Home-grown conscious fashion brand exhale seeks to raise dialogue and awareness about mental health through the integration of art, fashion, creativity, storytelling and mindfulness. The brand was brought to life by founder and creator Nawal El Masri following her tryst with loss leading to anxiety. Now, exhale produces 500 high-quality pieces of garments every year, clubbed under themes including Express, Inspire and Reflect.
exhale’s journey began as a concept on Instagram where El Masri merged fashion, art and mindfulness through photos and messages. The photos on Instagram were vague through subliminal messages, which drove engagement, proving that the exhale model could generate interest. In 2016, El Masri created the brand logo and embarked on her entrepreneurial journey. The first year was full of challenges, making mistakes and a lot of lessons learnt. Importantly, exhale and El Masri worked tirelessly to build a strong connection with those people who showed trust in the brand.
“A friend who is an angel investor, believed in exhale. He asked for my financial and business plan, which back then in 2016, I didn’t even have. So, I developed everything from scratch. We didn’t even have a licence back then. After receiving funding from the angel investor, everything started steamrolling – licencing the brand, launching the e-commerce website,” said El Masri.
An event to mark the official launch of exhale took place at Alserkal Avenue in September 2017. “We were expecting 50-80 people to turn up, but there were 200. We made our first e-commerce sale on the spot. It was a great accomplishment,” she recollected. “While 2016-17 was a true learning curve for us, exhale started seeing traction between 2017 and 2018, and 2018-19 has been great. Year-on-year, the business is getting better in terms of numbers as well as quality collaborations.”
Today, exhale sells through its e-commerce site, alongside building brick-and-mortar presence through collaborations with a home-grown concept called KAVE Dubai and global brand Virgin Megastore. The goal ahead is to strengthen presence in the UAE and expand further. Having seen exhale’s resonance in Toronto, Canada through a pop-up, El Masri believes that this ‘made in the UAE’ brand will eventually expand its wings further.
exhale is also big on giving back to the community, especially through its Express collection. “We donate a part of our sales from the Express collection to Al Jalila Foundation and Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF),” El Masri shared.