designs reflect your personal style?
I started conceptualising my authentic styles when I ventured into the world of fashion designing, finding the best designs that express who I am as a person. I’d say whatever design I’d put out for everyone to see and wear is something I’d confidently want to wear myself.
Before I ventured into the fashion industry, I did hostessing and promodising. We wore black outfits, including black trousers and black dresses. I remember wanting to wear funky little dresses, wanting to add something that accentuates a rather plain outfit. Years after, having established my own brand, I did it by fusing my designs in such a classic clothing mainstay. I added a personal twist to the so-called women classic, ‘LBD’ or the ‘little black dresses’. You’ll find a Youtube feature of Little Black Dresses by Finchitua. The designs have been there for some time now, but I’m still proud of it, having done it mostly by my creative intuition alone.
Ballroom gowns also showcase my taste in Western styles that are incorporated in the African culture in interesting circumstances. Today, most nations in Africa are becoming more influenced by Western styles. Weddings in Ethiopia are done differently now. Brides wear the Western white wedding gown. This inspired me to create my own signature collection for ballroom gowns featuring traditional Ethiopian materials. For some time in the past, I accepted customisations for wedding gowns. It was good, but it became too busy to handle on the daily because of the amount of work required. I don’t have a tailor that exclusively works for me, so I’ve done the designs and created the dresses on my own. I focused on the Afro-retro line instead.
Who wears Finchitua?
You know what, this question comes up a lot. I've been asked before, “Can you please give us an age bracket?” My answer is definite: no age. I don't put an age bracket, and I don't even think that there should be a specific target market. Most people associate the kind of fashion that they should wear with respect to their age. I think this shouldn’t always be the case.
I'm in my late 30s, but nobody can tell, and that's because of the fashion I wear. I have very young customers, young adults and even senior clients who are definitely into street style. It’s not about age then; it’s about personality. Dressing up should be in a way that strikes your level of comfort. Be it dressed down or dressed up; it’s always up to us to sport the styles that match our personalities and level of individual expression. So who wears Finchitua? They are people who want to show the world that they are unique and are not afraid of rocking the eclectic, African-inspired streetwear fashion.
How did you get started in designing?
Designing is a personal hobby I acquired growing up. I used to be interested in interior designing. At that time, I didn't even know what fashion designing was in the strictest sense, but I’d cut fabrics and clothing, doing various stuff with garments, even breaking apart home materials to add to my experiments.
When I was 13, I moved to India, and I was living in a boarding school with my sister. Living in boarding school, I didn't have the luxury of getting the materials to break and whatever, right? All I had to experiment on were my dresses and my sister's clothes.
After living in India, I decided that fashion is the field where I should go. My parents took me back to Ethiopia after high school for further education, and eventually to go to Australia. That didn't work out, but instead, a new door was waiting somewhere else.
My cousin owned a business in Dubai. He asked me if I wanted to come to the UAE. I was the youngest sibling in the family, and naturally, they didn't agree. I just decided on my own anyway, and I came to Dubai without knowing what I'm going to do. So I started out as my cousin's secretary. He eventually went to China, but I insisted on staying in Dubai. Eventually, I landed a job in Mango as a visual merchandiser. After a year and a half working for Mango, I transferred to a French brand that moved from France to Dubai. I manage luxury brands in Ventilo in Emirates Tower and Village MalI.
While I was working there, I went to a fashion school in the Global Village, where I graduated in 2007. To start building my own brand and collections, I needed to free up my time. I resigned from my full-time job and instead started doing part-time promotional jobs, hostessing, modelling, and whatever I could get at the time where the money was really good.
Finally, in 2012, I launched collections after collections, but I didn't know what I wanted back then. I didn't know what my personal style was, and I was just designing and making it. I started going out with a guy who asked me, “What are you doing sitting on all these collections you need to launch?”
I had to learn many things about the fashion industry, not simply as a creative field but as a line to business for my brand to grow. As soon as I started selling my own creations, I gained more confidence. I was treading slowly, but surely. I learned from many people, and one practical advice I kept was to veer away from boutiques. I had to market my own brand, and it took off well. Now, Finchitua has a niche of its own, and I’m very proud that I’ve come this far.
So like I said, I started this line of work as a hobby. I did not know exactly what I wanted to be. Eventually, I transformed my passions into a profession that I’m looking forward to doing every day with contentment and happiness. Sometimes, there are ups and downs when you're doing your own business, especially now that I have my own place of business where overheads must be taken into account and inventory must be managed diligently. Still, I think of myself as very lucky to be doing what I'm doing: literally, I’m living my dream.
What's the dream?
My dream is to see my brand and my collections grow. Every season whenever I create a new collection, I see that my designs and styles are getting more mature. I, too, am becoming more confident.
I find that there are many people who would stop by and look at my collections as if they’re in an art gallery, and they’d say, “This is really cool, but I can't rock this!” I would reply, “Why not?” So this is also my goal as a fashion designer and brand owner: I want to see my brand become a fashion staple that people would not simply see as something cool and edgy, but as something that they can wear every day so they can express their individuality.
You see, if I simply acquiesce to what people say I should do, I’ll lose my vision and authentic styles. Why should we change simply because we’re out of the ordinary? Is it the case that the norm should always prevail? Fashion, in this sense, affords us the freedom to channel our creative expressions.
I also can’t stress enough that creating quality pieces entails more value and effort. Some people told me that I need to start doing simpler things or make things easier by buying cheap. I don’t abide by this point of view. I'm not going to diminish the quality of the items by incorporating cheap or substandard material simply to cut costs.
Do you take custom orders?
At this point, I do not take custom orders. Although for my close friends and loyal clients, yes, I have made a couple of exceptions for them; for example, a shirt in a different wash, like a very white-wash, or without the wash. I have done it because I know they represent Finchitua.
How do people get ahold of your designs?
Finchitua has active pages and followers on Instagram and Facebook. My online boutique https://finchitua.com/ is also active, and we deliver worldwide. My new collections are not online yet because we're still finalising the photoshoot. Plus, we've just opened a store, Finchitua Boutique, at The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, Shop Number 5.
Being an entrepreneur is taxing, how do you look after your mind, body and soul?
Yes, that’s true, an entrepreneur’s life is exhausting; there is no off-duty time; there are no days off. There are no holidays even. What I mainly do to combat stress and exhaustion is to keep a balanced, healthy lifestyle. I work out, eat healthily, and meditate in the morning. As a Muslim, I also pray diligently. When I'm very stressed, I either listen to or read the Quran, and that's how I feel at ease.
Other than those, I bake in my free time. It's like therapy for me. Now that I've started eating healthy, I've started baking vegan cakes and other stuff. Having friends come over for tea is also therapeutic. Besides that, I like to go to the beach—not to swim—but simply to watch the sunset watch and listen to the relaxing crash of waves against the shore. These are the simple things that I do to relax.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to quit 9-5 to become an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur is not a title nor a privilege. It’s not something you want to start just because you’ve seen somebody else doing this or that and it seems easy to do. It’s more than earning money or managing a business: it’s something you do because you genuinely love it.
Nobody sees what goes behind the scenes when a brand features its products online. What I’m saying is, the amount of work that gets into doing something is invisible to other people. If you want to become an entrepreneur, you must accept that you’re going to make a lot of sacrifices along the way.
You will also encounter people who will tell you to do things differently. While some of them may have a valid point, don’t feel obliged to follow the thoughts of the crowd and the musings of the few. Set reasonable expectations and informed choices, but when it comes to decisions concerning tapping the voice of your own creative spirit, go ahead and follow your intuitions, your personal preferences and what your heart tells you to do. You need to be true to yourself and understand what you stand for and go for it. Otherwise, there is no point leaving your 9 to 5!
What's that one quote you live by?
I’d love to share not just one, but two quotes that define my journey right now:
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” — Gandhi
“Where you stand depends on where you sit.” — Nelson Mandela
With my business and my journey right now, I do have a few leaders in mind that I regard as inspirational figures. I have the utmost admiration for Gandhi and Mandela, whose faces have graced my previous collections.
Gandhi's words are succinct yet deeply meaningful. The reason I chose his famous quote is not so hard to figure out. We know a lot of people who tend to preach what to do and how to live. When you look at them, however, they're not actually an ideal example of what they're telling you to be or to do. I find it hard to follow these kinds of people. Mandela, on the other hand, meant that we should always mean what we say, and taking an informed stand not simply based on your own perspective, but considering the perspectives that are also for the common good.