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All You Need to Know About the Inaugural Egypt Fashion Week By EFDC Co-Founder Susan Sabet

Egyptian designer Mina Tahir. Photo: Francesco Scotti

The Egyptian Fashion and Design Council (EFDC) has announced the launch of the inaugural Egypt Fashion Week (EFW). Taking place from May 12 to 15, 2023 the event will be themed ‘Past, Present & Future’ and will pay homage to Egypt’s rich heritage and civilization.

This celebration of Egyptian identity will be marked by a commitment to showing the world Egypt’s present – creatives, craftsmen, and industry leaders who are forging the contemporary fashion scene – while honoring its past and looking towards a future that merges centuries of knowledge with modernity. The EFDC also hopes that the event will be a conduit of connection between the local, African, and Middle Eastern markets through design, craftsmanship, education, sustainability, production, and retail.

Vogue Arabia caught up with Susan Sabet, co-founder of the EFDC, to discuss this landmark event.

How does it feel to be at the helm of the first-ever Egypt Fashion Week?
As you know, EFW is organized by the Egyptian Fashion & Design Council. We are five founding members who are all super excited and Paul Antaki, our current president and myself are leading the organization. Paul is more involved in the finances while my part is setting the actual program from shows, exhibitions, talks to media, etc. Being in the fashion industry for over 30 years, I bring the experience of fashion weeks and contacts in the fashion industry to the table. I have been in touch with most of our international guests since the idea of EFW turned into a project back in 2018. They have seen my frustration of postponing three times due to Covid. So to finally really make it happen, means the world to me.

Why do you think now is the perfect time to celebrate Egyptian fashion on this scale?
I believe that with the 2011 revolution in Egypt, a new sense of national pride was rekindled. New fashion, accessory, and jewelry designers emerged and found incredible support from the local consumer and eventually also the local retailer. Of course, it’s a very “young industry” but it is coupled with one of Egypt’s largest industries, the cotton and textile industry.  Since 2011, some designers have disappeared but today I can proudly say that Egypt has a large number of designers whose products are on par in design, quality, and pricing with the regional and international markets. Definitely large enough to sustain a fashion week. And of course, let us never forget the immense backbone of the resources of Egyptian textiles and handcrafts our designers can rely on and we will showcase. The time is also right as all eyes seem to be on Egypt. High-profile events such as Art D’Egypte and the Dior show in Cairo have given Egypt a new angle of interest. I feel it in the local, regional, and international media interest and support we are receiving, which is just incredible.

According to you, what role does EFW play in the MENA and global fashion calendars?
I remember Fashion Forward Dubai when it launched in 2013, which I really consider the front-runner of high-profile fashion events in the MENA region that give a professional platform to local designers. I believe it is a great loss that the event was phased out in 2020. For me as a member of a non-profit fashion council that aims to mentor local designers and grow the industry,  it is great to see that Arab Fashion Week which started off with showing mainly international designers, is now Dubai Fashion Week really focusing on regional designers.  Egypt Fashion Week focuses on our constantly growing pool of Egyptian designers, but we also aim to connect the industry by inviting industry leaders from Africa, the Middle East, and the world to share their expertise and know-how while connecting to forge collaborations and business opportunities. I attended the first Jordan Fashion Week back in 2019, which had a mission very similar to ours, promoting local talent. I really hope that now that we are finally out of the pandemic that it will be back soon. As for the global fashion calendar, EFW is a first. But we are 100% committed to establishing EFW for the time being as an annual event, and hopefully eventually as a bi-annual event. EFW content and community engagement are what we hope will earn us global recognition and a place on the international fashion week calendar.

Can you tell us the meaning behind this year’s theme, ‘Past, Present & Future’?
The past, because we honor and are inspired by our culture and heritage. The present, because we know what the world is looking for today. The future, because we know where we have to go to be part of it.

Who are some of the people that have been crucial in making this a reality?
Egypt Fashion Week would not be possible without the support of many government officials and diplomats and of course our sponsors and partners as well as our co-producers Creative Headz, who bring 15 years of experience in organizing fashion weeks to the table. To organize a fashion week of international standard is an enormous undertaking and our board really appreciates those who understood our vision and mission and the crucial support of the current and upcoming generation of creatives, artisans, and craftsmen who produce products with a unique Egyptian DNA, the cotton and textile industry, education, sustainability, and all our pillars.

What are some of the challenges you faced when developing EFW and how did you overcome them?
For me, the biggest challenge has been to regain the trust of some of our international guests and some of our designers. Even when the postponement is due to a force majeure, which was Covid-19, and the months following when many were still not comfortable traveling, it dampens the initial excitement. But then I believe that those in the fashion industry that have known me for a very long time and as the program developed, overcame any doubts and I can’t wait to welcome them in Cairo.

Who are some of the Egyptian designers you are really looking forward to seeing at EFW?
At this stage, we have had over 90 registrations and we are finalizing the final participants that comply with the criteria of acceptance. Of course, this can result in disappointment but is really based on worldwide fashion week acceptance criteria. We will announce the names of the final lineup of EFW designers by mid-April. Naming one would not be fair, and honestly, I am looking forward to seeing all of our currently accepted designers at EFW.

Many of the events will be taking place in museums. What is the reason behind this decision?
This is Egypt Fashion Week and we have so many sites that are so unique and historic and will not only mesmerize our international guests but also our local guests and visitors. The opening night on May 12, within the old Egyptian Museum, amidst artifacts thousands of years old, can’t be beaten as a more impressive setting, for us to guarantee a lasting impression. On May 13 and 14, EFW opens its doors at the Museum of Agriculture, the second most important agricultural museum in the world after Budapest. It is an architectural gem, that dates back to 1937 and on its vast grounds retells the history of cotton and the Egyptian textile industry, which is a perfect tie-in.

What do you think sets Egyptian fashion apart from the rest of the world?
Creating a unique DNA that has global appeal is what every designer must strive for. As the Council, we urge designers to use our local craftsmanship and look for inspiration “at home”. At EFW you will discover many designers that have succeeded and produce garments or accessories that are unique in design and of high quality.

How important is sustainability to EFW? How will this materialize during the events?
Of course, sustainability is one of the major pillars of EFW. We have several leaders in this field who will discuss in panel talks the current landscape, what needs to be addressed, or for example, how to turn your business into a sustainable business model.

What are your hopes for EFW and the future of Egyptian fashion?
I hope that the first edition of EFW will be the successful start of an ongoing initiative of an annual and soon semi-annual platform for Egypt’s, the Middle East’s, and Africa’s top players and talents to showcase and come together. Engaging the local community, bringing together authentic creatives and true professionals from within the wider fashion industry, whose priority lies in mentoring and supporting, will also guide those seeking professional advice and genuine support.

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