Women Leaders in the Middle East: Designers, Artists & Other Inspiring Minds
Discover the female leaders behind Middle Eastern design, beauty, and fashion brands. In a region where tradition meets innovation, these trailblazing women blend art, culture, and ambition to head some of the most influential brands in the Middle East.
Their creativity, resilience, and unwavering determination have not only reshaped industries but have also become an inspiration for generations to come. Learn about these remarkable women and their groundbreaking businesses, driving change and celebrating women leaders in the Middle East.
FASHION & BEAUTY
Dima Ayad is a Lebanese fashion designer based in Dubai. Her inclusive clothing is for women of all shapes and sizes. Each piece features a design boasting function and effortless glamor. Having nearly six years of public relations experience at Dubai-based Jumeirah Hotels, in 2020, she launched her own consultancy, DAC Communications.
Since launching her namesake bridal and eveningwear collections in 2017, Sandy Nour’s designs have made their way to boutiques all over the Middle East, Europe, and South America. Her signature style is elegant, whimsical, romantic, and practical. With headquarters in the U.A.E. and Lebanon, she has made a name for herself in the industry with a head for creative direction and dedication to her personal brand.
After moving to Paris to pursue her dreams of design, Lama Jouni trained at fashion houses such as Balmain, Reed Krakoff, and Rad Hourani. Her bold, feminine designs are meant to be accessible and versatile. Her brand is also committed to sustainable, environmentally-conscious clothing production.
Zeena Zaki launched her brand in 2003, and since then, it has garnered international attention. In 2009, she received the award for Best Female Designer for “Prêt-à-Porter” at Dubai Fashion Week. Since then, she has branched into the US, where her designs have graced multiple red carpets.
Arwa Al Banawi
Former investment banker Arwa Al Banawi set out to make womenswear that was at once professional and fashion-forward. A female leader in the Middle East fashion industry, her statement tees, and sleek, tailored suits feature designs for young, modern women. Through her work, she empowers women and projects contemporary Arab culture.
Huda Baroudi & Maria Hibri
Co-founders of the textile-focussed design studio Bokja, Huda Baroudi and Maria Hibri, share a love of art, furniture, and fabric. Together, they built their unique studio, creating eclectic, colorful furniture and clothes that tell a story. Their diverse team brings artisan and local craft tradition to the contemporary, multi-faceted brand.
Kawthar Alhoraish, founder of KAF BY KAF, specializes in creating eye-catching, creative outerwear pieces. Her education in architecture informs the structure and unique approach to crafting luxury clothing. The bold and brightly colored pieces are in high-end stores throughout Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and Bahrain.
Rayan al Sulaimani
Her fairytale-inspired dresses have shown up on runways and red carpets around the world. A bespoke bodysuit gown of hers was the choice of Beyonce for the closing of her Renaissance world tour. Rayan al Sulaimani, founder of Atelier Zuhra, grew up in Oman and draws inspiration from her cultural heritage. She named the brand after her grandmother, Zuhra, who she describes as a passionate woman and an inspiration for developing her style.
Saudi designer Arwa AlAmari created her label ArAm with the aspiration of sharing Arab culture and creativity. Winner of the 2016 competition Fashion Star Arabia, Arwa has gone on to expand her brand and its reach. Made in Saudi Arabia, the wide range of luxury products blends influences from the Middle East with international inspiration.
Lili Blanc’s founder and creative director, Sabrina Mouhieddine, is a force to be reckoned with. A fierce believer in women’s empowerment, she built her own company from the ground up with a mix of creativity, business savvy, and passion. Based in the Dubai Design District, her luxury clothing has been worn by celebrities around the world.
Chathuri Samaraweera is a Dubai-based fashion entrepreneur. Her label, ANAYA, is named for her daughter and features feminine, contemporary designs. She has received awards such as “Fashion and Accessory Designer of the Year” (2014) and features in publications like Harper’s Bazaar and Fortune Arabia.
Nadine Kanso unites calligraphy and craftsmanship in her statement jewelry brand, Bil Arabi. With avant-garde, distinct pieces for both men and women, her bold designs are easy to spot. In 2023, she worked with French perfume and beauty house Guerlain on a limited edition, gold-encrusted perfume bottle design, becoming the first Arab designer to be approached for collaboration by the brand.
