The MENA fashion designers dressing up social causes

Updated 24 August 2019

The MENA fashion designers dressing up social causes

  • How designers in the MENA region are making a different kind of fashion statement
  • The ethical fashion movement is spreading to the Middle East and North Africa

CAIRO: Fashion is about far more than just trendy outfits. The growing demand for ethical clothing is one example of how designers are seeking to leave a legacy beyond the runway.

The ethical fashion movement is spreading to the Middle East and North Africa. Recent initiatives include Talahum by UAE-based designer Aiisha Ramadan, who created coats that transform into sleeping bags for disadvantaged and refugee communities living without proper shelter.

In 2016, Cairo hosted ICanSurvive, an event to commemorate World Cancer Day. As part of the project, 32 cancer survivors were paired with fashion designers to help them create the outfit of
a lifetime.

“I consider this to be one of my biggest achievements,” said Egyptian couturier Ahmed Nabil, 28, one of the volunteers at ICanSurvive. “I still can’t let go of the moment I saw her crying from happiness when she got to wear her outfit at the event.”

Though a transformational experience for Nabil, this was not his first attempt at thought-provoking designs. He was only 23 when he launched his company, Nob Designs, in 2014 to begin a journey of exploration by designing clothes for unconventional causes and experimental concepts.

The company sells a diverse set of fashion pieces with designs that aim to inspire conversation. Nabil’s creations are much like art pieces at a gallery, but instead of being displayed on canvas, they are exhibited on t-shirts, tops, dresses and abayas.

His latest collection combines street fashion inspired by underground culture with Arabic calligraphy. The Halal Project endeavors to blur the lines between conservative and edgy to demonstrate that fashion designs can be accessible to anyone.

“It’s all about the idea of accepting one another regardless of differences,” Nabil said. “My main aim for this project is a call for all people to peacefully coexist.”

Nabil added that the shift towards tolerance is not something that just the general public needs to work on. Fashion designers themselves are sometimes biased in their perceptions.

Many millennial designers, particularly in Egypt, remain wary of exploring modest fashion, despite the trend’s rising popularity. Sometimes it is because they want to avoid defining themselves as conservative instead of being considered modern and trendy.

Fellow Egyptian designer Sara Elemary, who has been running her Sara Elemary Designs label for nearly a decade, agrees.

“Modesty is a big thing in Egypt. I can’t understand why they are neglecting it,” she said. “A woman doesn’t have to be in a headscarf to wear modest clothing. There are so many famous designers for whom modesty plays a big role in
their work.”

Meanwhile, events such as Dubai Modest Fashion Week have been promoting the concept and encouraging budding designers in the region to consider this trending domain.

“I believe that there’s a problem with modest fashion, but over the past two years, that issue has started to diminish as designers have incorporated more modest designs in their collections,” Nabil said.

The next step for him is getting into the couture domain with his long-awaited project, Nob Couture. The look of the new collection is still a mystery, but he seems determined to continue sending messages and starting discussions through his designs, which he said are inspired by his life experiences.

As for designers in the region, the time is ripe for them to start supporting the causes they believe in through their work. Whatever topic or fashion style they decide to pursue, they need to be fearless in triggering conversation in the Arab world with their creations.


Regional designers wow the front row at LFW

Omani label Atelier Zuhra found new ways to update denimwear. (Getty Images)
Updated 16 September 2019

Regional designers wow the front row at LFW

DUBAI: Emirati designer Ahmed Khyeli showed off his ethereal new collection at London Fashion Week on Sunday, just before British-Afghani designer Osman Yousefzada and Omani label Atelier Zuhra showcased their latest lines on Monday.

Yousefzada’s eponymous label OSMAN staged a showcase of the designer’s dreamy Spring/Summer 2020 collection, complete with frothy tulle, vibrant jungle prints and more structured, belted two-piece outfits in bright pastel shades.

Atelier Zuhra — the brainchild of designer Rayan Al-Sulaimani and entrepreneur Mousa Al-Awfi — put on a show of denim creations. Splattered with what looked like cracked white paint and underlain with delicate white tulle, the Omani fashion house found new ways to update denimwear.

Emirati designer Ahmed Khyeli showed off his ethereal new collection at London Fashion Week. (Getty Images)

For his part, London-based Khyeli wowed the front row with a sneak peak of his Spring/Summer 2020 line, full of dramatic silhouettes in a much lighter color palette that the rich dark shades the designer has become known for.

Although the collection still featured a smattering of midnight blacks, hot salmon pinks, milky pea greens and nude shades were out in full force.

A feathered white ballgown and matching jacket was the main event at the show, with its decadent cascading feathers and sweetheart neckline. Peek-a-boo cutouts, tiny sequins and tightly rouched material also made appearances in the collection.

Khyeli is no stranger to spotlight and his designs have been worn by some of the entertainment industry’s leading ladies.

In March, makeup mogul Kylie Jenner sported a daring ensemble by the designer for a photoshoot.

 Ahmed Khyeli presented a sneak peak of his Spring/Summer 2020 line. (Getty Images)

The 21-year-old, who was recently named the youngest ever self-made billionaire by Forbes, wore a custom-made gown by Khyeli.

The dramatic black minidress featured a frilled train running up the side along with an oversized, ruffled collar.

Lady Gaga took to the Jimmy Kimmel Live TV show in early March to talk about her 2019 Oscar win while wearing a gown by Khyeli.

The beaded tulle gown, with a swimsuit-style bodice and strappy shoulders, hailed from the label’s Spring 2019 collection and, according to the fashion house, took more than 200 hours to embroider by hand.