Stereotyping is big in certain socio-economic circles in Egypt. It makes it easier for people to deal with something or someone they think should fit comfortably in a certain category.
Particularly susceptible to being stereotyped are young, creative women trying to make a name for themselves in the nation’s cutthroat design and fashion industry. It’s easy to think of them as women with too much time on their hands, concocting unprofessional and overpriced fantasy obsessions with their family’s hard-earned money.
But House of Egypt does not fit comfortably into any cliché or even category. This recently launched brand encompasses fashion, accessories, home accessories and leather goods, bringing together seven different local brands under one name to support Egyptian-made products. In the process, House of Egypt is showing the world that Egypt has more than its fair share of undiscovered talent.
When many Egyptians were complaining about the stagnant economy following the January 25 Revolution, these up-and-coming entrepreneurs were busy planning, designing and strategizing to protect the future of their employees — the workers who have been dedicated to creating quality handmade products inspired by age-old traditional craftsmanship. Yes, these women also wanted to keep producing their designer goods to keep clients happy and pay the bills. But the reason House of Egypt came to be was to keep the workers employed when many other were losing their incomes.
Women of the House
The ladies, brands and products behind House of Egypt are diverse. Nadia Zarkani’s smooth leather handbags for Nuniz, Malak El Ezzawy’s couture dresses, Dina Said’s eclectic designs for Nana’s Closet and Amina Khalil’s trendy oriental designs for Amina K are the house’s staples. Aya Akl’s all-Egyptian linens for Aya Home Textiles and Reem Mansour’s detail-oriented home accessories for Rimal are House of Egypt’s home additions. Dina Sabet, Heba and Hana Elawadi and Meram Maafa’s scarves, clutches and home accessories for El Horreya fall under both categories of home accessories and fashion products.
The seed for this project was planted not long before the revolution when the Ministry of Trade and Industry, headed by former Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid, started to put together an initiative to help promote and support young local designers. The initiative would have given the designers a much-needed boost to showcase their work in both local and foreign markets. However, the scheme did not have much time to flourish when the revolution erupted and Rachid was ousted from his post.
“Some of us were introduced through Rachid’s design initiative, the rest we all knew by name and the quality of work they presented through their products,” says Akl. “So when Nadia [Zarkani] approached me with the idea of House of Egypt only weeks after the revolution, I was excited to become part of a group of talented designers.”
Zarkani, though affected like many by the slowdown of the economy after the revolution, decided to start looking for designers with diverse fashion and design styles who she felt could work together by supporting one another and making sure they all had each other’s backs.
“There wasn’t really a criteria we picked one another based on,” says Zarkani. “We were all driven women who took their work seriously and wanted to get their brands recognized both in the Egyptian market and globally.”
And they have.
On March 15, the young group of designers officially launched House of Egypt at the Amuse Lifestyle Concept Store. A special-edition bag was especially created for the occasion, featuring a printed image of the late singer Dalida— with profits going to charity. Dalida had become a symbol of Egyptian nationalism with her song Helwa Ya Balady (My Beautiful Country), was inspired by Egypt’s beauty, and the warmth and character of the Egyptian people.
A Solid Support System
“The goal is simply the ongoing support of Egypt,” explains Vivianne Abdelmessieh of Amuse, who with her partners Dina El Batal and Jailan Fahim have helped support the women of House of Egypt. “There’s an unmistakable flavor in every design [in House of Egypt’s brands].”
By collaborating under the umbrella of House of Egypt, all seven brands had a new avenue to promote their products, as well as create a buzz when it came to their collaborative new brand. They also didn’t forget the reason they came together: The workers. At the Amuse launch, they screened a video of their employees sharing their experiences and aspirations of the future they envision for Egypt’s design and fashion industry.
The support to help propel the young designers didn’t stop there. On June 1, Nasser Kamel, the Egyptian Ambassador to France, and his wife Dalia El Batal opened up their residence to host a House of Egypt in Paris event. The one-day event drew those interested in Egyptian designs and those who wanted to help support Egyptian craftsmanship.
“The event was a success. We didn’t think we would get that sort of reaction from people there, and I think they didn’t expect the quality of work and creativity we were presenting,” says Zarkani. “All of us felt that our products could compete with those abroad because of the amount of hard work put into everything we work on.
“I think when people were invited to the event in Paris they went expecting something outdated from Egypt, something they considered as charity,” says Elawadi with a wide smile. “So it was great to see the reactions of women when they went crazy over El Horreya designs or Nuniz’s leather bags. Aya [Akl] even claims to have found her market there.”
All of the girls came back from Paris feeling motivated by the level of support they received from Kamel and El Batal.
“They actually helped us carry our stuff and make sure everything was in place,” says Akl. “They were really helpful when it came to every single detail of the event.”
With future plans for a House of Egypt exhibition in London by the end of the year and design collaborations by the designers for the brand itself, House of Egypt will hopefully avoid the stereotype it could easily get cast into. More important, the new brand and the designers behind it will also be able to continue supporting their workers and their handcrafted traditions — oh yes, and become global sensations in the world of fashion and design under the name of their beloved Egypt.
Designs for Freedom
El Horreya is an ongoing dynamic design project created to support humanitarian organizations in need across the Middle East. Each piece is carefully handcrafted in Egypt, and the original designs reflect common aspects of the region’s culture. A percentage of the proceeds will provide direct relief to those seeking help, hope and a brighter future.
Aya Home Textiles
This fresh high-end line specializes in 100 percent Egyptian cotton towels, bed sheets, bed covers and beyond.
Aya Akl took the core essence of Egypt — cotton — and has designed the linens with Egyptian-inspired designs and material to create her unique line of linens that promise quality and a commitment to her customers.
Nuniz is the brainchild of Nadia Zarkani and her lifelong love affair with leather bags.
Driven with passion and a keen eye, Nuniz ensures exclusive bags of exceptional quality, unique design and flawless finishing; the key components to creating timeless pieces.
Her designs reflect the perfect marriage between rich Middle Eastern flavor and sharp, modern flair, all the while maintaining a careful appreciation for handbag functionality.
Nana’s Closet is a high-end clothing brand that has been created to honor and revive the handmade techniques of Egyptian Haute Couture while being presented in a form of prêt-a-porter.
The brand aims to bring back handmade craftsmanship, timeless designs and the unique blend of Egypt’s past fashion icons with today’s global trends.
Reem Mansour works first hand in the development of traditionally handmade Egyptian products.
Drawn to Arabic calligraphy, literature and folklore, she began producing home accessories with a distinctly historical Arab flavor.
The company is a proud advocate of classically handmade, high quality, sleek Egyptian accessories. Mansour’s sometimes-eccentric designs take Islamic and Arab art out of the museum and into the living room.
Malak El Ezzawy
Malak El Ezzawy managed to successfully launch her first collection of evening dresses at the young age of 22. El Ezzawy designs two full evening gown collections each year and designs limited-edition collections that vary each time. These limited edition collections include more ready-to-wear T-shirts, skirts and the like, all with her unique signature touches.
Aiming to use Egyptian resources in every detail, fabric and workmanship and inspired by traditional Egyptian garments and textiles, Amina Khalil believes that there are endless possibilities for one to create original shapes and looks that have not been experimented with before. Her garments are designed to be mixed, matched and layered together with her combination of traditional Egyptian silhouettes and a modern Western twist.
Leave a Comment