Young designer aims to promote Egyptians' African roots

A young Egyptian fashion designer strives to launch the Afropunk Festival in Egypt to promote African identity and fashion.

al-monitor Fashion designer Amna El-Shandaweely seen in an image uploaded Dec. 25, 2017.  Photo by Facebook/Amna El-Shandaweely,.

Jan 10, 2018

A young fashion designer who believes Egypt’s African heritage is just as important as its Middle Eastern orientation aims to bring the international Afropunk Festival to Egypt.

Amna El-Shandaweely, an award-winning fashion designer who has trained with Elie Saab, launched last December a collection called “Cairo Punk” that is inspired by the Afropunk Festival, an annual international art festival that showcases African culture through music, art, film and fashion.

“I really would like to bring this festival to Egypt, but I will need sponsors and organizers who can help me bring it to life,” Shandaweely told Al-Monitor.

The Afropunk Festival, held for the first time in New York in 2005, was launched by people of African descent who felt that they were marginalized. Last month, the first festival took place on the African continent, in the South African city of Johannesburg, and was attended by thousands of visitors.

Shandaweely’s “Cairo Punk” collection, launched on Dec. 20, showed photos of amateur models with a variety of skin colors and builds. The photos were taken in the impoverished neighborhood of Imbaba in northern Giza.

“What I wanted to promote through the collection and the photos is that we must accept one another regardless of our looks and our background,” she said.

She noted that the collection aims to show Cairo in a different way. “The capital is perceived as a tense and crowded city filled with traffic. The collection shows a different side of the city where the people are diversified with different looks and features.”

The young designer will display her collection in South Africa next month.

Shandaweely, who loves to travel in Africa, has visited Tanzania, South Africa and Kenya, where in 2015 she exhibited her collection and took part in design courses.

Starting her brand two years ago, Shandaweely has focused on the history and heritage of her country. “I really want to create designs that reflect our real identity — designs that speak our history but in a modern way,” she said.

Her first collection, “Road to Fayoum,” launched early in 2015 and displayed designs that were inspired by Islamic architecture. She then launched her Africa-inspired collection, “Road to Nairobi,” which a group of African and Nubian models took to the catwalk in Egypt later in the year. Shandaweely also spent three months in the Siwa Oasis to learn about embroidery, an experience that inspired her third collection, “The City of the Amazigh.” The collection, launched in 2016, reflects the style of the Amazigh community, the ethnic group that is indigenous to North Africa whose name means “free people” or “noble men” in the indigenous Tamazight language. Very few Egyptians know about the presence of the Amazigh in the Siwa Oasis.

Before launching her collection “The City of the Amazigh,” Shandaweely participated in the popular TV show "Project Runway Middle East" that featured some of her collections integrating African and Egyptian roots in her designs. She was selected as one of the best 15 fashion designers on the show that aired on the private TV channel MBC. After the competition, she took part in a one-week internship with renowned fashion designer Elie Saab.

Unlike Shandaweely, who is proud of the African heritage of Egypt, most Egyptians do not fully understand that — geographically and culturally — they have African roots and that they are Africans. Some people may prefer to call themselves Arab or Middle Eastern, rather than African.

However, the Egyptian government has recently been trying to strengthen its ties with other African countries as well as introduce African art to the Egyptian public.

In February 2017, the government launched an African cinema club at the Cairo Opera House in a bid to boost relations with African countries, promote the African culture in Egypt as well as raise more awareness about Egypt’s African identity.

Shandaweely’s brand contributes to the Egyptian leadership’s strategy. “I hope that my brand becomes international and acquires the admiration of many people as it reflects our African identity,” she noted.

The young designer also said she wishes that Egypt becomes a hub for fashion brands that are based on different ethnic or geographical identities because the country has real diversity.

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