Like a surgeon, a trench coat absorbs the spotlight ahead and interacts with her frantic hands, dissecting and reassembling a design that many women know by heart. Her trained eyes can seemingly spot the unexpected similarities between a sleeve and a belt.
Sooner or later, a shirt obediently follows her instructions to morph into a skirt. Meanwhile, a blazer can become an inseparable companion of a coat. With few craftsmen scattered across the room, she leads her personal beehive through a contentiously shifting industry.
Dina Shaker is Egypt’s connoisseur of deconstructed fashion and unexpected silhouettes. Over the course of 15 years, her brand has become one of the early home-grown ready-to-wear labels that cater to women with strong character. Her most recent collection is a celebration of every woman’s trusted classic pieces.
“Recomposed Classics is a reinterpretation of well-known pieces, which could be found in any woman’s wardrobe. The main goal was to dissect these items before putting them together once again,” said the designer.
Despite being the only one specialised in this form of fashion reshuffling, her aesthetic is evidently becoming a global trend with many designers embracing few of her favourite details.
Sleeve belts have become a well-known emblem of Shaker’s brand. She started with classic blazer sleeves a few seasons ago then developed into borrowing a few elements from the denim jacket, especially the sleeves, for her previous collection. “I try to update my brand all the time. Now that everyone is doing the sleeve belt, my challenge is to maintain it, yet, with new interpretations,” said Shaker.
The designer’s desire to stay ahead of the curve is something that she shares with many well-known global icons of design. With customers bored of expected garments, more people are starting to embrace progressive designs for their everyday occasions.
“Fast fashion has wasted a lot of creative concepts as well as the designers’ tremendous effort. By the time the fashion show ends, high-street stores instantly showcase a replica of the same designs. Accordingly, designers are obliged to think years ahead,” explained Shaker regarding the progressive fashion forecast nowadays.
With that said, Shaker believes that production is the most difficult phase in creating any collection. As someone who is often seen with a notepad sketching ideas on the go, she finds herself investing the majority of her effort and time in manufacturing.
“Local craftsmen are very limited in number. My team is quite small; nonetheless, working on new concepts that they have never seen before makes them regard themselves as revolutionaries.” The designer added, “time is always a pressuring factor; we are obliged to work on two different timelines, one for the local market and another—one year ahead—for exhibitions abroad.”
As the world follows a hectic calendar of six seasons, Egypt only focuses on two. Therefore, Shaker believes that working in the local market has taught her multitasking. Learning from her experience, she defines her brand as a small business that has to be quite selective in terms of supply and demand in order not to suffocate under pressure.
With that said, the designer identifies foreign orders as the most organised and planned. The strong knowledge of customers makes international stores and buyers capable of accurately assessing their needs ahead of a season.
On the other hand, designers are put under the burden of limited funds when targeting the local market. “When you get an order from a foreign exhibition, you also receive a down payment with which you can start your production. However, we do not have the same concept here in Egypt,” explained Shaker.
The current retailing system depends on consignment agreements, which require designers to fund and manufacture an entire inventory without tangible projections of sales, hence keeping many brands from growing.
Simultaneously, the lack of international department stores in Egypt has always been a challenge for many up and coming designers. The local market is highly influenced by international fashion brands as indicated by the seasonal sales reports. Meanwhile, local designers are often asked to prove themselves in terms of quality and creativity.
“Local consumers think less of local brands. They are not willing to pay as much as they do for international labels. As a matter of fact, I sell my designs abroad for higher prices, because unfortunately in Egypt, the common clientele will not invest such budgets in a home-grown piece of garment,” indicated the designer.
As a designer that has been in the market for long enough to have her strong base of resources, Shaker is quite familiar with the challenges newer designers face on a daily basis in an attempt to maintain their eponymous labels. While many influencers and agencies believe in the power of social media, the designer’s experience tends to confirm the contrary.
“Local brands do need real support, not hashtags and social media campaigns. We need public awareness regarding the economic importance of fashion. People need to understand that each piece of garment is a direct source of income for many local families,” shaker explained. “Fashion design is not only a form of art. It is an industry with many interlaced factors. A lot of designers are keen on having strong social media presence. But where is the product? Where can I find it? Who is wearing it?”
While reaching a satisfactory level of demand and sustaining it is an ongoing challenge, local supply is not any easier, especially after the most recent economic changes. With the currency fluctuating earlier last year, many suppliers have decided to increase their prices suddenly and without a measurable percentage.
“During last season, I had to pay different prices for the same piece of fabric over the duration of a few weeks. I remember not accepting certain fabrics before the fluctuation, now I just take them due to the new prices and evident shortage of options,” said the designer with a troublesome expression.
According to Shaker, materials such as lining fabrics and shoulder padding are nowhere to be found because suppliers refuse to import them based on the new taxes and customs. In parallel, local craftsmanship is dying rapidly. The average age of manufacturers is currently above 50, meaning that in time, the current generation of craftsmen would mark the end of this local craft.
“Back when I first started, each craftsman used to have a young assistant shadowing him and learning during the process. However, nowadays the new generation is not interested in learning this skill. Instead, they are keener to drive a tok-tok; flexible hours and higher wage,” explained the designer regarding her constant search for talents to train.
Supported by her deep understanding of the local market and industry, Shaker believes that all solutions could be generated by the collaborative effort of those who care about this industry. While social media might not offer instant solutions, incubators could help designers and craftsmen grow simultaneously.