CAIRO: Ramla is a colloquial Egyptian word for sand. It is also the name of a new artisanal shoe brand taking Cairo by storm.
“The word ‘Ramla’ has an Egyptian essence. It invokes memories of the beach,” the brand’s founder, Reem Alaa Hamed — an architect and interior designer — told Arab News. “From an architectural perspective, sand is an important construction material that goes into the making of almost everything.”
Founded by Hamed in June 2017, Ramla is an ethical brand of effortlessly chic leather mules, convertible loafers, sandals and slippers. Hamed prides herself on offering entirely Egyptian-made products, sporting handmade silk tassels, sarma embroidery and/or fine fabrics, to mention just a few product highlights. The online store is proving increasingly popular in Cairo, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Italy.
The 27-year-old designer had spent the years leading up to founding Ramla in Florence, Italy, getting hands-on experience at a workshop specializing in customizable handmade artisanal men’s shoes, while simultaneously pursuing an MA in Luxury Business, before returning to Egypt.
Hamed’s introduction to the leather industry took place even earlier, after completing her BA in Interior and Architecture Design, also in Florence, where she spent some time working as a product developer for a number of retail luxury brands.
Back in Egypt, and working full-time as an architect, Hamed considered drawing on her expertise to create a new shoe brand. She mulled it over for a bit and settled on designing “comfortable, simple and fun women’s shoes.”
“I always went to after-work gatherings feeling I was a bit too formal for this more laid-back part of my day,” she said. “I wanted to create something elegant and borderline casual. Shoes I could easily slip into, anytime and anywhere.”
Ramla’s debut collection came out in June 2017. It was created from materials she had picked herself, handcrafted by Egyptian artisans under Hamed’s instruction. The collection consisted of a “Timeless” line of black mules and a “Tropical” line of more vivid ones, all paired with colorful tassels.
“I had two types of women in mind while conceptualizing these designs; the formal woman with a classic style versus the more casual and arts-y one,” she explained.
Ramla quickly began creating an online buzz, and Hamed was invited to exhibit some of her work at the Dubai Fashion Forum in October 2017.
For her winter collection, Hamed brought in her passion for architecture, creating items inspired by what she described as the architectural notions of “subtracting, adding and moving.” It included unusual V-shaped slip-ons with lines inspired by architecture, as well as a selection of low and high heels.
“I still had the same vision of creating comfy and simple designs, nothing extravagant. Except that the mule changed into a slip-on and was more of an evening thing now.”
Eager to further expand and experiment, Hamed went on to incorporate serma, a hand embroidery technique practiced in Upper Egypt, into the winter collection.
The buzz only grew louder and Hamed was soon invited to collaborate with Maya, a Kuwaiti eco-friendly brand, on a seasonal home collection; the outcome of which was a successful pop-up event held last April in Kuwait.
Hamed’s fascination with — and interest in reviving — the art of serma inspired her most recent SS’18 palazzo serma collection; which is also inspired by architecture. Eager to keep the summer spirit alive, Hamed introduced vegetable-dyed leather slippers and sandals to give the customer “a new kind of fun shoe.”
The young designer is currently working on her next winter collection, again inspired by “pure architecture, with a ‘belonging’ theme and exhibiting a mix of materials — all the while maintaining Ramla’s identity.”
“It’s comfy, it’s classic, it’s everyday,” Hamed said.