“I let my imagination travel as far and wide as possible”
Rula Galayini describes her handbags as ‘dynamic accessories for a real life edge’. Taking inspiration from art, architecture and nature, Rula has created an internationally acclaimed brand fully deserved of its place among Vogue’s ‘100 Best Bags’.
Please introduce yourself to our readers:
I’m Lebanese but grew up between Canada, Kuwait, Cyprus and Lebanon and am now based in Dubai.
I’m the founder and creative director of the international handbag label, Rula Galayini, which is proudly made in the Middle East. I constantly seek ways to give back to our local economies by hiring traditional craftsmen to bring the creations to life. The brand’s headquarters are based in Dubai and all our products are produced in Lebanon.
I’m driven by creativity, innovative design and an overall determination to show our part of the world in the most positive light.
Tell us about your education:
I began my education with a graphic design degree with distinction from the American University of Beirut, coupled with a scholarship from the Rhode Island School of Design.
After graduating, I worked as an Associate Creative Director at Leo Burnett in Lebanon on various regional and global fashion and luxury brands. I then joined MTV Arabia as the channel’s Creative Director in 2007. Here I developed the modern Arab identity of the channel, set up the creative department and headed their design and communication strategies.
In 2012, I took the helm as Design Director on Fashion Forward, a platform promoting designers form across the Middle East.
In addition to a successful career in the corporate world, I was determined to pursue my personal passion in product design, particularly in women’s accessories, and in 2007 launched my handbag brand. I gradually shifted into the realm of fashion under the mentorship of Esmod and London College of Fashion.
With a degree in Graphic Design, how did you get interested in handbag designing?
The world of design has many facets and I was always, and still am, intrigued by many of them. Graphic design is a great tool that is at the backbone of all communication and I continue to utilize it on a daily basis. However, I knew that I would eventually want to dive into design that was more three dimensional. Several years after practicing graphic design, branding and advertising, the product design world won me over and I began my adventures with handbags.
I had already spent many years working on fashion brands from a communication perspective, so it was a natural build to enter the world of fashion design. With that world, I always felt that handbags (and accessories in general) were the most democratic fashion items. Women of all sizes, shapes, colours and cultures could enjoy them. They also had a strong functional element that I find rather intriguing.
How did you get started and what were some of the obstacles you had to face at the beginning?
Initially one of the greatest challenges was to get retailers to take a chance on the brand. The fashion industry is highly unpredictable and inconsistent which often makes retailers more inclined to stick with the commercial big names as opposed to taking a risk with new, relatively unknown ones. The way we overcame that was by focusing on having a distinctive edge, both aesthetically and functionally, that no other brand, regional or global could claim.
In the early years of RULA GALAYINI an immense amount of creative experimentation took place before we were able to truly define a brand promise and signature aesthetic that resonates and leaves a strong impression.
In parallel, we perfected the quality of the products to match and, in many instances, surpass the existing benchmarks in luxury and contemporary accessories.
By setting a solid unique brand promise that is both innovative and has longevity, allowing room for constant development, gives retailers the confidence that were here to stay.
Today the brand retails in approximately 30 countries, including international retailers such as Galeries Lafayette, Harvey Nichols, Bloomingdales, Saks 5th Avenue and Robinsons.
What are some of your favourite materials to use in your designs?
Gold plated brass is one of the key elements used in all our designs. We are always curious to see how to take a durable industrial material and create a form that is delicate and feminine. On a more symbolic level, we also feel that it’s quite representative of the modern day woman who, despite her external femininity, has remarkable internal strength.
How would you describe your own designs?
RULA GALAYINI is about dynamic accessories for a real life edge. ‘Dynamic’ because they are adaptive, empowering and versatile for the multifaceted contemporary woman of today. And the ‘real life edge’ because they are made for women of the real world, who not only question the status quo but are in quest of continuous positive change.