Azza Fahmy, Fatma Ghali, & Amin Ghali
Azza Fahmy, Fatma Ghali, and Amin Ghali: this is the creative, dynamic, and visionary trio of women behind Azza Fahmy Jewellry. The brand is born of decades of inspiration, research, and craft. Their unique approach to design draws on cultural heritage, history, and contemporary trends.
With a focus on modern, multifunctional jewelry, J by Joëlle Fine Jewelry unites ideas of power and femininity. After studying at the Gemological Institute of America in New York, Joelle Moughalian launched her luxury jewelry brand. More than just a jewelry designer with a head for business, Joelle is an interior architect as well, heading up Interiors by Joëlle Moughalian.
CEO and founder of Peacefull, Salama Mohamed, is dedicated to working with and for young women with vitiligo, like herself. She crafted her skincare brand after searching for clean, effective, inclusive products suitable for her skin. As a popular influencer on multiple platforms, Salama uses her voice to share her vitiligo journey and help others feel comfortable in their skin.
Huda and Mona Kattan
Huda and Mona Kattan are the sisters behind the billion-dollar beauty brand Huda Beauty. Since the launch of their faux-lash line at Sephora, they have grown to include over 200 products, including a line of perfumes designed by Mona. Huda consistently makes headlines with her steadfast dedication to social and economic justice, foregoing her own salary to protect jobs at her company during the pandemic, donating profits to various nonprofits, and taking a stand against unrealistic beauty standards in the industry by going filter-free in her ad campaign.
Mouna Abbassy is a Moroccan-born designer who grew up surrounded by traditional beauty rituals. Watching women prepare their own products with natural ingredients inspired a love for the process. Her passion and drive led her to create and grow IZIL Beauty. One of the women leaders in the Middle East beauty and skincare industry, she has been recognized with awards such as the Hadafi Award, the Cartier Women’s Initiative award, and more.
ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN
Laila Al-Yousef, Design Director of SAY Studio, is a world-class designer and a dedicated humanitarian. She has led her team in projects for Facebook, Pepsi, Uber, and other top companies. Her Surge for Water design competition has designers create for a cause, and as a result, has brought clean water access to over 1 million people in 11 different countries.
In 2013, architect Pallavi Dean founded Roar, a Dubai-based architecture and interior design firm. Since then, she has been recognized locally and worldwide for her unique and nature-centric approach to design. With a focus on empathy and experiences at the core of her design ethos, she stands out in a very saturated market, attracting the attention of publications such as Interior Design Magazine, IFDM, and more.
Maja Kozel is the founder and principal designer of her eponymous design studio. Specializing in spatial design, the studio opened its Dubai Design District location in 2014. As a discipline, spacial design blurs the lines between architecture, interior design, landscaping, and art. Her holistic, sustainable, and detail-oriented view of each space has garnered her international attention and praise.
Sneha Divias was born in Portugal and earned her Master’s Degree in Architecture from the Lusiada University of Porto, and specialized in Interior Design at New York University. Marrying her multidisciplinary studies with her entrepreneurial spirit, she founded Sneha Divias Atelier. She now leads her award-winning boutique studio in projects from hotels to salons, to children’s museums.
Guided by simplicity and elegance, Founder and Design Director Grammatiki Zamani leads her studio kiklos architects. Originally from Greece, she worked as an architectural engineer in Athens until migrating to the UAE in 2013. With her experience designing for the hospitality industry, she approaches each project with a unique perspective and an eye for creative solutions.
Sumaya Dabbagh, the namesake of Dabbagh Architects, is a trailblazer when it comes to women leaders in the Middle East. In 2019, she won ‘Principal of the Year” at the Middle East Architects Awards. In 2021 she became one of the first female architects to design a mosque in the UAE. Her innovative, culturally relevant, and environmentally conscious designs have earned her firm many awards and much-deserved praise.
Shaikha Al-Sulaiti & Cathrine Dela Cruz
Shaikha Al-Sulaiti and Cathrine Dela Cruz are the dynamic design duo behind Casa Lujo Interiors, an award-winning firm established in 2022. With Shaika working as an interior designer and Catherine a practicing architect, their Qatar-based studio focuses on creating timeless, elegant, personalized interiors.
