SWEY Collective, a sunglasses brand based in Dubai, is at the forefront of a new wave of cultural transformation in the Gulf region. Coming from young people from diverse backgrounds breaking boundaries through art, fashion, and music, the brand has positioned itself as a champion of creativity by building a collaborative platform for independent artists and brands.

KHAMSA caught up with the founder, Vishal Madhusoodhanan, to discuss starting a brand in the region, sustainable practices, and their latest collaboration with Karak Nights – the collective of GCC-based artists, athletes, and talents with inspiring and entertaining stories, aiming to motivate up-and-coming creatives to pursue their passions.

How did the collaboration with Karak Nights come about? Would love to know how you connected and what prompted this.

We started hearing about Karak Nights during COVID times, when they started doing a podcast when it was still online on Zoom; until it moved to a sitting at One Life where they were shooting. What was really interesting is they were one of the very few people who were doing it in a format of showcasing the stories of local creatives, artists, athletes, etc. Right. It wasn’t too serious, and it wasn’t too funny. It was a nice balance of everything and that caught my eye. Then sometime in 2022, they started doing an event format with the podcast, that included panel talks, live shows of artists, right, and having an audience around too which later on turned into more of a live show/party type of atmosphere. We had a lot of mutual people who connected us, and we reached out to them to tell them that we love what they do. It turns out, they already knew about SWEY. So it was just natural to do something together. Everyone behind the team…we are all expats who grew up in Dubai, and have a love for the culture to go forward here as homegrown brands. It was out of mutual respect and love for each other’s brands.

What does this collab mean to you and the team behind Karak Nights?

In most recent times, I haven’t seen two local brands come together and do collabs as often. Especially community-based homegrown brands that very much focused on arts and culture and the local scene in Dubai. As people who grew up here back in the day before Burj Khalifa, JBR, and all that, we noticed the culture has evolved a lot from those days. Back in the early 2000s, there was no Alserkal Avenue or Dubai Design District or any locations weren’t encouraged and pushed local talent as there is now. So for us, being a part of this changing shift in the culture within the GCC region, that’s what this collab is all about. It’s about putting a spotlight on the culture.

How meaningful is it to both of you to support local talent and create a flourishing community?

This is extremely important for both the brands as it’s all about working with local talent and people from the community from the photographers’ to the models, stylists, makeup artists, etc. When we did a launch event together, where we showcased a whole group of really cool local artists and we spoke to Asma Elbadawi as well, who’s one of the new Hijabi brand ambassadors for Adidas and we were privileged and honoured to have her as part of the panel talk. For us, it’s really about taking the culture forward in our own way, and be part of the underground culture that’s bubbling up to the surface.

What is it like to grow a brand in Dubai?

I would say any startup for that matter, it’s quite difficult because there’s a lot of competition everywhere. And startup in general, there’s a lot of upfront costs to starting a business. Fashion is even harder because you’re competing with conglomerates that own pretty much most fashion brands. It’s interesting journey and I feel that are very much part of the local community because we do a lot of pop ups with people like Fam, Clout studios & Duette Studios and all these guys are really cool. They’re also coming up at the same time, which makes our life a little easier, because they’re going out of their way to showcase local brands.

Doing these pop ups across the city makes it easier for fashion brands and art brands to be a part of it as it’s culturally relevant their work. It’s also become relatively better in terms of the opportunities that lie out there for young brands. It’s an opportunity for us to interact with people and know what their journey is like and get direct consumer insight which is very important.

We aim to be is the next great brand from the region in terms of sunglasses and lifestyle as well.

What’s next for SWEY?

In terms of design, I would want to add more chrome elements. In terms of the material itself, we currently use a plant based material called cellulose acetate, but in the market, there’s also another material called Bio acetate and it’s biodegradable and recyclable. It’s something we want to make part of our new collection hopefully for September this year. There’s always an effort from our side to take it up a notch, and constantly fine tune what we have as a product to improve the quality and make it more durable and sustainable.

Rand Al-Hadethi is an art, culture, and fashion writer who approaches all her creative endeavours with a penchant for storytelling. She explores the intersection of fashion, culture, and society and sheds light on talent and cultural movements across the Middle East and the world. Rand also publishes a bi-monthly themed substack newsletter called WebWeaver™. To reach Rand, email her at rand@khamsa5.com or follow her on social media @rundoozz.