Fay Tellaoui recalls always loving fashion, from an early age when she was fascinated by her mother’s dressmaking to realising she herself had a facility for coordinating colours, textiles and silhouettes. However it was her experience of putting on the veil at age 19 and finding she had to completely adjust her wardrobe to suit her new modest dress code that provided the impetus to start her own fashion label. Fay began testing the water in 2004, selling her designs to family and friends. She soon found there was a gap in the market for fashionable modest clothing and expanded into wholesaling to traditional Muslim clothing stores in Western Sydney.
These stores had traditionally imported Islamic dress in bulk from international markets. Fay found they were bringing in items that ‘were very plain and something our mothers and grandmothers used to wear, nothing in the market at the time catered for the new emerging Aussie Muslim youth.’ It was this that inspired her to rethink the model for designing and retailing to Muslim women and, with the support of her uncle, in 2008 opened the Fay Tellaoui boutique in the heart of Sydney’s Muslim community in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown. Two years later she launched a second store in Coburg, Melbourne.
Fay works with the traditional form of the abaya (a full length, loose fitting, long sleeved gown) re-designed with a more tailored fashionable silhouette and a focus on textured fabrics and unusual prints. For daywear fleecy lined jerseys are used to create streetstyle hoody abayas, while buttoned tabs and a jabot trim on a pinstriped gabardine gives a corporate feel. Fay uses lace and sculptural draped fabrics in soft neutral tones for elegant evening wear.
In their words
“I’ve always loved fashion, it goes way back. My Mum used to have a sewing machine and used to make a lot of her own dresses. I couldn’t believe that you could actually make your own garments and look amazing … ”
“I try my best to source my unique textiles locally and produce in local factories, which demands more of my time, as I’m there for the designing, manufacturing and selling processes … I decided it’s best I stay in Australia, that way I can go past the factory every single day and see what they are up to. If there is a problem I can fix it.”
“I hate weekends because it takes me away from my work. Even when I’m on holidays I take my whole kit with me, books, folders and drawing pads and I focus on drawing, thinking and trying to get my range together … I can’t wait to get back to my shop. That to me is a holiday, being in my business, being in the factory being amongst fabric.”
“I always like to push the boundaries when it comes to designing an abaya. I’m very innovative and always like to use new prints, colours and different textures — things that have never been used before for an abaya. Nothing is off limits for me.”
“The Australian Muslim community has seen a great change in regards to the materials, colours and design of modest clothing, which helps us reflect who we are as Australians and as Muslims … Now that I’m able to give the community the sort of designs they want, that long lost missing link has been found between being modest and looking beautiful.”
Interview with Fay Tellaoui [5:18]