Layla.Al-Siyabi AKA “Layla.A” online, began her social media journey in 2012 as a fashion designer and businesswoman navigating her way through life as an entrepreneur, mom, and wife in the middle east. With a background in Business and Marketing from the University of Phoenix, and a Fashion design certification from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has decided to combine her passion for both into one giant platform. Being Layla is now known as one of the most unique fashion guru’s with a “real” attitude in the GCC region.
Layla goes beyond being a fashion and beauty blogger, her mission is to empower women by breaking the boundaries of religious and cultural taboos still relevant in the middle east. Indeed, through her media touchpoints which include a Youtube channel, Instagram, and TikTok , Layla communicates self-motivation as well as self-confidence to inspire women in the middle east to discover their authenticity and comfort zone.
Hello Layla, thank you for joining Mess today for this special interview.
Thank you for having me on MESS magazine, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Please, can you tell us more about yourself and your background in the industry?
Well, I started off as a fashion designer with a Design & styling studio in Qatar in the year 2012, I use to share behind the scenes of my creations, fashion shows and styling makeovers I use to do for women. My favourite part was giving every it felt everyday moms makeovers with their style, personality, and a look that fits their lifestyle. Loved seeing their smile! I was starting off on my weight loss journey after carrying around baby weight from my second child for almost 2 years. Realized I needed to MAKEOVER myself! With the way, I felt about my life, my skills, and my journey. It needed a revamp! Hoping to share my journey with other women, I began my steps towards forming a blog online. Back then I use to have a WordPress website and Instagram was an upcoming platform so I jumped on the bandwagon to share glimpses of my life there. At first, my content was based on my life as it was progressing focused on fashion, beauty, lifestyle, and self-motivation. Took me a lot of trial and errors to actually find my niche, my aesthetic, and a voice online. Fast forward to 2015, I was living my dream of being a full-time content creator in the niche of fashion, beauty, and lifestyle with an empowered tagline. Along with messages of self-help, motivation, and empowerment from the middle east. Being Layla is a platform where I share my truth of navigating life as a woman in the middle east, juggling life, business, and kids all while maintaining to feel her best about it. My very own makeover journey is now a real-life platform, where I gave myself a makeover from a frumpy, clumsy and quite worrisome, listening to what others say, just gave birth mom and no idea what she’s doing TO a woman I admire, I am no longer fearful, nor clumsy, quiet frankly the opposite, I walk talk and dance with my vibe, it’s positive and addictive, healthy and carefree. It is born out of the search I had to become an authentic version of myself and so it echoes into the world to find yourself through it all. The ups, the downs, and the uncomfortable. You basically grow through what you go through and leave a positive footprint. Anyone can start over or get an upgrade in life, I’m here to help through my posts, experiences, and knowledge. Call me your BIG SIS!
As a woman surrounded by an environment still pervaded with traditions and gender inequalities, what difficulties did you encounter through your career?
Yes, given that the middle east or the Arab world does have culture and traditions tied in however our religion Islam has the utmost respect for women, people from the west or abroad have a misconception when they think about women from this part of the world because people have made it so confusing by mixing in traditions with religion. However, we have made BIG changes to our environment in the last decade or so and have come a long way to balance our traditions with being empowered, free, and capable of handling any situation. Islam empowers women to have rights, to be respected, and to be well cared for in society. However, just like any part of the world with women’s rights, it was trapped between the rubbles of generations of male domination. We had to conquer as a whole community. My difficulties perhaps weren’t at all so hard to handle when I come to think about as women in other parts of the world might have faced or still facing on a day to day basis. The difficulties lie in balancing out respect to the culture with the need of globalisation and it takes baby steps. I took mine in 2012 to get here. It was in the form of speaking up about tabus, reinforcing my views and passion with love, and repeatedly not denying my difference. Accepting it myself first so the world around me can accept it no matter how much time it took.
The most part was trying to find myself in a balance to be true to my morals, ethics, and background yet nourish my carefree soul that wants to take risks and push boundaries. It is mostly to set a trail for both my daughter and son and In Sha Allah the women in the next generation.
What is the first step which helped you to find your inner confidence and go against the social restrictions of your culture?
