It is no secret that the Arab world is bursting with talent. The key to its continued growth and success is supporting homegrown businesses and entrepreneurs. Aiming to do just that are Emirati jewelry designer Salama Khalfan and the founder of The Modist, Ghizlan Guenez, the duo behind SAWA (which translates to ‘Together’), a fashion and lifestyle platform. SAWA has been helping to showcase regional talent since 2021 by enabling small and medium-sized brands to participate in trade shows and expos at low or not for profit costs.

Through SAWA, the pair are working with THAT Concept Store, a luxury fashion and lifestyle destination in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates, to host a pre-Ramadan Second Edition from 17 to 20 March. Set to feature over 60 brands, from fashion to fine jewelry and beauty to food, the event falls within THAT Concept Store’s Women’s Empowerment Month.

Here, Khalfan and Guenez share what you can expect from an event that offers up plenty of shopping opportunities and is set to host a variety of talks and workshops, too.

Why is it important to support regional talent?

Salama Khalfan (SK): Anyone who has started a business will understand the struggles that a new small business goes through. We have been there. We know that there are many very talented designers, and we love to showcase their abilities and support them in getting to the next level.

What is SAWA’s main objective?

Ghizlan Guenez (GG): SAWA is a non-profit exhibition. Our objective is to help small and medium businesses promote and sell their products without overburdening them with the space, management fees and charges imposed by expo organizing bodies. Participants are invited to book their space for a nominal fee, set up their merchandise, and sell. We will take care of the rest.

Are there any brands that you are most looking forward to discovering?

SK: We are very excited to see the new designers who did not have the chance to participate last year.

Tell us about the talks and workshops.

SK: The whole theme of SAWA this year is “being an enabler” to support these businesses to go to the next step. The talks and workshops are the “educational” and “dialogue” parts of the event as it’s very important to engage with designers and aspiring new business owners.

What does women’s empowerment mean to you?

GG: Women’s empowerment for me is about a woman exercising her choices, whatever that may be. Being able to decide rather than be decided for. It’s supporting one another and being inclusive in the advancement of women without excluding men who are also feminists in their own right.

SK: Women’s empowerment is equipping women with the right education and facilitating opportunities for their growth, even in areas where women are not the “typical”, or natural, choice. It is also the collective societal act of women supporting one another.

Who inspires you the most in the Arab region?

GG: I’m inspired by my group of friends, who include incredible women who come from different walks of life and who all go about achieving their dreams in their own way.

SK: I am inspired by women who are constantly redefining themselves and constantly learning and seizing opportunities. There is no reason why one should get stuck in the familiar, and this is what I see in entrepreneurs.

What’s your advice for up-and-coming women entrepreneurs in the region?

GG: I advise them to believe in their potential and ability to achieve anything they set their minds to. We’re powerful as women, and we just need the belief, the space and support for one another to thrive.

SK: My advice is: believe in your offering, engage with other businesswomen (reach out to them) and find ways to support and help each other. We don’t do enough of that.