Responding to a demand for authenticity and a lasting story that resonates with women of all ages, RULA GALAYINI is an internationally acclaimed brand that caters to the woman who wants to set her own standards and to express herself wholly without compromising on taste and, more importantly, on herself.
What type of women is in your mind when you design your collection?
Empowered women who challenge the status quo often adopting an alternative approach to life. Women of all ages, who are fueled by curiosity, directed by instinct, grounded by ethics, and determined to leave their mark with intelligence and kindness alike.
Where and how do you research for your collection?
Art, architecture and nature are the main three sources of inspiration for our work.
Having said that, inspiration can come from anywhere, even from the most mundane things. I generally like to begin by questioning the status quo and challenging the existing in hopes of coming up with something fresh and unprecedented.
I also like to ensure my pieces are practical and serve a purpose, as well as looking aesthetically pleasing. Removable insets as well as detachable pouches and covers, allow for multiple variations to be created within one given design. Thus allowing a large degree of personalization by the owner, allowing each piece to be unique and ever changing.
Overall, I feel that RULA GALAYINI offers edgy, yet functional pieces that become an extension of the woman and her personality
Can you describe your design process?
Ever since I was a design student, I always felt that paper was too restricting and flat, so I would begin my creative process by experimenting with my hands. So many mistakes happen when you use your hands; great mistakes that often add new dimensions to existing ideas, or become ideas within themselves.
In the vivid world of shapes, forms, textures and colours, I can spend hours or days on end. I let my imagination travel as far and wide as possible and once I feel I’m on to something exciting, I explore ways to link them back to the previous collection and overall brand. It’s such a wonderful journey every time, pressing certain emotional buttons like nothing else can.
What’s your favourite stage when creating a new design?
The most exciting moment is when the prototype comes to life. Seeing a sketch or an idea materialize into a tangible product is definitely the highlight of the design process.
Who, if anyone, has had the biggest impact on your career?
It would have to be my husband who is both my worst critic and greatest fan.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face today?
The greater the success of one collection, the greater the expectation for the following one. Consequently, it becomes challenging to preserve the brand identity whilst retaining the novelty element, time and time again.
What has been your greatest moment on your journey so far?
Making into on to Vogue’s ‘100 Best Bags List.’ As though that wasn’t rewarding in itself, we also happened to be the only emerging brand on that list, and came in quite high at number 7, sandwiched between Saint Laurent and Stella McCartney.
What is your philosophy of life?
To never rest on your laurels, and to be the best possible version of myself.
What five things couldn’t you live without?
Family, friends like family, travel, caffeine and my cell phone of course!
Are you planning to venture into anything else other than handbags in the future?
I’m really excited about tapping into new product lines through unexpected collaborations. We are currently working on one such project but that’s pretty much all I can reveal about it right now. We are also hoping to launch a shoe capsule collection towards the end of the year, so keep an eye out!
Where is your collection available? Are you planning any exclusive Rula Galayini store in the region?
Our collection is available in Kuwait at Bloomingdales in 360 Mall. We have created quite a few exclusive pieces for Bloomingdales which is very exciting. We have a strong presence across the Middle East, selling in the likes of Harvey Nichols Riyadh, Galeries Lafayette Dubai and Saks 5th Avenue Manama. We are also available globally on farfetch.com and in a handful of international concept stores.
You entered the Kuwait market last year. How has the market responded and what are your expectations?
We have sparked great interest from a very early stage which does not come as a surprise, as we have a large Kuwaiti following in the cities that they frequent. The Kuwait woman is the perfect example of the modern Arab woman. She is attuned to all the global trends, yet brave and articulate enough to create her own personal style. As a designer, to be able to appeal to the refined tastes of the Kuwaiti woman is an achievement in itself.
Your message for us at CP magazine:
Kuwait is very dear to my heart. Not only did I spend my infancy there, but it left such a great impression, that for many years later I was convinced that I actually was Kuwaiti!