RIYADH: The Forbes Middle East Women’s Summit, being held for the first time in Riyadh, has set the stage alight with dozens of inspirational speakers from diverse backgrounds and industries.
On Monday, the second day of the event, hundreds of delegates listened to presentations from women involved in sectors such as technology, healthcare, fashion and beauty, and travel and tourism.
A panel discussion on championing representation in beauty featured Somali American activist and fashion model, Halima Aden, alongside Kayali Fragrances founder, Mona Kattan.
Session moderator and UN Development Program goodwill ambassador, Muna Abu Sulayman, said: “We have two women straddling a multitude of cultures and identities with millions of followers whose lives played across multiple social media platforms, yet each in her own way, deconstructed traditional power structures and rose to a place of power ownership and created her own seat at the table.”
Aden walked away from the fashion world at the height of her fame, sharing her own internal struggles in making the decision. She later returned to entertainment and fashion on her own terms and feeling stronger than ever.
IMG, one of the biggest modeling agencies in the world, welcomed her terms before signing a contract, supporting her with a hijab clause and a female chaperone for her travels abroad.
“I think the interesting part that I should mention is that fashion actually came to me, I did not go seeking it. So that is powerful because the ball is in my court, and early on in my career, IMG let me bring a suitcase full of my own hijabs from back home, they were very accommodating,” Aden said.
She was born and raised in Kakuma, one of the largest refugee camps in the world, and when aged seven, moved with her family to the US.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, she took a three-year break from modelling.
Aden told Arab News: “Some of the obstacles I had in my career was just the fact that I had no one to look up to before me, so pioneering a new way is not easy and is very tough.”
She constantly questioned that the path she was paving for Arab women who chose to wear a hijab was the right one.
“I have a whole community to represent, and the beautiful thing of being the first is seeing the second, the third, the many today embracing the standards I am setting,” she said.
Kattan, a former investment banker, co-founded one of the biggest global beauty companies, Huda Beauty, with her sisters, in 2018.
She noted that social media had helped kickstart the business and that their entire journey was self-funded.
“If we had created the brand 20 years ago, I don’t think we would have had the resources to necessarily make it happen so fast. Building an online community was super integral to our business because we started with a mere $6,000 in resources,” she said.
She grew up in the US before moving to the UAE, and pointed out that drawing on her culture, roots, and background had been a key driver to success.
“My Kayali perfume brand itself was inspired by the Middle East and its culture. I think if I hadn’t moved to Dubai, I would never have started this business which was inspired by the way Arabs use perfume,” she added.
Kattan said that every scent was attached to an emotion or memory which perfumes unravel.
Aden said she had been inspired by the Kattan sisters when they first started their YouTube channel. “We always had strong women from our region who were doing amazing things even early on,” she added.
Abu Sulayman told Arab News: “The Forbes Middle East Women’s Summit is a great networking opportunity between industry leaders who are speaking very candidly about their own journey, leadership, and work, and also the young managers and young women who are interested in breaking through.
“So, it’s an amazing opportunity for both to come together and help each other.”