Premiering in the region on 29 January 2020, AYA is an Arabic YouTube series filmed in Dubai uniting rising style stars as they navigate their first steps into the fashion industry. The concept is simple yet the message is poignant: spreading empowerment, independence, and the importance of self-expression.
AYA - which stands for As You Are - started life as 20-minute episodes airing every Friday where the Fashion Squad is set a series of challenges by an influencer or industry expert. However, the unforseen circumstances of the global pandemic presented the all-female production team with an altogether more exciting challenge.
Faced with life on lockdown, and brought together by their mutual love of fashion and beauty, from 8 May, the show's stars entered a house to live together 24/7 during Ramadan for a series of live broadcasts to share their unique style tips and discuss issues that affect their culture and generation. Grazia meets Nadine Hossam Fawzy, Marwa Al Hashemi, Haya Al Yassin, Haya Attasi, Assia Mezyane, Sarah Issa, and Noor Al Malky to find out more...
Haya Attasi, a journalism student from Syria, explains, “We’re incredibly excited to be in the house and the idea of the programme is something that’s completely new to YouTube. It’s about being real and being true to yourself. It’s about teaching Arab girls how to express their personalities through fashion.”
Nadine Hossam Fawzy, who counts Joelle Mardinian and Lady Gaga as her style icons, adds, “This is the generation of inspiration. As a Middle Eastern girl, I struggled for years to find my style and who I am as a person. I knew I was always wild and crazy, but I didn’t truly see it for myself, and so the show for me has a powerful personal message to always be who you are regardless of your age, height or background. We embrace the weirdness. Five years ago I would now be clapping at myself about how I’ve started expressing myself. And we are all different – so each girl can relate to one of us.”
Marwa Al Hashemi, an Emirati professional horserider who's clearly the bubbly and giggly one, agrees. “Each of us have different fashion styles. For me I am very sporty but I mix this with street fashion. Noor is more girly, and Nadine loves wearing crazy colours. We want to inspire each girl to be confident enough to be themselves – there's a misconception in the Middle East that many women are afraid to express themselves."
For each live broadcast, the girls connect with influencers, entrepreneurs and experts from the world of fashion, interior design, fitness and food as they take on a series of challenges - but to keep the element of surprise they won’t know who they’re meeting until the day. “We don’t know who we're meeting at all,” reveals Sarah Issa from Lebanon. “There are influencers and we have challenges, but we don’t know who we are speaking to, so the surprise will be real. The purpose of the show is to connect on a deeper level and it will cover themes from self-improvement to entrepreneurialism – it’s much more than simply fashion and beauty.”
Syrian journalism student Haya Al Yassin concurs. “When I’m on the show, I like to talk about deep topics, like science and psychology - I feel a lot girls can relate to more in-depth subjects.”
Having already reached 1.5 million views so far, the girls’ sudden position as role models for their peers doesn’t seem to faze them. Listening to their excitement and united positivity it’s clear how driven they are in their goal to provide a voice and a platform for women of their generation.
Assia Mezyane from Morocco takes this responsibility very seriously, particularly when it comes to sharing the modesty message. “We are Arabs, we have religion, we have community, we need to be confident and we need to be less focused on what people say. As long as you are confident, there are no rules. It’s important to be who you are.”
Being who you are for Nadine Hossam Fawzy means tackling gender stereotypes head on. Karate athlete Nadine feels passionate about her role to correct misconceptions. “So many Middle Eastern women think if I train in karate and martial arts, this means I can’t be girly or fashionable or I can’t take care of myself. I want to set the record straight.”
With such strong voices, it’s easy to see why they were selected for the series to fly the flag for their generation. One big reason they were brought together during this time –which can’t be overlooked – is to help the AYA YouTube community stay positive. “If people are struggling, then I hope they can come to our page and feel this is my friendship home even if it’s just through a screen,” Marwa points out.
“Exactly.” Nadine chimes in. “This is coming from the heart, we are all in lockdown and we are all suffering. There is this big move about the importance to always be hustling and to always be productive. But we need to be realistic; if you feel down and you want to take a moment to cry and watch a movie then go ahead, that’s fine too!”
It’s not hard to see why the AYA Fashion Squad are set to be the stars of the tomorrow. Each is extremely relatable in their own way - bold, confident and representing the thoughts, beliefs and attitudes of a generation at the beginning of their journeys as role models of the future. Together, as Marwa puts it, "we are an undeniable force". Who could argue?
Tune in and subscribe to AYA here