Meet Hilda Batayneh: The Secret Behind How Your Favorite Celebrities Turn Into Fashion Designers

by Ian Grafvonluxburg

In the cycle of what feels like endless celebrity clothing collaborations, it takes a true leader to ensure that the offering is equal parts authentic, inclusive, creative, and meaningful. Enter: Hilda Batayneh, a Parsons graduate who arrived in NYC two decades ago determined to leave her impact on the fashion industry. After working for years in product development, she decided to start a company that she could build a brand from the ground up, and thus Reunited Clothing came to be, creating private label collections for retailers across the country. Recently, Batayneh expanded the company’s portfolio into facilitating celebrity collaborations for the likes of Olivia Culpo, Sofia Richie, Cara Santana, Negin Mirsalehi, Nina Parker, and Nicole Williams-English. Today, she releases one of her biggest to date: The Royalty by Maluma collection. Here’s how it all began!

Congratulations on another successful collaboration! Is this a pinch-me moment in your career?
I’m feeling very excited! It’s been a long process since we first started talking [to Maluma] about working with him and creating his collection. There’s a lot of anticipation, and a lot of great energy around it, and it’s probably been one of the longer leading collaborations that we’ve had. Some of the other collaborations have been a quicker. With this one there has definitely been a build-up, so we’re very excited to see how the consumer reacts. The windows at the Macy’s on 34th St are already previewing the collection, so seeing people stop and look and comment has brought tears to my eyes.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into product development and design?
I would say that my story is truly about following your heart and your passions. I grew up in Michigan, and at that point I didn’t really know fashion could be a career. But I always loved clothes, and loved to shop—when I was a kid I just wanted clothes, I didn’t want toys. It was just something I absolutely loved. When I got older, I was on the career path to becoming a doctor. I attended the University of Michigan, I followed the pre-med curriculum. But when it came down to it, I sat with myself and asked, ‘Is this something that I can do for the rest of my life? Will this bring me joy? Or has this just been instilled in me?’ In Michigan it was all about becoming a lawyer or an engineer. I knew that I loved fashion, but I still didn’t know how I could make that a career. So I took a leap of faith and applied to Parsons School of Design. My parents gave me the support that I needed, and that’s how I made it to New York City.

How has that experience shaped you as a person?
I think New York is the true test of independence and finding yourself. To survive in New York you need to have thick skin, and you need to learn to advocate for yourself. The city has taught me to be a unique individual—it really brings it out of you. It encourages people to make their own path. No two people have the same story in this city, you really need to make your own. It has been challenging, but with challenges comes growth. And I’ve continued to grow, because we’re never really done learning about ourselves. I’ve been in the city for 20 years now, so I’m a New Yorker with a midwest accent. I go back to Michigan when I need to relax and decompress.

 

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How did Reunited Clothing come to be?
After school, there were so many different career paths to follow, and I had several different internships post graduation. Then I found a place that focused on product development for a mass market. What I loved about it was that the products being produced were accessible, and I’ve always thought that fashion does not have to be exclusive, it needs to be inclusive. To dress well, and to feel good, you don’t need to break the budget. So I worked at that company for 10 years, and that’s where I met the three business partners that would eventually help me start Reunited Clothing. At our previous company, we were very successful and were able to build a lot of great relationships with different retailers, and that showed me that there was a lot of potential in that field. So I started to think, ‘How can we take the best of what we’ve learned and make it even better?’ I approached my now partners—we had already built something great together, they had already run successful companies—and said it was the time to make something exactly how we wanted. We founded Reunited Clothing in 2011. The timing was perfect, we got some calls from investors around the same time, and the whole thing came to life, just like that. Timing in life is everything!

You’ve said before that your work at Reunited Clothing is about the business of fashion. Can you elaborate on that for us?
Looking at the fashion industry from the outside in—it looks so glamorous! You see the end result; the cameras, the red carpet, the perfectly styled outfit. But there are so many people working hard behind the scenes, and I don’t think the consumer knows how much work goes into everything. When I say that Reunited Clothing is about the business of fashion, it’s about how everything happening in the world affects our day-to-day business. Here, we’re about the start to finish product and we’re not done until it’s in the consumer’s hands. We’re involved in everything; from the idea to its creation, to putting it out there, to getting it to the stores, marketing the product, and then also being involved in consumer feedback. If you’re not involved all the way, things get lost in translation, and that’s why we’ve built this unique platform.

