A fashion designer and students at a local fashion school in Qatar are introducing "modern" changes on the traditional dress known as abaya to make it suitable and wanted by women around the world.
Adjunct Professor of Fashion, Stella Colaleo, and a group of fashion students at theVirginia Commonwealth University (VCUQatar) are creating a simple garment that may be worn, adapted and modified to create different looks for every day of the year.
The traditional black Gulf abaya, mainly worn by the older generation of women inQatar, is being abandoned by youngsters who prefer more modern styles of the cloak.
The AYABA project (mirroring the word abaya) is a tribute to the traditional cloak.
With simple modifications such as slits, attaching buttons and drawstrings, the Ayaba can have multiple variations, reflecting different styles and individuality.
Colaleo thinks the adjustments make it possible for any woman of any nationality to wear the abaya.
"We took the traditional abaya and we played around with that garment just adjusting a few details, so we have put lots of buttons all around the abaya and hidden thread, so this garment could be transformed into a multiple dress for multiple countries and that could be worn all over the world," she said.
Recent fashion graduate and project participant Mona al-Ansari said while the adaptability of the design allowed it to be worn in public to maintain modesty, it could also change into an elegant evening garment through minor alterations.
Al-Ansari also said it could be popular with a younger clientele, but not necessarily with the older generation.
"It's gonna be acceptable for the teenagers and the people in my age, but not the old generations because you know, we change something they respected," she said.
Maysaa Almumin, another participant in the project, claimed the abaya as a garment is mistaken as the only acceptable religious garment, but modesty can be maintained through various garments as seen in other Muslim countries.
"Why I say it's misunderstood is that everybody sees it as the ultimate religious garment, but the particular black abaya is very local to our region in the Khaleej (the Gulf)," she said.
Elizabeth Yang Soon Ju who is also taking part in the fashion initiative, said the AYABA project turned the conventional garment from an exclusive national dress to something that anyone could wear.
"I've always felt like interested in abaya, but very shy to try it on and go outside, but this project has helped me to understand about the traditional designs of abaya," she said.
Recent shopping trends in Qatar showed a taste for new abaya designs as more and more people from different nationalities are snapping up the traditional garment.
"There are people from other nationalities that like the eastern style of the abaya. They are interested in colourful abayas that come in pink, orange and red, but the biggest segment of clients is of course local citizens, the Qataris," Abd El Khader, a local abaya shop manager.
With more women looking to make a fashion statement in their abayas, competition in sales between the traditional and modern designs looks set to continue in the future.