For Khan El-Khalili’s frequent shoppers, a miniature Nefertiti statue that’s labeled ‘Made in China’ has become a common site that carries a great deal of disappointment.
The labyrinthine-street market that was once known for its authentic Egyptian-made souvenirs now features stalls of Chinese-made goods, inspired by the Pharaohs, sold by Egyptians. And that’s not a result of Egyptian lack of creativity.
Chinese goods are sold for much cheaper considering both their raw material and their manual labor amounts for much less than does Egyptian labor and production costs. With the bureaucratic procedures required for exporting products, Egyptian artisans are faced with unbeatable competition.
When Nadia Maanani, a tour guide leader at the time, was faced with grumbling tourists hunting for real Egyptians souvenirs to take back to friends and family, she knew that something needed to be done. A few months later, Egyptian IDentity Crafts (EID) was born.
EID is the latest addition to Cairo’s growing locally-inspired hand-crafted lines. But EID is not your usual example of a fleeting fashion trend effort in Cairo: it’s funky, practical and fashionably bizarre.
The six-month-old project made its debut at a fair organized by the British Community Association. “People liked my products; I noticed whenever people pass my stand they always have a smile on their faces. It’s not a smile of ‘Oh I’m taking the piss; what is this!’; it’s more like ‘Wow how cool is this’, Maanani, a French citizen who has lived in Cairo for the past two years, said laughing.
It’s true. Unless you’re into breaking rules of fashion and toying around with the different styles, you won’t fancy this particular craft collection. In terms of mixing colors and fabrics, it’s a jaunt back to the 80s.
Hazelnut wooden beads are held together with a hot fuchsia thread in a hip earring creation. Bracelets and necklaces are assembled from rolled paper that is delicately beaded into unconventional items that will surely add a twist to your outfit.
The current collection is far more than just accessories, however. According to Maanani, “there’s something that suits everyone.
Alongside earrings, necklaces, bracelets and variously sized purses, Maanani’s creations include loofahs with a handle and a pocket to slip in a bar of soap, bags and pouches made out of recycled grocery bags, CD pouches made of laminated colored paper and small size leather purses (alternatively used as a card holders) encompassed in vintage Egyptian cassette tapes.
“People think leather is such a precious fabric that you can’t mix with anything else. But when you fuse plastic with leather, one is very cheap and the other very posh… and that’s what makes them cool, said Maanani about the unusual creation.
Famous screenshots from Egyptian movies are glued to pieces of paper with irregular rims could be given as presents to be used as wall decoration. Similarly, photos from old Egyptian magazines have been cutout, laminated, glued to a wooden base and sold as fridge magnets.
Meanwhile, Maanani also sells hand woven cotton scarves from Aswan along with clay bowls and jewelry boxes made in Fayoum and hand woven pillow cases from an area in Moqqatam.
“Not everyone is interested in Pharaonics[souvenirs], said Maanani who is not only trying to revive local craftsmanship but is also interested in digging into the various eras of Egyptian history and incorporating it in her creations.
“It’s also a way to promote young talented Egyptians who are interested in the new media and funky stuff; it’s a good way to introduce them to the market, added Maanani, who is currently working with two Egyptian web and graphic designers.
Her influences are multiple, but what distinguishes her is a penchant for digging through unvisited territories. “I get my ideas from things on the street, Maanani said, “Like when I saw this photo I instantly knew it needed a frame, referring to one of the movie screenshots.
“It’s just a domino effect; you’re looking for something which then leads you to something else which leads you to something else. And then you see someone in a movie [using leather in a particular way] and you go yeah I want this one.
EID strives for individuality, and like her creations, Maanani is spontaneous, playful and full of energy. “If I make something, it has to be something that I would most probably buy, she asserted, adding that while some pieces are born by utter coincidence, others are well planned.
“For me ideally I would like to create the product and commercialize it. But at the moment, that seems impossible. She is currently the owner, creator, worker, marketing manager and publicist.
The next few weeks will feature Maanani shuttling between fairs. Look out for EID crafts booth at the Association of Cairo Expatriates (ACE) on Oct. 1 and 24.
ACE Club2 Midan Victoria, DeglaMaadi, CairoTel: (02) 2519 4594