Fashion Design Senior Reflects on Internship in Middle East

VJ Thomas had always been drawn to the Middle East.

So when it came time to choose a junior year internship, she looked towards the United Arab Emirates.

With the help of the Penny Fox Internship Fellowship, Thomas, a fashion major, was able to travel to the city of Sharjah, near Dubai, for the summer and work as an intern for Aiisha Ramadan, a local designer.

I’ve been inspired by the Middle East since high school -- the art, the people and the culture,” Thomas said. “When it came time to research internships, I looked to the UAE first because I knew how much it was advancing in fashion and art. I definitely wanted to go over there and work closely with a designer. I found out about Aiisha, connected to her aesthetic and wanted to work for her.”

As an intern, Thomas was responsible for overseeing operations when Ramadan was away, working on her look book and pricing the collection. She was also able to choose fabrics for designs and name the dresses in Ramadan’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection.

“The experience was really great,” Thomas said. “I was able to get a sense of how a small company is run and work closely with the designer, who was a lot of help.”

As a woman, living in Sharjah was an eye-opening experience, Thomas said.

“It was very conservative compared to Dubai,” she said. “It’s one of the historical districts and one of the most conservative areas in the UAE."

While she had one other female friend at work, Thomas said she was on her own most of the time.

“It could be very lonely, especially during Ramadan (a month of fasting for Muslims) when everyone was fasting during the day,” she said. “And when it came time to break the fast, everyone would be with their family and friends eating at “iftar” dinner (breaking of fast) and I ate alone at Pizza Hut.”

But despite the challenges of living abroad, Thomas was able to adapt well to her environment and become more independent.

“I’m always open to new things,” she said. “This was the second time I’ve been far away from home so I’m used to it.”

As the recipient of the Sis Grenald Leadership Fellowship, Thomas traveled to Palestine the summer after her sophomore year to teach art to children in a refugee camp.

“I’ve always been interested in the Middle East,” she said. “If I wasn’t a fashion design major I’d probably be doing Middle Eastern studies.”

As a fashion designer, Thomas naturally gravitates towards Eastern influences in her work, which she describes as, “very regal, very elegant, and a little conservative yet mixed with a Western modern edge.”

Thomas said she hopes to one day return to the United Arab Emirates and gain more experience working there. For now, she’s looking forward to the spring Fashion Show at Moore, where she said her senior collection will be inspired by Dubai.

Published on October 17th, 2013