You originally studied to be a dentist. What on earth happened?
Well, it seemed like a sensible profession to go into at the time. I wanted to make my mum proud and be a doctor, so to speak, but it just wasn’t me. So I left my degree, joined a design course, and never looked back.
Do you remember the very first clothing item you made?
I do. It was when I was 23 and I made it for my daughter, who at that time was three, so she quite liked wearing it. I was given three or four metres of fabric by the lecturers on the design course, who were supplied with factory off-cuts. The dress was brown and orange crinkle polyester-cotton. What can I say? It was the 1970s.
Parents love your childrenswear. What’s your secret?
I don’t think of it as childrenswear, or ladieswear, or babywear etc. It’s all design and it’s all important. It helps that I have a naturally good eye when it comes to style, cut and shape. I’m very strict about quality too. Garments can be relatively inexpensive but they must always be made from good fabrics and finished well. I’m hands-on with the design side of things. Our team has regular meetings in which we discuss styles and trends for different markets, and then we all meet up again several weeks later and look at the ideas that have been developed. The collections are created from that.
You’re a dad of seven and a grandpa of seven. Does your family inspire you?
Definitely. And they are all at different stages in life, so I’m in touch with their likes, dislikes and what trends work for them. My three elder daughters (I have five girls and two boys) have helped me in the business because they’re all grown up now. Having my grandkids around is great, too, because it keeps my finger on the pulse of the market. Speaking of markets, you created the FG4 collections especially for the Middle East That’s true. Our first store opened in February in Riyadh. As market research, I personally interviewed 300 Saudi women to find out what they were looking for. As you can imagine, this was no small feat. But it was extremely useful. The children’s clothing market in this region is mostly about western fashions which are climatically suited to the west and not the east. These collections don’t take into account the fact that the weather here means we have different requirements for fabrics and styles. You don’t need thick winter coats and heavy warm trousers in a Dubai winter.
Which collections do you enjoy designing the most?
I enjoy the menswear particularly. Men are difficult because they don’t change much. People think that makes the job easy but it doesn’t. You see, men start out really trendy when they’re in their teens and
20s but, by the time they get to their 40s, they become just like their dads. Designing for them is challenging because the changes are very subtle. You have to do things that appeal, but within a very narrow framework.
Tell us about the FG4 store
It’s been designed as a department store rather than just a clothing shop. The baby section looks like a lovely nursery, and the three-to-nine girls’ and boys’ section has a different feel, while the clothes area for 10-to-14s is much more trendy and grown-up. All the hangers are different too. It’s so easy to take the dull way out and decorate everything in white or black and be boring, but retail can be so much more fun.
It’s quite interactive too, right?
Yes. I wanted to make the store a fun experience for children as well as parents, so it’s not a chore to shop there. We have a service where children can get on a computer and design their own tops and bottoms and get them printed then and there. It’s great for their creativity.
What can we expect in terms of price?
This line is more sophisticated than George, so it’s a different price level. George is all about getting a good quality basic white shirt for four quid (around Dhs25). But FG4 is still very competitive and affordable. It compares favourably with brands like Zara, Mothercare and Next.
Are you bringing out ranges for grown-ups as well?
Yes. Our next launch will be ladieswear, which includes lingerie, shoes and accessories, as well as clothes and even a range of abayas. Menswear is on the way too. Ladieswear should be with you by the end of April but we don’t have a set date yet, so watch this space.
The Dubai Mall store is scheduled to open at the end of March.