The Egyptian fashion industry is very hard to tap into; especially when you’ve got a bad case of the “brand craze” going on. Egyptians are becoming more and more obsessed with brands, couture, and celebs up to the extent that they’re willing to fight over the latest Celine bag or the newest Louboutins. It’s not easy to convince an Egyptian woman to buy a garment that was designed and produced locally and well, Deana Shaaban was one of the VERY FEW people who managed to do so!
I met up with Deana Shaaban at her studio during her latest photo shoot for the “Fortitudo” collection out this November (a collection that promotes a woman’s strength and personally inspired me)and spoke to her about Cairo’s fashion scene and making the cut in the Big C!
Read on for more and stay tuned for pictures soon!
How are you coping with the recession, are you facing any problems at the moment due to the instability of Egypt and the Middle East?
There are so many problems going on at the moment. To start a business in Egypt is already a pain in the neck due to certain problems you probably wouldn’t face in any other part of the world. For example, lack of a system, failure to meet deadlines, quality control issues, and so on but with what’s been happening in the region it got worse. We’re facing trouble importing some fabrics since our fabrics are mostly imported from India, Turkey, Italy, Indonesia, Malaysia, and getting them past customs, a process that would usually take weeks to finish, now can take up to months just to import fabrics from abroad. This of course increases the scarcity of fabrics hence hiking up the prices and leaving us with no choice. The other thing, due to protests and sit- ins in the area, our workshop was basically on hold. My team couldn’t go places and get their job done, it was unsafe for all of us to be there in the studio working, and production had to be paused for safety reasons. Of course this is understandable to us as Egyptians but boutiques that showcase my designs in Dubai or Qatar couldn’t really picture how bad it was (which I totally understand) and so I was trying my best to get things done in such insecurity to be able to meet deadlines properly which of course is like double the stress.
People’s spending habits in Egypt have changed after the revolution, are you facing troubles selling your designs now?
A little bit. People used to spend frivolously before and now they’re just more calculated when it comes to spending. We’re not facing any trouble into selling our designs, it’s just not as relaxed as it used to be before.
Where do you sell your products in Dubai and Qatar?
At the moment we sell them in a store called “Rivage” which has three outlets in Dubai and one in Qatar and our designs can also be found at the “O Concept Store” in Dubai. We’re looking to expand both locally and globally by applying to different fashion shows abroad and that’s basically what’s next for Deana Shaaban.
Where do you get your inspiration from and what inspires your designs?
The world! As a young girl I used to travel a lot with my parents and I can see that the effect of that is taking its toll on my designs now. Everything I design was inspired by something I’ve seen in one city or the other. When people see one of my designs they say it resembles the Indian culture, the Grecian culture, the Romans, … Then I started realizing that it had a lot to do with travelling around the world and being exposed to different cultures and how they dress, eat, spend, … So when I start designing a collection I decide on a certain theme in mind and that’s where the inspiration comes from for the whole collection bearing in mind that I want to make women feel majestic when they wear a Deana Shaaban design. I believe that’s what clothing should do, clothing should dignify a woman and make her feel beautiful.
Do you think fashion can empower and dignify women?
Because I feel like our clothing is an extension of who we are and it’s the most obvious form of self expression. A lot of us as women express ourselves through our clothing and in a country like Egypt you have certain cultural ties about the way you’re supposed to dress, who’s gonna stare at you, or whatever, leaving you in the end dressed up in something you don’t even like. You wake up in 10 years losing a sense of who you are because you’ve been told not to do this or not to wear that, and what I try to do through my designs is encourage women to wear what they like regardless of their age, gender, color or whatever. If you like something, then it is you, and so you wear it. In fashion there shouldn’t be “restrictions”; if only we can teach people to dress the way they believe they should be dressing or the way that makes them feel comfortable (even if it means walking around in a garbage bag) then you end up building up confidence in them and teaching them that whatever they want to be is ok and that’s what they should be.
So does that mean you think that outward appearance can influence the way a woman feels about herself?
Totally! I feel like if you are dressed in let’s say a garbage bag but you do it with confidence, the next day you’ll have everyone dressed in a garbage bag like you! Dressing in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident reflects on your walk, talk, and attitude, and basically that’s the definition of attractive and sexy; not how you’re dressed but how you feel when you’re in it!
How would you describe the fashion scene in Egypt?
I would say it’s very pre-mature at the moment, I don’t think it’s very competitive, but I think there are a lot of people trying to do a lot of things and I think with anything that’s first starting out obviously it takes time before it starts growing and maturing. Fashion designers now are starting to realize what fashion is all about, they’re starting to learn it rather than do it out of a hobby, and they’re trying to look for courses here in Egypt or abroad and to be honest the ones here in Egypt don’t really serve the purpose well.
Is that why you’re teaching designs courses at the “Art Café”?
Yes, people were miserable with the existing courses in Egypt and they felt like the only option they had was to travel abroad which of course requires a huge budget and some parent- convincing to do. I felt like I had to pass on what I had learned on to people who couldn’t travel to learn fashion design and I was keen on helping students that are eager to learn to create a decent portfolio to jump start their careers in fashion and to inspire young minds to follow their dreams.
How far along do you think we are in terms of developing the fashion scene?
I think we still have a few years to go. People are just now realizing that fashion education is really important and people are starting to look at it from a professional perspective, that being said, it’s looking great, just needs time.
You told me that you were influenced by well .. “The world” .. Do you take in consideration the Egyptian woman’s curvy body?
Of course, the ideas are inspired by that and by my travels, but we have to understand that our bodies are very different than European bodies for example, and when a client walks in, she already has a clue of what she likes/ dislikes about her body. I realized that all women have something they’re insecure about and so we’re always trying to find a way to work around that area to make sure we produce a piece that they feel comfortable in and majestic at the same time.
Do you think the Egyptian market lacks originality and its own thumbprint in the fashion industry?
Yes I think that was the case before and that this has only slowly started to change recently. Actually that’s one of the biggest struggles we face. Egyptians are so brand obsessed, they love everything that’s foreign, only recently that I found some clients walking in to the studio asking for an original design that no one else has worn before or something they wouldn’t see on anyone else. We do that, we design and produce pieces that are unique and although they are made in Egypt, they show foreign quality in terms of finish and design.
Lastly, what piece of advice would you give an upcoming fashion designer?
Don’t let your education get in the way of what you love the most. I have a degree in business and psychology and during an audit of a fashion course at the AUC I realized that this was what I wanted to do. I worked till 3 and 4 am (probably the longest time I spent working on anything on campus) on that course and I realized that the only thing that was stopping me from becoming a fashion designer was my education. I didn’t realize that I can take something that I love doing and make a job out of it; It seems like the most obvious thing on the planet but it really isn’t. In a small piece of square fabric there are infinite possibilities and you get to choose what that is.