Here, in Oman. We have a cultivated perspective of how a woman should be from the past generations however that is changing as time goes on every day. The scene in each part of the middle east is different from others, though, most developed cities and towns have adapted to ways in which women are respected and given rights, jobs, and a way. Qatar, where I was born and raised was a little bit ahead of what I am working with now in all aspects when it comes to fashion, lifestyle, globalization. Nevertheless, things in the middle east have evolved so much for the better. As now, women are not confined to be a certain way if it isn’t comfortable. We are able to explore our own depths by practicing what empowers us to be an individual. Yes, we have the naysayers and might be a flock of people who might not agree with what you are doing but I would say in which path in the world have we had complete freedom, support, and genuine help when it comes to womanhood or even just being ourself? It took a while for everyone to understand we won’t take inequality anymore and it will keep being an obstacle for a little while longer while we take our strides. I do however see a positive change in many aspects in all parts of the world including ours for women.
What other difficulties women in the middle east have to face on a daily basis to fight for their rights?
You would actually be surprised to read this but on a day to day basis, life is pretty good as a woman here in Muscat city of Oman. We actually have the freedom to be ourselves within a balance of what is appropriate to the culture. I mean, after all, we have a deep-rooted love for the difference in our ways and it is what gives us essence so we have come to enjoy life in a harmonized balance each individual woman in our own way. No one woman does the same as another to be able to carve her own path according to our backgrounds, families, and surroundings. Having said that, as I mentioned the other parts of the country when traveled deeper into the interiors or the outskirts have a different way of living but are still very accepting of tourists, and outsiders. I don’t think I would be suitable to live there but however, some people choose to be set in their ways if it is what they want.
Women are helped if in need in public. There are long ques in public where we get to cut into as a woman and served faster. There are special waiting areas for women, separate entrances, and sometimes even a lady only queue. These actually benefit us at the end of the day to be served in customer service. A lot of businesses serve ladies only offers or even have special Ladies only days at the facilities to make things easier for ladies who have a preference to be segregated. On a day to day basis, other than being stared at as a woman I wouldn’t say there are many difficulties as compared to the other developing parts of the world.
How did the pandemic impact your business and what did you learn from it?
The pandemic has taught me so many lessons Daniel, I thought I was well rounded and already on a path set for my ways of business, content creation, and being but NOPE it has brought light to so many things that I have now adapted to doing better or differently. For example, I have connected a lot more with my audience in the past 6 months through tweaking my content. I got to create content on my own time that is meaningful and educational on a new level. I also got to become super innovative in the way I share my content. Yes, it has drastically changed the bookings, sponsored ads, public appearance, and events I used to do. Which changes my profit margin and has an effect but then again who isn’t feeling the COVID-19 aftermath right now? I am just blessed to say that I am on a platform and means of communication like social/digital media which played a huge part in the shift of how the businesses are now operating.
Do you have any upcoming projects for your post-pandemic life?
Yes, I actually have been planning the launch of my website. It was supposed to happen a few months ago but of course, I needed time to see, analyse, and re-establish my goals and business plans. So far, I am planning on launching my official website, where I will be sharing a lot more beneficial content as well as one on one zoom sessions on styling, marketing and business (for entrepreneurs), an e-commerce area to shop my favourite products and a whole lot more that I have been wanting and waiting to do. Baby steps all the way in sha Allah.
How do you incorporate and communicate self-motivation and confidence to your audience?
This is my favourite part of my platform, I incorporate this by adding daily stories on my Instagram through quotes, talks, and or experiences. I also repost the content of other fellow content creators on my story that matches the mood of the day. Each day is about something related to my movement whether it is self-motivation, confidence, or current world situation. I also incorporate IGTV videos for beauty routines, as well as captions under my posts that are discoveries, meaningful thoughts, and or inspiring messages. I use my YouTube to encourage busy moms like myself to get dolled up with effortless easy makeup because mind you becoming a mom changes a woman completely from the inside out, her life might not be as easy as it seems when it comes to simple tasks she uses to do before. However, in my network, it all seems possible if only we incorporate little ways to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others.
What are a few things that western societies are not aware of women nowadays in the middle- east?
They might not be aware of how we have the right to our income in a household. Women are able to work for our own and keep the income all to ourselves without the obligation to be shared with anyone, even our husbands or families. However of course with the true essence of being a woman, we share and we care in a modern-day household like any part of the world. They might not be aware that the hijab doesn’t define our faith and piety, we also are advanced in the ways we run our society as a whole and have many leading women in places of politics, business, and education.