After 20 years in the industry, what is the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
For me personally, it’s been about following your heart. And not being scared of trying to make things a reality. Because I also have the business acumen as well, I’ve been lucky enough to have several ideas turn into reality and maybe that wouldn’t have been possible without conviction and determination. And you learn to love the consumer as well! I say that I design for everyone in this country, and I think that our product and our work here at Reunited Clothing really touches everyone. I’ll be at an airport on the other side of the country, and I’ll spot a sweater we made. It’s amazing to see the accessibility of great fashion, and that’s what I think is truly valuable.

You’ve gotten to work with some really cool people throughout the years. Who has been a particularly memorable collaborator?
Every person we’ve collaborated with holds a special place in my heart, as cheesy as it sounds! The reason we collaborate with different people is to reach different audiences, so every collaboration has been important. But, Olivia Culpo was the first ever person I collaborated with. We worked on a collection called Marled by Reunited Clothing back in 2018. I had been following Olivia on Instagram, and our publicist reached out to her manager and told her we’d be interested in speaking with her. This was back before the era of collaborations had truly started. So we met, and we instantly clicked. Because of that collection we received the Revolve Brand Collaboration of the Year award, and that was really the start of this platform. From there we continued to work with her for various retailers, we’ve done charity initiatives like More Than A Mask, which was to give back during COVID-19, but it all started with the initial collaboration.

You just finished a collab with Nicole Williams English and the Maluma collection is dropping too. How do you manage working on multiple projects back to back?
Love and passion for what I do. And I have an amazing team as well. I believe that you are only as strong as the team you have behind you. From design to PR and marketing—it takes an army to have these ideas come to life. Also, working with talent who are so passionate makes the whole experience so easy. I am currently wearing a piece from Nicole’s collection, and this wasn’t her first foray into fashion. So it was just really fun to be able to team up with her. At this point in my career, I have the logistics part of it down to a science. But the creative aspect comes to life in the moment, and working with great partners just makes the whole thing easier. Even having a company like Macy’s trust you and your vision, allowing collaborators to bring their unique style to the table, is huge.

 

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I feel like authenticity is a big part of your work at Reunited. What other values do you think are pillars of your work?
I think of our innovation. We always want to be the first to bring something new to the market. I truly believe that we are innovators in the fashion industry.

The Nina Parker collection was the first-ever plus size collection that was led and developed by a Black woman and made exclusively for Macy’s. Tell us more!
I’ve always felt that the plus sized consumer was not given the same level of fashion and accessibility as the majority. I met Nina and we talked about it, and we realized how much of a struggle it really was. She had begun designing her own clothes for red carpets because no one was really paying attention to a plus sized woman that wanted to look fashionable. Or, it exists at a very inaccessible price point. It was wonderful to be able to collaborate with Nina, bring that collection to life, have a standalone brand at Macy’s, and continue to make this a platform where the consumer tells us what they want.

 

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The collection with Nina Parker is about to hit its one year anniversary mark—how has your work changed, if it all, since then?
We actually started that entire project in the height of the lockdown, and it hit stores while everyone was still working from home. So it was an interesting process. We pride ourselves on fit, we believe that the fit of a garment is extremely important. Until it fits perfectly, we don’t want to ship it. And for someone like Nina, when working on a plus sized collection, fit is that much more important. We had a lot of innovative technology that went into that collection, like adding power mesh into the lining for the clothes, for more structural shaping. What the Nina Parker collection taught us was to listen to the customer, and give them more of what they want. And really take their feedback in when bringing to life a future collection. And I think that this collection has shown the retail community that plus size fashion can really take risks. Women don’t want to hide, they want to feel proud of their body.

Now—what we’re all really excited to talk about: the Maluma Royalty collection! How has it been working with such an international star?
He’s such a global style icon, amongst being an amazing singer, performer, and actor. To work with him has truly been a privilege for me. He’s always on the cover of a magazine and always on the best-dressed list of any red carpet, so to be given the opportunity to bring his collection to life, while also creating a gender fluid assortment, and having him be proud of the product in the end has been so much fun.

