Azza Fahmy is internationally recognized as the leading jewelry brand of the Arab world and Egypt’s first designer label, with celebrities and Arab royalty spotted wearing her unique designs.
She was named in 2007 as one of the 25 most influential businesswomen in the Middle East by the Financial Times.
“I started my journey in the passageways of old Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili [a bazaar district with handicraft shops] learning the craft,” Fahmy told Al Arabiya News.
“Though I was considered crazy by colleagues and friends, my goal was crystal clear, and ambition outweighed any challenge I faced since.”
Her business has gone from being a company run by an entrepreneur to an established house of design, with more than 10 stores across the Middle East, and a retail presence in London and soon in the United States.
The Azza Fahmy Studio and Workshop is located in Cairo’s 6th of October Industrial City, employing more than 170 people, including skilled labor, designers, engineers and marketers.
Fahmy is the chairwoman of the organization and the chief designer, while her daughter Fatma Ghaly is managing director.
“Having once run the business single-handedly on every level, I have now handed over all operations to senior management to be able to focus more on design, working with a team of designers and model-makers,” Fahmy said.
Fahmy’s pieces are uniquely decorated with precious gemstones and fine calligraphy of classical Arabic poetry and spiritual sayings reviving Middle Eastern heritage, which she says is her inspiration.
“In Egypt and the Middle East, the source of inspiration is endless. What inspires me is translated into pieces of jewelry, no matter where the inspiration comes from,” she said.
The brand’s newest collection “Suma,” released last month, is inspired by Egyptian music icon Umm Kalthoum, known widely as the ‘Star of the East’ and the ‘greatest Arabic female singer in history.’
The pieces are all inspired by the icon’s famous songs and many of her individual jewelry items.
“I always wanted to create a collection honoring Umm Kalthoum. What more can I say? She’s a role model, a woman who became Egypt’s number-one lady. I cherish her so much for her artistic, charitable and nationalistic affairs,” Fahmy said.
The appeal for the Egyptian designer goes beyond the Middle East.
In 2006, Fahmy collaborated for two years with British fashion designer Julien Macdonald, and more recently with British designer Matthew Williamson, with a collection opening last September at London Fashion Week.
“Every so often, we collaborate with an international name. It’s a great way to understand other markets, and to exchange ideas with different minds and different perspectives,” she said.
The encouraging feedback on the pieces has opened the door to new possibilities for the future, she added.
As well as creating unique designs that reflect Arab culture, Fahmy is involved in teaching and preserving Egyptian crafts.
Following the success of a series of workshops held in Aswan, Upper Egypt, in collaboration with the European Union, the Azza Fahmy Design Studio opened in 2013, teaching students jewelry-making skills and enabling them to establish their own independent brands.
“Education is the core reason information is preserved over long periods of time. Establishing the AFDS is but one of the efforts we’re sustaining for the preservation of arts, crafts and jewelry techniques,” Fahmy said.
The designer also sees the importance of involving youth to develop their ideas.
“If every industry leader creates an educational platform for the younger generation to develop themselves, our industries can grow significantly,” she said.
Fahmy attributes her success to producing designs relatable to the wearer, maintaining authenticity and staying unique.
“The jewelry is a result of research and vision that carries a personal message relatable to the wearer. People recognize authenticity miles away,” she said.
The designer urges young entrepreneurs to educate themselves before venturing into anything, to work twice as hard, and to never underestimate or question the importance of their role in the business realm.
“Believe in yourself, educate yourself, and work hard. Everything else happens for a reason.”