Fatima Al Zaabi & Noora Al Awar
Founders of Studio D04, Fatima Al Zaabi and Noora Al Awar, bring a unique cultural sensitivity and contemporary style to the urban landscape of the UAE. Their design vision aims to fill the gap between modern spaces and traditional needs. They approach each project with this unique contemporary regional design, proving that innovation and cultural tradition can blend seamlessly with the right creative vision.
Sara Al Arif & Lujain Abulfaraj
Twothirds Design Bureau, an experience and brand design firm, was established in 2016 by Sara Al Arif and Lujain Abulfaraj. The two women focus their design approach on real lives and social habits, resulting in brands that are both personal and engaging. Their dedication to research and supporting the local economy has made them a versatile and highly sought-after service.
Rabah Saeid is the designer behind Styled Habitat, a Dubai-based firm that tackles everything from commercial and hospitality to residential and creative projects. Her work on the Suadade installation during the 2022 Dubai Design Week garnered praise for her creative sensibilities and multicultural influences.
Ellen Søhoel is the founder of XBD Collective, a multidisciplinary design firm based in Dubai and London. Working across creative interior, architectural, and landscape design, the firm handles projects in the UAE, Europe, the UK, Africa, and Asia. She previously co-founded and grew another award-winning firm, Bishop Design. Ellen has proven herself to be a savvy entrepreneur and creative problem-solver.
Sarah Hejazin has a resume that speaks for itself. She graduated from Colombia University with an MS in Advanced Architectural Design. Subsequently, Sarah put her degree to work in Jordan, where she was active in urban design interventions for refugee camps. She currently works with Fadaa Space, an architectural and design practice dedicated to environmentally conscious projects.
Bahrain architect Sara Alrayyes is known for her creative, unconventional artistic installations. Her use of recycled materials, such as the fishing nets in her 2022 piece Al Gargoor, is exemplary of her dedication to heritage and evolving tradition. Her current work with Orient Design Studio focuses on bespoke product, interior, and interactive design.
ARTISTS & CURATORS
At just 23, Noura Bouzo co-founded the first Arts and Culture Magazine in Saudi Arabia and became the publication’s creative director. Having completed a degree in Fine Arts and an MA in the History of Art from the University of London’s SOAS, she focused her creative energy on evocative mixed-media art. In 2015 she won the Arab Woman Award for Artist of the Year. Her work has been displayed around the Middle East and Europe.
Tasneem Alsultan is a documentary photographer and filmmaker with a focus on social issues and stereotypes in the Middle East. Her work regularly shows up in National Geographic and The New York Times, and in 2018, she became the first Arab female Global Ambassador for Canon. Her work is highly regarded, having been featured in more than twenty exhibitions worldwide.
Saudi artist Manal Aldowayan has had a decades-long career creating evocative, thought-provoking works of art. Her sculptures and installations have been featured at exhibitions around the world in Canada, the US, South Korea, and more. In 2023, she received the award for Visual Arts as part of the National Cultural Awards in Saudi Arabia.
Raneen Bukhari runs the art gallery in Desert Designs, a showroom created by her parents that blends art and interior design. She is the creator and curator of LOUD Art, a platform for emerging artists. Her extensive work in the art world has earned her a place on a multitude of panels, and in 2018, she earned a place on the BBC’s list of most influential women in the world.
Charlotte de Belle
Charlotte de Belle is a lifelong creative, but she found her niche in the medium of neon light. In 2018, she created Vertical Design, a Dubai-based studio specializing in custom and limited edition light displays. Her work has been featured at Dubai Design Week, and she hosts glass-bending workshops where she shares the unique art form with those who wish to learn.
Ahed Al Kathiri
Yemini artist Ahed Al Kathiri made headlines with her Dubai Design Week installation “Home Dreaming.” Having grown up in Dubai and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art, she has gone on to create breathtaking artwork that draws on her heritage and connection to culture.
Kristel Bechara began her career as an artist over ten years ago in the UAE. Via her studio, Atelier Kristel, she creates paintings and NFTs that are in high demand around the world. Her collaborations with companies such as Glenfidditch, Meta, Lenovo, and Birkenstock have established her as a forward-thinking and innovative contemporary artist.
Words by Bridget Kitson