The collection is very much inspired by him and his life in Miami. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Apart from his time in Miami, I think it also has to do with his upbringing in Medellin, Colombia. One of his taglines is “from Medellin to the world,” so we wanted to bring that narrative to life as well. I think he exudes that energy, it’s about more than just being a Spring Summer collection. It’s about using clothes to express yourself. It was about bringing pieces of him into the collection that would be recognizable, like his love for diamonds and pearls. We have a set, one that he actually wears in the campaign, that apart from being extremely comfortable, is lined with rhinestones and pearls. We have buttons that resemble pearls throughout the collection. He has a tattoo of his crown logo on his neck, and we’ve embroidered that into pieces. There is a necklace that he always wears, so we recreated that look and built it into some garments. It’s a collection for the consumer at the end of the day, but there is a touch of him in every piece.

You’ve shared with me how involved Maluma has been in this process, is that different from other collaborations you’ve worked on in the past?
He has been very involved in the entire process. He picked all the colors, patterns, prints, silhouettes—all of it. He did the first fitting with us, so we could make sure that we bring his aesthetic of fit to life. All collaborators are always involved in the process, but he has taken it one step further. At our first meeting, I handed him a pair of scissors and we had an average white t-shirt in the room. I told him, cut it to make it how you would want to wear it. And he did—and that’s the silhouette we used throughout the collection! We graded it for sizing, but the silhouette stayed the same. He’s already been living in the collection, here and there. He’s worn several pieces quietly already, we’ve had to ask him not to tag anything to not ruin the surprise. I cannot even put into words how amazing the whole experience has been. He really lights up the room whenever he walks in. I needed him to love every piece as much as we did, and he has. The energy for the entire collection has come from within him.

As a creative director, how do you balance your own work and duties, while allowing someone like Maluma to fully step into a creative role?
My job in this role that I have working with talent is to provide them direction and resources. I give them the tools that they need to bring out the designer in them. I’ve mastered that balance by really listening to them, and getting to know them on a deeper level. One of the first meetings we had with Maluma, we played love it or list it. I showed him different colors, architecture, patterns, textures, and got a sense of what he really felt good in and liked. I would show him a picture of himself on the cover of a magazine or on a red carpet, and I would ask him, ‘How did you feel in this? Did you love it?’ Understanding the client is a critical piece to me. You really have to study them, while also bringing in trend knowledge to make it a cohesive collection. And if there is ever a moment when it’s about taking a risk–that’s the reason why you work with someone like Maluma. With him we weren’t scared to present an idea to the buyers, because if he believes in it, and knows how to wear it and own it, everyone in the room feels really comfortable.

 

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I’m dying for the collection to hit stores! What looks are you excited about the most?
I think what we’re most excited to see is how the his and hers, gender fluid component of the collection. All of the pieces are interchangeable, so I want to see how everyone styles the garments themselves. Is the female customer going to gravitate to the men’s pieces? Will the sets be as fabulous when you separate them and make them standalone pieces? Just seeing it all brought to life will be extremely rewarding, I don’t think I can pick a favorite piece. We have our ideas of how the collection should be styled, but we want to see how the consumer really makes the clothes their own.

I heard that part of Maluma Royalty activation is a Tour Bus through the city—can we expect to see you on it? What about Maluma?
Absolutely! I will be following the bus, and I’m still deciding if I will be flying down to Miami for when the bus arrives there, because it’s going to drive down from New York to Florida wrapped in the campaign images. We’re all very excited. You’ll be able to see the collection, and shop it, and with proof of purchase you can be put into a draw for a signed poster of Maluma. There’s going to be a photo-booth moment, and we’re even having some of Maluma’s favorite Colombian treats. The bus is also making a stop in Little Colombia here in NYC, which was really important to Maluma. He is actually touring Europe currently, and he will be in Dubai on launch day, but he will make a cameo appearance…

What’s next for you? Do you already have your eye on your next collaboration?
I think every launch gets me more excited for the next, so I keep pushing forward. And there is so much more to do. We currently service an American market and consumer, but there is a whole world out there. We want to take this global as a company. The sky really is the limit, and we never stop. I have been able to meet so many interesting and successful people, and through that is how new opportunities and ideas come to life. I am currently living my dream, and it gets me excited to see what else is out there.

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