Her pink toy sewing machine is neatly placed under the desk in her Dainfern studio workshop.
It’s a symbolic representation of the passion Loubna Combalat has for clothing.
“My mother gave me this machine when I was seven years old and I have looked after it all my life. I told my daughter she can have it one day.”
Combalat had been working on her 20-outfit collection for the SA Fashion Week Spring/ Summer season. Her showcase was on Sandton City’s Protea Court rooftop on Wednesday night.
“I grew up around a lot of interior design in Morocco. From embroidery to crochet by hand, and sewing. I always loved doing things differently and owning things that no one else had.”
From a young age Combalat would sketch outfits and go to a seamstress, who made the clothing for her. “I loved being creative. To this day that is what lights my fire.”
The designer and owner of Loayo Art & Creations is also an established painter. In her spare time she sculpts and is a keen photographer. “Painting has been a big passion as well. I’ve exhibited in countries like France, Switzerland, England and parts of Africa. My first painting was sold in England back in 2000,” she said.
Letting go of that painting was hard for Combalat, as it was her first treasured artwork. If you had the chance to see her showcase at Fashion Week last year, you will know her work is a combination of all her talents.
From the onset she has always wanted to merge her skills base.
“My idea was to marry my two passions – clothing/design and painting, so I decided to make my own fabrics. I paint and then digitize those artworks onto my fabrics.
“I use a specific kind of fabric art for my designs. The process of making something always starts with my artwork. Once a painting comes to life, I know what I will design.”
Her attention to detail can be seen in the various artworks, whether portraits or abstract drawings, and through the textures and strokes of her oil paintings. “If you paint on fabric you can’t keep it for long or dry-clean it. So digitizing the artwork first and then making them wearable and long lasting is the expensive part of the process. But it has to be done, because you are offering something that is permanent.”
Last year’s Autumn/Winter collection saw her focus on satin, chiffon and velvet. For this Spring/Summer collection the focus is on summer colors. “My brand is happiness and positivity, with lots of colors, celebrating summer and life. We want to have relaxed nights and days and feel carefree. “I love textures and layers and off-the-shoulder items.”
Combalat settled in South Africa with her family in 2012. Her connection with the country runs deep, with her first child being born in this country 20 years ago.
“We used to live in Geneva, but I fell in love with this country. In 2014, I opened my business and it took me about two years before the brand started to take shape.” Every time she has to prepare for a big showcase like SA Fashion Week, Combalat compares it to a pregnancy. “It’s like giving birth; every month the process grows and the stress grows just as much.
“But the finale is always the best moment. It’s a lot of stress, because your mind doesn’t switch off. You want to offer something different. There is a lot of competition and you want to stand out.”
Combalat already has one up on other designers with her digitised artworks for her exclusive ranges.
“There is a lot of calculating and planning that goes into a collection. It takes me quite some time to finish one painting. Then I have to decide on the fabric I want to use and what type of outfit it will be. “I then have to go back and change it until it’s perfect. I’m living my passion, and that is huge for me. I have to be satisfied with my work, because I am always critical of it.”
In her downtime she loves to let loose with photography and head out into the bush.
“I switch off in the bush. I paint, I sculpt, I do a lot with my hands. I don’t always have time, but with photography I can always catch something when I pick up my camera.”
Her small team of three make the Loayo Art & Creations work. She delegates as much as she can in between dealing with clients.
“I do all the designs. The name Loayo comes from my names Loubna and Ayouche. I like to keep my designs exclusive, with limited editions.” For young and upcoming designers, Combalat had this to share: “Be ambitious; dream big and never give up.Especially not to give up on the first challenges. It is a difficult industry and you have to be strong. There will be days when you question yourself but the next day you will start afresh. You have to always be there for your passion.”
SA Fashion Week runs until Saturday.