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Egypt's haute couture looks for foothold in international market

The fashion industry in Egypt is getting a boost from local designers who aim to reflect Egyptian culture in their products.

Egyptian fashion designers have started a new revolution. They are creating their own fashion designs and taking serious steps to compete with international brands.

"Nowadays, the fashion industry in Egypt does exist. The notion of creating fashion that reflects our own culture and copes with international standards is booming," Sara Onsi, the owner of Egyptian bridal dress brand Sara Onsi, told Al-Monitor.

Onsi, who is a business administration graduate, said she spent four years designing bridal dresses and studying all aspects of fashion. Then she launched her evening line and succeeded in displaying it in a New York fashion show.

"Being in a New York fashion show is not that easy. A designer must prepare a good profile for her or his collections," Onsi said.

"It was a challenge to display my first collection in an international show and be on equal footing with other international designers," she added. "I was keen to produce dresses with high-end finishing and the best quality."

The passion to create Egyptian fashion brands drives many to teach themselves everything related to fashion, from drawing the design to sewing and finishing the garment.

Aya Abdul Salam, the founder of Bijar, an Egyptian fashion brand for casual clothes, said there are many courses both online and offline that teach how to be an experienced fashion designer.

Salam said that her journey started by making unique pieces for her friends and family, then she converted it into a real business with a high demand.

"What I want in my collections is to give ladies the feeling of being more feminine and special. It is totally different when a woman finds herself wearing what makes her unique and feeling her own self."

"We don’t have to wear items that don't suit us or make us feel uncomfortable," Salam added.

The passionate designer said she was keen to come up with her own brand and fight the obstacles, such as the untrained labor in this industry.

"I faced many losses at the beginning because the market is dominated by mass production rather than producing unique pieces," she said.

Dalia Hassouna of the Industrial Modernisation Centre, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, told Al-Monitor that the center is boosting Egyptian designers in different fields through Creative Egypt, a hub that is open for designers to display their products and become exposed to marketing opportunities.

"The Creative Egypt hub does not help the designers display locally, but gives them the opportunity to export abroad," she added.

According to Hassouna, the government has also started to empower talented Egyptian designers through a program in cooperation with Italian designers that educates them and hones their skills according to international standards.

The initiative came in parallel with the country's directives to boost the local industry and lure Egyptian exports.

Despite a number of Egyptian designers flourishing, there still are many factors affecting the whole industry.

María S. Munoz, the co-founder and managing partner at Maison Pyramide, said, "There are many factors affecting the industry at large, and under all these factors there are many variables. We can say that education is one of them — professional courses, input of professionals, acquisition of knowledge and skills."

Another factor is obviously the power of the economy. The industry needs new machinery and more technology and better materials and resources, so investing in these elements will definitely shape the industry very rapidly, Munoz added.

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