“We live in cities; you will never see on TV screens” we really do! We have a way of things and that way is different but unique, our cities are made up of both traditional yet modern buildings, manners, and development. Women play leading roles in changing our economy and are the main players in educating our society. Women are encouraged to finish their education and supported by families. Women can most definitely make decisions of their own when it comes to their futures and whom they want to settle down with. Women take part in sports and we have some of the best athletes in some of the categories. We aren’t oppressed as the media makes us out to be and the hijab is definitely a choice rather than a force of habit.
How would you describe the style and essence of women in the middle east? What makes them unique among others?
The women in the middle east when it comes to fashion, we have some of the leading women taking the glory and walking the most stylish attires with Sheikha Moza, leading lady in Qatar. She graces the covers of media with her chic, yet a modest style that is effortlessly her signature. As well as Queen Rania of Jordan, she is elegance met with grace and style. They both speak volumes when it comes to middle eastern fashion. We all take inspiration from our surroundings when we decide to get dressed for the day or an occasion. I would say it plays a vital role in how we put ourselves together for the journey ahead. We want to be respected in our attires, we want to be able to express our style too without having to compromise our modesty and we want to each stand out in our choices of the garment without having to give up what is comfortable. It is a mix of all these aspects blended into our essence. That is what is makes it unique.
How do you think middle eastern societies have changed in the last decade what do you expect in the next five years?
As I have mentioned earlier, we have taken strides in our ways of evolution together and apart but I see a positive change in the way we live now then how it was 10 years ago. Women are generally treated better in public with a right to have a say in our everyday tasks, lifestyle. Women in Oman have a sense of security and safety if added that Oman, Qatar and the UAE are some of the safest places to live in the middle east. However, Catcalling, being afraid of our security at night and the other rude behavior that men display in general in all parts of the world is a norm I feel we, of course, might face as a woman; we have to fight against this as a whole not just in the middle east. This starts by educating our young boys, and teaching them a different set of values, not normalizing women as objects, this has to be a notion that needs to be nurtured in our young men. We can do it with the help of supportive men whether our husbands, brothers, fathers, and the company of good men.
What are 3 words you would say to encourage women to find their authentic selves?
Get uncomfortable to be comfortable! That is what I had to do to be where I am today, I am comfortable in general being myself and being unapologetic about it, however, I had to get out of my comfort zone to get here habit! That means, pushing myself to do epic things that I normally thought I couldn’t or I wouldn’t. Past the comfort zone lies all your true self. Once you discover her, the ride becomes worth it and it never really stops from there! It just gets better!
What is your message for young women from your similar background willing to take your same steps and career?
Be patient with yourself, I know it gets bumpy in any journey but lessen your doubts. You are capable of doing incredible things when you put your mind to it! Do not procrastinate as well! I know from experience that sometimes we procrastinate, not because we have a time management issue…NO, we do it because we fear the task itself and the outcome of the results. So, we go about doing every other task but the TASK itself. Trust me, if you just get it done without the expectation of it being perfect – keep in mind yes you might fail but you will learn. Things get easier to do and get over. Dealing with rejection as well as a way of life when a woman decides to strive for herself to excel in her career or personal goals. You might be rejected a couple of times or several, but do not let that kill your vibe woman! Ride it out with a good chat, coffee, or a cry but get up and come back stronger.
To conclude, what should we expect from Layla in the coming months?
Recently, I like to manifest things; I am sure you know about this too as it has now become a thing amongst us all. You might even call it “trendy” but I don’t mind it trending because this is definitely a good quality to pick up on and to keep doing. I have been manifesting, meditating, and practicing a lot more throughout quarantine and a little before this pandemic too. My manifestations consist of saying “I WILL” rather than “I might or maybe” so I will be one of the most well-known names coming out of the middle east in my category of entrepreneurship and digital content creators. People will know my name world-wide and I am part of the positive change in our world. I will fulfill my calling and help others along the way.
I am currently working on launching my website and launching an amazing surprise for women that will bring them joy every month and a step closer to their “start over”. It would also give me the joy of providing makeovers by Layla so stay tuned! It’s all tied into the voice of my platform and my very own makeover journey together into a service I’ve been happily providing online through my content, this will make it official.
Thank you Layla for your time and your insightful answers. I am sure many out there will take you and this interview as inspiration.
Thank you Daniel and thank you so much for having me on Mess Magazine! See you soon.