Photo Via Fashion Trust Arabia Facebook page
Last month, Egypt Today met with Tania Fares, the president of Fashion Trust, a nonprofit initiative that is dedicated to finding, funding and mentoring young design talent. Conceived with the purpose of supporting the fashion industry by providing mentoring and donations, the trust supports designers as they build their brand into a thriving global business. Fares is also an ambassador for the British Fashion Council, a regular contributor to British Vogue, an author and an all-round fashion force to be reckoned with.
Fares was in Cairo to get to know the Egyptian fashion industry and its designers a little better; and she and her team spent their time visiting showrooms and mingling with up-and-coming designers for a sense of who they are, their inspirations, aspirations, processes and talents.
We sat down with Fares before the introduction event that was hosted by Egyptian singer Lara Scander and Maison Pyramide. It was a star-studded event with Egyptian icons, such as Shereen Reda, Yousra, Mona Zaki, Arwa Gouda and many more famous fashionable faces.
Fares started by explaining how the trust aims to develop and showcase Egyptian designers to the region and international fashion industry. “Fashion Trust Arabia (FTA) is open to all Arab designers in the GCC, the MENA region, the Levant, so the whole region … now we have 550 applications and we would want to get to 25 finalists,” Fares says, pointing out that last year’s trust saw many Egyptians in the final round. “Last year, we had a few Egyptians, this is how we showcase and show the talent and the creativity of Egyptian designers by having, of course, Egyptians being part of the 25 finalists and focusing on their creativity and their talent.”
Over the past years, the Egyptian fashion industry has taken off and become a hub for many designers. But with so many off them wanting to go international, a number winds up westernizing their designs to appeal to a wider audience rather than embracing their roots, leading to a concern that Egypt and the Middle East have lost their culture and identity in fashion. “There are some Egyptian designers who do have a Middle Eastern [feel], like Okhtein. I remember seeing them for the first time; and I said to myself, these designers must be Middle Eastern, so yes some designers have a Middle Eastern feel and it’s great to embrace it but also some are more influenced and are happy to be more Western and it’s fine too… It depends on their own identity,” argues Fares. “You push them and help them to stick to their own identity but if they are more influenced by the West, it doesn’t mean that they’re not good designers.”
Azza Fahmy is one of Egypt’s biggest success stories and has managed to push her brand into the global market, by tapping into marketing and commercializing her collections. For many designers in Egypt, this isn’t a possibility due to lack of funds; often it’s not a lack of talent but more that our work just isn’t seen, Fares says. She highlights that the FTA is here to do just that; “So for instance we took them [the finalists] to New York, to be more exposed to the international industry, we chose the finalist in Diane Von Furstenberg showroom in June in New York. Now they’re being mentored by MatchesFashion.com (an online luxury shopping platform)... So this is what I am trying to do; to bring the West to our region to showcase the Middle East.”
With its highly influential advisory board, the FTA has a significant impact on the designers. “This is why I am trying to have people on the advisory board like Sarah Mower who is an advocate for young designers,” explains Fares, who recalls the board’s reaction to the region’s talent when they first arrived. “When they came, everyone was so happily surprised to see how creative our region is, how talented our part of the world is… This is what I am trying to do through Fashion Trust Arabia’s work; we are trying to expose our region and our designers to the West by bringing Tim Blanks, Jefferson Hack, Sarah Mower and all those people. So that’s my aim and that’s how I am trying to do it,” she says.
Recalling her experience with the finalists during last year’s FTA showcase, Fares cites how networking was one of the best outcomes. “When I went around and spoke to all the 25 finalists, the thing that they all told me was that it was an amazing opportunity for them to bond. Before it, the Lebanese designer hadn’t met the Egyptian designer, the Egyptian hadn’t met the Qatari, the Qatari hadn’t meet the Jordanian. So it’ wasn’t a community… Through Fashion Trust Arabia we build a community and then we build the exposure for them. But there are a lot of fashion weeks; there is New York, London, Milan, and Paris. All those editors, they’re exhausted traveling from one show to another. So I feel that way through Fashion Trust Arabia we’re doing it where we showcase everybody.”
Pointing out that the FTA is not a competition for designers, and that there are no losers, Fares explains, “The advisory board will see that one [designer] is not chosen but a member might want to work with that designer that’s not a part of the 25 finalists. So it’s exposure really.”
As the trust will be nurturing the next generation of designers, it’s important that those designers have put the environmental effects of their production into consideration. “I want to bring experts to mentor the designers,” Fares says. “Maison De Mode are our partners so they will be mentoring the designers, they already did when they went to New York in June. It’s a matter that everyone is exploring, everyone is interested and we will focus more and more and be much more involved next year for them to be even more sustainable.”
Maison De Mode is a luxury ethical fashion online retailer; and among other experts is Livia Firth, the co-founder and creative director of Eco-Age and founder of the Green Carpet Challenge. Her aim is to change the world to a more ethical and sustainable one. “That’s the way moving forward, every designer has to be sustainable,” maintains Fares.
Intellectual property piracy in the Middle East is a major issue with high-end brands and even amongst local designers in the region. “Everyone is influenced by everybody. But if there is a serious problem, we will support the designers and in terms of mentoring it would be the MatchesFashion team who would be handling [it],” explains Fares who will be launching her second book this month. “It’s my second book by Phidon and Krista Smith is my co-editor, she was the West Coast editor at Vanity Fair. So yeah, I think that I would like to explore that.”
For updates on Fashion Trust Arabia, follow them on Facebook and Instagram @FashionTrustArabia