Walk this way: Arab shoe designers snap up celebrity fans

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From Ashley Graham to Emily Ratajkowski, footwear labels from the region are earning celebrity fans. (AFP)
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From Ashley Graham to Emily Ratajkowski, footwear labels from the region are earning celebrity fans. (AFP)
Updated 08 June 2019

Walk this way: Arab shoe designers snap up celebrity fans

  • Lebanese shoe designer Andrea Wazen is known for her high-quality, handmade footwear created in Beirut
  • The up-and-coming label is known for its bright hues and razor-thin stiletto heels

DUBAI: Well-heeled celebrities from around the world have been sporting shoes by Arab designers as of late — from Kylie Jenner to model Emily Ratajkowski, there’s no shortage of famous fans when it comes to footwear labels from the region.

Last week, Ratajkowski showed off a pair of tan mules by Lebanese shoe designer Andrea Wazen, known for her high-quality, handmade footwear created in Beirut.

The model posed for photographs at a polo event in New Jersey wearing the simple Gloria mules by the Lebanese designer.

“When your ultimate girl crush wears your shoes,” the designer captioned a photo of the model, who paired the shoes with a fitted pencil skirt and orange crop top.

Wazen, whose sister is fashion influencer Karen Wazen, also saw her shoes worn by model Ashley Graham last week.

Graham wore a pair of slinky black heels with clear PVC accents to the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards ceremony, held last week.

The shoes, called the Dassy PVC pumps, accessorized a custom-made Christian Siriano dress, with puffed sleeves and a form-fitting silhouette.

“In custom @csiriano for the @cfda awards feeling like I just walked out of a fabulous Alfred Hitchcock film, darling!” Graham captioned a snap of her outfit on Instagram.

Wazen isn’t the only designer from the region to earn herself celebrity fans lately. Jordanian-Romanian shoe designer Amina Muaddi has also been in the spotlight, with the likes of Kylie and Kendall Jenner, Rihanna and British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley showing off her heels in recent weeks.

Kylie boasted a pair of the Lupita glass slippers at the launch of her new skincare line, Kylie Skin, at the end of May, while her older sister Kendall finished off a skin-tight minidress with the Gilda rainbow sandals while in Cannes.

Back in April, beauty mogul Rihanna was spotted in New York — reportedly out and about with her Saudi beau Hassan Jameel — wearing a black coat with strappy white sandals by Muaddi, while Huntington-Whiteley has been an avid fan for quite some time and regularly takes to Instagram to show off Muaddi’s latest designs.

The up-and-coming label is known for its bright hues and razor-thin stiletto heels that often widen out into a squared block at the base of the heel. 


Sustainable shoes that empower artisans and students

Updated 14 August 2020

Sustainable shoes that empower artisans and students

  • Ammar Belal’s ONE432 is revitalizing traditional jutti footwear

DUBAI: Equality and symmetry find a firm footing in the design ethos of ONE432, a sustainable shoe brand based in the US, Pakistan and the UAE. The brand sells hand-sewn juttis — a traditional footwear style from Pakistan and India that dates back more than 400 years — and empowers its artisans by giving them a share of profits from each product sold on top of their wages.

Founded by Ammar Belal, a professor at the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York, ONE432 follows an ‘equal share design’ philosophy that makes local craftsmen shareholders in the product’s success. A part of the brand’s earnings also contribute to sponsoring children's education in Pakistan.

Ammar Belal with schoolchildren in Pakistan. (Supplied)

“Most craftspeople in Pakistan have little or no formal education, which is a barrier to their social and financial mobility. They have valuable skills but very little influence in the global fashion industry,” Belal tells Arab News. “This is exactly what we are trying to dismantle by choosing a different business model that ensures that the makers are uplifted in a meaningful way along with the success of the company they work with. We keep only 50 percent of our profit and share the remaining with our artisans and the schools that we support.”

ONE432 was born out of Belal’s graduate thesis collection at Parsons’ MFA Fashion programme. The brand’s debut collection was presented at New York Fashion Week in 2014, after which Belal was immediately recruited to teach at the school. 

The designer spent three years refashioning the jutti — ornate footwear once popular among royals during the Mughal Empire — to give it a contemporary, comfortable and sustainable look. Each pair of shoes is hand-crafted and takes at least eight hours to make. During the COVID-19 pandemic, as shoe sales dipped, the company has diversified and trained its artisans to stitch hoodies and T-shirts.

ONE432 was born out of Belal’s graduate thesis collection at Parsons’ MFA Fashion programme. (Supplied)

Besides its online store, the brand has a presence in several US retail outlets, and Belal says he is in discussions with a number of other American stores and “a few” in Dubai.

The brand is currently supporting three schools in rural areas in Pakistan, enrolling underprivileged children. “Each product is linked to a specific education-related goal, from sponsoring tuition fees to building new classrooms. We try to meet the most pressing needs of the school,” says Belal. “To date we have shared over $16,000 from our profits with our schools and artisans.”

Belal hopes ONE432 might prove a blueprint for more equality and sustainability in the fashion industry. “The brand was born from a place of empathy,” he says. “My graduate programme gave me an opportunity to pause and reflect on what it meant for me to be an artist and what my contribution would be. I did not want to make another set of really pretty clothes just for the sake of it. I wanted to explore and confront this behemoth of a machine that is the fashion industry and how it incorporates or disenfranchises different stakeholders based on who they are.”

Ammar Belal with artisan Arshad. (Supplied)

In keeping with the brand’s goals, it sources its material responsibly. “Our denim is upcycled from panels that are thrown away after the colour testing process from factories. The cotton is recycled and woven on a handloom, then coloured with vegetable dyes. The embroidery is all done by hand,” says Belal.

The juttis are crafted by a team of seven artisans based in Pakistan. The fourth-generation master craftsmen also mentor young apprentices, including women, to keep the traditional shoemaking method alive.

“Traditionally, women were excluded from cobbling, but we are changing that paradigm by employing women in managerial positions who help create a working environment in which other women also feel comfortable and safe,” says Belal.