Several mannequins stand in a wide white room, representing the dreams of Egypt’s upcoming talents. MSA’s Career Gate is one of Egypt’s most famous educational institutions in the fashion arena.
Every couple of months Career Gate celebrates the graduation of a few artists who are believed will change the industry as we know it today.
More than 16 promising students just threw one big runway show to announce the start of their professional lives. Each designer successfully managed to showcase two different outfits that used golden-age actresses as a beacon of inspiration.
Daily news Egypt met five of this year’s freshest talents; Randa Torky, Norhan El-Sakkout, Nora Radwan, Bassant Rafaat and Nour El-Sawaf, along with their instructor Waleed Khairy to discuss the industry’s flaws, challenges and future.
As young designers why did you settle on the 50s as your theme?
Khairy: Any fashion show starts with a theme that the designer follows. Our theme was the Divas, which were four stars Faten Hamama, Hend Roustom, Naema Akef and Souad Housny. The theme was the broad line that designers used as a reference for their work. The 50s were the golden age of the local fashion industry. Therefore, we wanted to bring back this sense of fashion, yet with a modern twist.
What fascinated you the most about the golden–age stars?
Raafat: The four stars and their personal style were extremely interesting. The patterns, for example, are not used anymore now.
El-Sakkout: Personally, what interested me the most was how each one of us interpreted these stars through a new and different design. Our main goal was to use those stars as an inspiration, yet avoid creating anything that looks outdated.
How far does Egypt support young designers?
El-Sakkout: Very little! Fashion designing has always been my passion. Nonetheless, I have always been trying to find the right place. The problem was either the course was very expensive or the syllabus itself wasn’t strong enough to help you pursue your journey afterwards.
Torky: I plan on starting my line soon. However I have zero support, I am on my own!
El-Sakkout: My only backup system is here, whether the instructors or the students that I have met, these are the people I rely on. I have a small community here, and a workshop downstairs that can help me whenever I am in need.
El-Sawaf: I have been in this industry for around three years. By now, I have my own style and path. However, I came to realise that we do not even get support from the clients themselves. Sometimes, you cannot be as creative as you want, because the average audience will not wear this. People prefer normal and wearable garments.
Raafat: People who can afford to buy the made by order garments are very limited. Once you can get to this certain social class, you can consider yourself successful.
Fabrics and materials are not easily found in Egypt, where do you get your fabrics from?
El-Sakkout: You cannot find everything in Egypt. However, it all revolves around the designer’s limited way of thinking. Some of the young designers amazingly manage to use sofa and curtain fabrics for clothes. We have a lot of options even though we lack the kind of variety available abroad.
Raafat: By the way, all of the fabrics here are imported. The only local materials made in Egypt are cottons. The rest of the fabrics are neither the best nor the cheapest. If you have the opportunity to buy fabrics from the US, for example, you will find that it will only cost a bit more in exchange for a much higher and better quality.
How inclusive is the specialised education in Egypt – is it enough to start an independent fashion line?
Torky: You will never feel educated enough; anything that you learn will only leave you yearning for more. However, I know enough to start a line.
El-Sakkout: I have enough resources to start my line; I have the needed support, the courses I have studied helped me learn a lot of things, such as the right kind of fabrics. The fashion show helped me experience the work backstage, the fitting and the day itself showcased the reality of runways in Egypt.
Raafat: There are some basics that most of courses leave out. It all depends on your luck – whether you meet someone who tells you about these little key details or not. Some things come out of experience rather than text books.
El-Sawaf: Education is 25% of what you can learn outside the school. Work helps you obtain experience that can come out of dealing with the tailor or the client.
Radwan: I have been through two fashion shows now; each one taught me a lot of things. The mistakes I did in the first show helped me develop in my second show.
Do older designers support upcoming talents?
El-Sakkout: The local industry is not very closely-knit, I wish there would be more ties and connections in the future.
Torky: Older designers want someone who can add to them. They want someone who can help them rather than them giving us the needed help.
Khairy: Established designers have different directions however most of the big designers need newer ideas from the young talents. Therefore, they hire these fresh designers to make use of their ideas without giving them any public credit. On the other hand, someone like Marie Louis Bishara, lead designer and owner of BTM, works hand in hand with several institutions such as the FDC and the Ministry of Industry and Foreign Trade to support the young designers and help them export their work. She also tries to link these designers with the mega factories here in Egypt. These factories for example supply jeans for Jack and Jones globally, however, the designs and materials are not Egyptian we only cut and sew the stitches. Bishara is working on linking the new designers and the factories’ owners to give them a chance to design to the biggest names in the world such as Calvin Klein, which is a win-win situation.
Which designers do you believe would make valuable teachers?
El-Sakkout: Interning and apprenticeships are not a popular concept in Egypt. We have enough experienced designers who can create a valuable training period. These designers can help us learn fundamental basics of design which can only be taught through experience.
Raafat: Yasmine Yehia has her own style. I do not know her personally, yet her work shows how unique and independent she is.
El-Sakkout: Dina Saied from Nana’s Closet. She is under the radar, however I met her couple of years ago when she first started, and I still do follow her work until today, and the progress she has accomplished is impressive.
Torky: In Egypt, it is hard to find someone creative enough. The majority of the designers copy others. I want to learn from somebody with a new and fresh mentality.
What does the local industry need the most?
Khairy: We have such a great history that can be used as a reference. However, up until today, no one has used it correctly. Each governorate has a different style yet we do not use this diversity well.
Raafat: The raw materials are what impress the audience the most. Fabrics do make all the difference. It is very difficult to work with the available materials solely.
El-Sakkout: A friend of mine is a buyer in Milan, and according to her our main problem is that Egyptian ready-to-wear designs are usually things that could be easily found in high-street stores such as Zara and H&M.
Khairy: The media itself does not support the designers or the industry; on the contrary, it follows the stars and the actresses attending the shows for the business side of the process.
If Cairo Fashion Week came true, do you think the young talents will be included?
El-Sakkout: Right now, we will not have a slot. No one out-sources designers in Egypt; I am only aware of one project that sort of sources young talents.
Raafat: There is only Fashionology, which is powered by the FDC and the Ministry of Industry and Foreign Trade, and Fashion Clash that depends on young unknown designers.
El-Sakkout: It would be great if us the students be considered. The London College of Fashion participates in London Fashion Week every year, it is a known thing that the fresh graduates do have a show every year during the week, and each student provides a complete collection.
Where do you see the fashion scene five years from now?
Torky: It is getting way better. People are starting to support the unique and extraordinary kind of designs. There would still be copiers, however the clients themselves are beginning to support creativity.
El-Sakkout: People’s awareness is rapidly increasing worldwide, not just in Egypt. People want to look different and artistic, which would reflect on us positively. Maybe the change is slow, however it is great. In five years, the now considered young designers will be established and amidst the competition.