From an early age, Fatma Ghaly was exposed to a world full of silver and gold. Being born to a jeweller only meant consecutive journeys to Khan El-Khalili and long hours spent among precious stones. If a diamond is a girl’s best friend, then fine jewellery has always been Ghaly’s companion.
The promising young girl grew to be a renowned business development specialist, with an impressive record of international awards and recognitions. Ghaly is one of the few local figures who managed to take a home-grown brand to the international frontier.
Today, Ghaly, alongside her sister Amina and mother Azza Fahmy, is a true Egyptian ambassador after giving the local heritage a modern appeal to deliver it to the global audience.
Daily News Egypt conversed with the entrepreneur about the technicalities of taking a local brand to the international market and the importance of such a grand leap.
Tell us more about your newest collection, “Third Eye on the Universe”.
Third eye on the universe is designed by my sister Amina Ghaly, our main designer. Amina works very closely with trend setters worldwide. They monitor everything going around from art, design, music, etc. It can also be influenced by politics or films. One of the trends she came across was the third eye on the universe. She started as early as January 2013, as a normal collection needs an average of three months before being launched to the market. Right before its official launching, the collection was picked by Mathew Williamson to exclusively show on his runway show, which was great for both of us. The collection is set to be available in stores by next week.
How was it designed for a foreign market, and what is it trying to convey?
When we design, we do not really pick a local or a foreign market. Instead we target our audience. We cannot neglect our local market, after all they are our base and at the same time they are a global audience. At the same time, we cannot design something that is not related to our soul and character. We make sure not to lose what Azza Fahmy is really about. So this collection is like others, and has a fashion line which focuses on global trends while staying true to Azza Fahmy’s soul. “Third Eye on the Universe” is an 18-piece collection with several stories. For example, “The Key of Life” is a continuation of our previous Pharonic collection, whilst “The hand of Fatima” is a local symbol that represents our culture, and at the same time has a global presence as we see it everywhere such as Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdales in London. Amina basically chose several stories under one umbrella.
What challenges do designing for certain collaboration add?
Collaborations are exceptions; they are about bringing together two different minds, two different designers. However, whatever we design, we make sure not to lose our character; it does not have to be straight forward, it can be one of our signatures such as mixing gold and silver, our selection of stones or our handmade motifs. You have to identify the piece as an Azza Fahmy piece. If you lose your soul you lose your competitive edge and character as a designer.
What kind of leap did Azza Fahmy take in order to go international?
It is a combination of things actually, but we can break it down into two main factors which are Exposure and Collaborations. With Azza Fahmy, it started before the recent international interest, very early back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Azza Fahmy used to participate in international exhibitions, which got her global attention and exposure. At the same time, we have had several collaborations, not just with designers but also with the London Museum in addition to the collaborations done through the Design Studio, such as the project with Alchimia, the Italian design school. Walking the same line, we constantly need to study our online presence as it helped us get in touch with international costumers and learn who to target and where to expand.
How did being available in London affect your brand?
Being available in London is all about exposure. Our relationship with the UK started way earlier, as Azza Fahmy got her education in London right after leaving Khan El-Khalily. Also, Amina studied at the University of Birmingham, so the relationship does go way back and it makes great sense for us to be available there. London is a cosmopolitan city that gives us the chance to understand a larger group of costumers. Exposure is great as it makes you stronger. Being international gives you strength, as you not only cater for one kind of audience, but on the contrary you cater for several other clients. International exposure also sets your level of quality as it makes you acquire a certain level of packaging, service and manufacturing. As for your customers, it gives them extra assurance that you are successful everywhere not just locally.
How truly beneficial is participating in London fashion Week (LFW)?
Participating in LFW gives you design front. It pushes your boundaries because, as I mentioned earlier, collaborations bring two talents and heads together which help the two sides reinvent themselves. From a business side, such experience makes you push yourself to the edge. As you enter a new market and work on positioning yourself and accessing new clients. For example, the latest collaboration with Mathew Williamson gave us a peak at the London market. We have always been interested in the British market while Mathew wanted to get to the Arab and gulf market; Mathew helped us penetrate to the British market and we did the same for him in the region.
What makes Dubai’s market special? How did it reflect on your brand?
Dubai has an interesting mix of being an Arab hub and an international market. It is a cosmopolitan city where you meet all kinds of clients. We should admit that it is the shopping capital of the region. The city’s market includes Arab clients who want heavy and ethnic pieces with motifs and calligraphy, as well as European customers who are searching for dainty, everyday pieces. Every designer should aim for Dubai as it is rapidly becoming one of the fastest growing capitals in the world. We are currently focusing on Dubai and London and we are planning to expand there.
What does it take to expand internationally and why is it so important?
Before heading international, it is very important to have a strong product which is relevant before entering a new market because that is the foundation of your brand. Afterwards, you need to do a lot of market research because it is a different market and you have to fully understand it before venturing into it. You need to understand the clients, who are they? What do they need? How to talk to them? Also you need to understand your positioning, are you a high-street or luxury good brand? Understanding yourself is very fundamental. It is like going into a river that can get you lost if you do not know who you are and where you are heading. For example, if you are a high-end brand and you get the chance of being displayed in a high-street shop that would be good on the financial side but bad for your positioning, you should know enough in order to make your decision.
Do Egyptian brands face more or less challenges internationally?
I would not say Egyptian brands in particular. Of course, it is easier if you come from Paris or any other fashion capital. But again is it just as challenging to all the rest. Whether it is an Indian or Thai brand they all face the same challenges before being able to penetrate the international market.
Where do you plan to expand next and why did you choose this market in particular?
Our main focus now is particularly Dubai and London. However that does not mean that we are not working on international distribution elsewhere, we are already available in Italy for instance. But when I say our main focus is London and Dubai, I mean we are putting both time and effort in these particular markets.