Lights, Camera, Fashion: IOEE Academy puts Equality on the Catwalk

Hamra Alam is the founder and CEO of Lights, Camera, Fashion; a new International IOEE Enterprise Academy with a conscience, that ensures fashion is inclusive of everyone, regardless of disability. Based in the Middle East, Hamra’s passion is for people, and she is committed to empowering women and entrepreneurs through her innovative and inspirational fashion design courses. This month we chatted to Hamra about the challenges of being a female Asian entrepreneur, achieving the elusive work-life balance, and the importance of devoting your career to what you really believe in.

Hamra grew up in England and attended the University of Leeds, but always found herself drawn to the Middle East, studying both Fashion Design and Modern Arabic in her degree. Hamra says:

“I didn’t know what would happen, but I loved the idea of living in the Middle East and found the fashion over there completely alluring. There was that sense of mystery and intrigue in the way that the women dressed and covered themselves. However, when you’re out here it’s completely different. The women have private parties where they wear gorgeous glamorous dresses and little outfits and the contrast is amazing. It’s a very interesting and exciting place to be working in fashion.”

In 2012 Hamra set up Lights, Camera, Fashion in the Kingdom of Bahrain. With a history of disability in her family, Hamra wanted to create a company that gave equal opportunities to people with disabilities and challenge an industry that can imply beauty and talent comes in only one shape and size. Hamra says:

“I believe in working in such a way that helps the community and the people around me, I believe in empowering people, and I want to do this through fashion. I call it the Individual Social Responsibility. Lights, Camera, Fashion is here to show the fashion world it’s not just about ‘pretty clothes’ – fashion is an extension of your soul, and we shouldn’t just keep catering for what we call ‘able-bodied people’ or ‘size zero’ models. I wanted to give opportunities to people who had disabilities; people who had this rare and unique talent for fashion, but no one was really sponsoring them. I wanted to be that person, and Lights, Camera, Fashion gave me the platform to do this.”

Two years ago Hamra decided to develop her company to also begin offering fashion design workshops and courses and include business networking events; a journey that led Lights, Camera, Fashion to become accredited as an IOEE Academy. Hamra says:

“I am so thrilled to be part of the Institute and to be a part of this community and support in the UK. It will help me not only to grow, but also to give back, and I’m looking forward to being able to reach out to even more people, provide internships, and help to create more opportunities.

“This is truly my passion. I love being a fashion designer, that feeling of creating something all the way from the first design concept to the illustration to the runway – but I felt like it was the right time to share my talent and I wanted to empower other people on their journeys. The courses include such modules as Illustration, Sewing, Tailoring, Pattern Making, Costume, Business Fashion etc., but it really is the empowerment that motivates me. So many people come to me and say, ‘I love fashion, but I don’t know where to start!’, and I want to help them recognise that talent they don’t think they have, and really understand the importance of themselves.”

Hamra has been on her own personal journey of empowerment in the world of parenthood, both as a daughter of very traditional Asian parents and then being a single mother to her own daughter. It is these challenges as a woman that Hamra says have helped to shape her business ethos as well as her outlook on life:

“These experiences have definitely made me want to reach out to other women. I married young and we ended up getting a divorce, which my parents were very, very against. They had very traditional values and I had to say to myself, ‘it’s okay not to be accepted in this society that has conditions on love’, and then just leave them for a while and let them wake up! It was also a struggle raising my daughter on my own, and having a daughter has made me even more aware of the pressures women face. But, you know, your personal life is part of your entrepreneurial journey too, and the experiences taught me that when there are pebbles on the road, you slowly work towards clearing your own path. My daughter is now 16 years old and I remarried 10 months’ ago and I’m incredibly happy.”

As well as teaching Fashion, Hamra also delivers seminars on confidence, which she feels is especially important in the Middle East. Hamra explains:

“A lot of women over here lack confidence in speaking up and saying how they are feeling, as the culture doesn’t encourage it, and growing up with traditional Asian parents means that I can relate to that. I believe that true beauty is within yourself – fashion and make-up are fun, but they are costumes and should be used as an extension of you. You could wear the most beautiful dress in the whole world, but you won’t look beautiful if you look unhappy.”

Lights, Camera, Fashion is flying today, but Hamra isn’t showing signs of slowing down, and has some impressive and inspiring plans in the pipeline. She has set up a textile-based initiative in Pakistan where widowers create fabrics for Hamra to then sell on their behalf, using her position and marketing resources to generate an income for them. She is also working on a book with her daughter, to tell her story as a female Asian entrepreneur, and to further spread the message for people to believe in themselves:

“Never underestimate your talent, because you won’t know until you’ve tried. Every single millionaire in the world still only has 24 hours in their day, so eradicate excuses! People often give up when money is tight, but keep going – treasure your talent and happiness, and the money will follow. If you love what you do, don’t you ever, ever stop – and I’ll keep on saying that, so people have to listen!”

Hamra visited the UK at the start of the year and we were delighted to welcome her to the IOEE offices. Sarah Trouten, IOEE Chief Executive, said:

“We are delighted to welcome Lights Camera Fashion to IOEE as an Enterprise Academy. Upon meeting Hamra her passion for fashion and enterprise was clear as was the fact her values and beliefs were very much in line with those of IOEE. We’re really excited to be working alongside Hamra to provide these empowering opportunities to learners within the Kingdom of Bahrain.”