Like most career mothers, fashion editor Susan Sabet is a multi-tasker. Similar to many before her, she’s organizing her daughter’s wedding in El Gouna this month. Unlike most women, she’s also planning the debut of Egypt Fashion Week under the theme, “The past, present, and future,” for the following week. She anticipates 15 000 people to attend the four-day affair in Cairo. “Would you believe it?” exclaims Sabet. “Egypt Fashion Week has been almost five years in the making. We have a lot of young talents. Since 2011, there’s been a boom since the revolution. There is a new feeling of national pride, people supporting each other, and especially the young generation. We must do this,” she asserts.
While there were a few bumps along the road, mainly due to Covid, Egypt Fashion Week is now ready to roll. It is launched by the Egyptian Fashion and Design Council consisting of Sabet; Fatma Ghaly, managing director of Azza Fahmy Jewelry; Marie-Louis Bishara, partner of Bishara for Fashion; Paul Antaki, current EFDC president, CEO Premium International for Credit Services; and Abdelmalek Shamsi, commercial director of Shamsi Trading and Agencies. It is under the auspices of three Egyptian ministries: planning and economic development, tourism and antiquities, and agriculture.
Of the council members, Sabet, publisher and editor-in-chief of Pashion magazine, brings forth the experience of attending international fashion weeks. The driving force of the event, she determined how the fashion week should be structured, looking to Altaroma as a mirror. “Content is very important. It’s not just about runway and exhibitions of designers, it’s also about education, craftsmanship, production, and networking.
One sponsor is African Export-Import bank, who just doubled its fund to one billion US dollars to support fashion and creatives in Africa under Creative Africa Nexus (Canex). “They really want to see Egypt Fashion Week as the annual hub where the continent meets and connects,” says Sabet. She adds that Omoyemi Akerele, the founder and CEO of Lagos Fashion Week, will attend with a committee. “They’re extremely creative in Africa, as you know, but they lack the production facilities. Saudi Fashion Week is coming with a delegation… they are also looking to maybe start producing here as Saudi does not yet have a production hub.”
Along with networking, the fashion week will further conversation on topics like Egyptian inspiration through various talks and panels. “Our culture and our heritage have inspired so many designers worldwide. Who is to say who owns what? Valérie Messika, of French high jewelry brand Messika, who released a beautiful collection motivated by Ancient Egypt, will speak via video. Such people can teach our young designers how to take their inspiration and make it global. That said, being an Egyptian designer, if you want to go global, must your brand have an Egyptian DNA? Does a French designer’s brand have a French DNA?” she asks.
Sustainability is another topic that will be explored via the recycling and upcycling of fabrics, as well as how much to pay in salaries, and how to intelligently go about packaging and distribution. Sabet adds that many emerging designers are looking for financing and that in the past, she’s observed funding being distributed to the wrong people. “They’re financed for one year and there’s no correct business plan. There are people in the industry who can be in-between accelerators –people who advise who are the right creatives worth funding, mentorship, and overall support.” She says that today, everyone wants to be a designer. “In our region, especially, a lot of these individuals receive financial backing from their parents. But is it sustainable? Do they want it badly enough to go all the way?”
The fashion week will open with a 500-person VIP event on May 12 in the old Egyptian museum in downtown Cairo. It will offer a curated show of all the designers. The following days will occur in the Museum of Agriculture. It will feature runway shows and exhibitions by Egyptian schools and guest schools such as FAD in Dubai and Creative Space in Beirut, while Gitex is bringing schools from Morocco, Tunis, and Jordan. Inside, the space hosts a newly refurbished museum of cotton. Opened after five years’ work, its renovation was financed by Enrico and Marco Marzoli, owners of Filmar, which has factories in Alexandria that produce the yarn for Egyptian cotton. They will also be in attendance at the fashion week. The final day will offer visitors an opportunity to “shop the runway” at Mall of Arabia. “Being first is not easy, but we’re going to pull through.”
Originally published in the May 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia