Comfort is key in Egyptian designer Amina’s dresses

Updated 21 October 2016

Comfort is key in Egyptian designer Amina’s dresses

For someone from the younger generation, the mention of Egyptian designs brings to mind clothing items or jewelry embellished with old Pharaonic influence, or some oriental patterns that could be found in the old souks of the famous Khan Al-Khalili market. But this is not true in anyway. Egypt is the first and the biggest country in the region to pioneer textile manufacturing using the best cotton and linens that are cultivated in its lands. It comes as no surprise that a country as big, diverse and culture rich as Egypt now has an army of promising young fashion designers, who are making good use of both Egypt’s extensive culture and heritage, and the fine fabrics and resources that they can find in abundance.
Designer and founder of the Egyptian brand Amina K., Amina Khalil is a working mother who was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. She then moved to London to study Fashion Design and Marketing in AIU, followed by a two-year internship at Diane Von Furstenberg, and intense fashion courses at LFC and Central Saint Martins. She is one of the few (ready-to-wear) Egyptian fashion designers who started their careers at a very young age, which is why she has 12 collections already by the age of 31.
She started simultaneously at the time international fashion brands invaded the capital Cairo, and although branded clothing was much sought after then, many fashion-forward people knew that the key to looking stylish is to stand out by mixing and matching local designers with high-end and high-street brands.
We got to sit and talk with Amina, and ask her a few questions about being a fashion entrepreneur in Egypt.

How did you get into the world of fashion design?
I always knew I wanted to study and work in fashion ever since I was 10. Everything I did lead me to where I am now. After I showcased my graduation collection in London the feedback was very encouraging, which pushed me to start my own brand and one thing lead to another.

How was the reaction to your first collection?
It was very positive, people were excited to see something new and Egyptian. They wanted something ethnic and original but wearable and fashionable at the same time.

You started with abayas and kaftans and then shifted to ready-to-wear, why? And do you plan on going back to designing abayas?
It was always my intention to have a ready-to-wear brand. Actually, my first collection had the full range. I started with a bit more ethnic in terms of styles and fabric. It was a natural development for me as a designer and a brand. I wanted to start showing different sides of Amina K. and not put myself in a corner. I will always try to stay true to the Amina K. brand identity but I am currently enjoying the creative freedom of experimenting and developing the collection.

You have 12 collections so far, how different is each collection from the other?
Each collection has a different theme and concept behind it so naturally they are different but I believe some elements are still the same, they develop but don’t change.

You always find your inspiration in Egyptian culture and heritage, will you continue doing that, or will you be searching for another inspiration?
I am trying to merge different cultures and themes. For example, SS’16 was inspired by Islamic tiles, which were not only found in Egypt. I am now finding inspiration in other cultures as well. I like to keep an open mind, anything can inspire me.

What are the fabrics you love and feel comfortable working with?
Cotton, viscose, chiffon, gabardine and woven knits.

What is your personal style, and do you design all of your clothes?
My style is very basic, mainly jeans, shirt or t-shirt, and sneakers or ankle boots. I like to layer and mix things up but comfort is key in my lifestyle. I wear Amina K. a lot and enjoy incorporating it with other brands to make it look different. I like to show how wearable and comfortable it is. At night I like to dress up and glam it up. It is fun to put some effort sometimes, it makes you feel good to look good.

What are your favorite collections? And are there any pieces that are close to your heart?
A lot of them are very special to me but some more than others, such as, SS’14 ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, FW’14’Urban Chic’, FW’12 ‘Shifting Gears’, and now SS’16 ‘Prints of the Orient’. I love to wear our winter biker jackets and vests, as well as our maxi floral pieces from the summer collections and wrap jumpsuits.

How do you see the fashion scene in Egypt? And how is it different from that in other Middle Eastern countries?
It is definitely growing, we have more designers, models, stylists, bloggers, etc. than ever before. But I feel most designers are focusing on evening wear as opposed to ready-to-wear. I still feel Egyptians are not shopping locally as they should do or at least from local brands. People are still more inclined to shop from international retailers and brands. Egyptian designers must work on perfecting their products in order to catch up with international competition.

What is so unique about your designs?
I would say the way we mix colors, prints and fabrics. We also always have a handmade feature and we work with local workers on their handicrafts. This gives a uniqueness to the brand and a personal touch. Details and finishes are extremely important to us.

Who from the international scene would Amina K. brand wish to collaborate with?
Azza Fahmy, of course.

Which celebs would you want sporting your brand?
Locally, Lara Scandar and actress Amina Khalil. Internationally, the list is endless, Blake Lively, Olivia Palermo, Beyonce, etc.

Tell us about your recent collection.
For this Spring/Summer ‘16 collection, the theme emerged from the desire to revive the Egyptian fashion scene during the late 20s to 40s, which was greatly influenced by the British culture of dress and decorum. This collection is a fusion between the Oriental dress-code and European finesse portrayed by infusing modern designs with ethnic flavor, and oriental silhouettes with western aesthetic. Garments were designed mainly with the notion to provide the wearer ease and comfort, which is imperative for the modern lifestyle, thus using light-weight fabrics and nonrestrictive shapes.

What is the design process like for Amina K.?
We start by researching themes and concepts, techniques and silhouettes, as well as the color pallet. We start sketching, and move on to sampling and draping, which takes quite a while. We also source the fabric in parallel, fabric selection is extremely important. Once the final sample is ready we do a final production sample and we move the style into production. It is an intense process because we recently started designing our own fabric prints so we are involved in every single detail.

What are your upcoming projects for 2017?
We just launched our online store and are very excited to start pushing it and entering new markets through it.

What advice do you have for those following your footsteps?
Gain as much work experience as you can in the fashion industry before starting your own brand. It is not an easy path and requires very hard work, dedication and extreme passion. Research the market very well and make sure you can provide something no one else can.

Meet Aya Barqawi, the Saudi-born social media star

Updated 18 August 2019

Meet Aya Barqawi, the Saudi-born social media star

  • Barqawi promotes what she calls ‘high-street fashion’
  • Barqawi’s Instagram posts are designed with digital frames to add a unique touch to her content

DUBAI: Between the luxurious fashion statements and international runways, Palestinian-Jordanian Aya Barqawi continues to inspire her followers with thousands of on-budget styles.

“I always try to make people feel inclusive. I want to end this intimidation that comes with fashion,” the Saudi-born blogger told Arab News.

Barqawi promotes what she calls “high-street fashion” and finds the challenge of adapting to international trends “fun.”

“I am looking for new ways to make trends work for me,” she said. “You just need a little bit of creativity and imagination.”

Like many women her age with similar passions, the 24-year-old was unable to study fashion in college because of a lack of opportunity in the Middle East. Now, as a design graduate, she incorporates her field of study with a social media career.

Barqawi’s Instagram posts are designed with digital frames to add a unique touch to her content. “Studying design helped me shape my visual identity on Instagram because I do a lot of graphic work on my photos. It makes it easier for me to create digital content,” she said.

The stylist also worked as a fashion photographer for a brand in Berlin. “I never thought they would pick me over people who are actually from Berlin, who were actually German,” she said. “But my work spoke for itself.”

Barqawi is always looking to motivate other women. “No matter what the field of work you are in, never underestimate yourself. Never second-guess yourself and never compromise your standards for anyone or anything,” she said.

The fashion blogger has also worked in media as a TV producer and segment producer. “I have done digital, I have done TV, so now I am just open to anything that comes my way,” she said.