The U.S. Embassy in Cairo is sponsoring the second iteration of its ATX-EGY program to leverage the strengths in Egypt’s and Austin, Texas’ design sectors and build cultural bridges between the United States and Egypt.
Eleven Egyptian fashion entrepreneurs recently participated in a training bootcamp in Texas at the Austin Community College Fashion Incubator, and attended Austin Fashion Week.
They also showcased their products in a “pop-up shop” that was sponsored in part by US clothing retail giant Macy’s.
The Egyptian entrepreneurs’ trip to the United States and their interaction with the fashion world of Austin built on their participation in a 16-week training on fashion management and entrepreneurship, delivered virtually in partnership with the Austin Community College Fashion Incubator.
These activities have created strong connections between U.S. and Egyptian fashion professionals and are helping them expand their design horizons and marketing savvy to boost their businesses.
The final phase of ATX-EGY II will come this May, when Austin-based designers will visit Egypt to further solidify relationships, build new connections, and experience the rich Egyptian fashion and cultural scene.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo is conducting this program in partnership with the City of Austin Economic Development Department, Austin Community College, and Ghada El Tanawy, founder and CEO of Egypt’s online fashion rental platform La Reina.
“This is the second round of ATX-EGY, which connects fashion experts and creative designers from the US and Egypt” recounted Chargé d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Cairo Nicole Champagne to Egypt Today, noting that the US always supports stakeholders in Egypt’s creative economy, describing it as “a space with huge potential.
She elaborated that the US Embassy has a vast history when it comes to supporting the promising entrepreneurship sector, small businesses and startups in Egypt.
“We have made loans to almost 5 million small projects, strengthening businesses through mentorship, incubators and accelerators,” Champagne said.
Egypt Today met with the Egyptian fashion designers who narrated what they actually learned from this unique experience.
Founder of Nine and Beyond brand Sara Toulan, who was inspired to make comfy and stylish outfits when she was pregnant, began by saying that the program was well executed.
She saw how the Egyptian market lacked comfortable outfits, and, “My goal was to help women feel good about themselves and support them during pregnancy with uplifting designs that they can still use and wear after giving birth, thus providing an element of sustainability,” she explained.
Nine and Beyond’s latest collection caters to women’s needs for comfortable wear that adapts to changes in lifestyle like the country’s lockdown due to the pandemic.
The collection is pregnancy friendly and nursing friendly and is made of soft and stretchy fabrics.
“Our participation in the program was very fruitful because of the helpfulness of all stakeholders in Austin,” Toulan said, describing the city as extremely welcoming, young and hip.
Egyptian fashion entrepreneur and owner of Camicie Maha el Azm added that the main aim of the program was to visit Texas and participate in the fashion week.
“The highlight of the program was to know each other more as fashion designers, sharing interests and experiences,” El Azm recounted.
“The program has dual benefits: one was educational which was attained through workshops, and the second was to enhance our capabilities and broaden our perspective on the ground in Austin,” she said.
Established in 2015, Camicie is an Egyptian ready-to-wear label merging contemporary and classic worlds together.
Brand owner El Azm added that Camicie is committed to enhancing women’s femininity in the Middle East, by supporting them to feel comfortable in their own skin, figuratively and literally.
Camicie offers quality ready-to-wear apparel that suits all women leading a modest lifestyle, using designs that are original and fabrics that are locally sourced.
“Participating in the ATX-EGY program helped to develop our mindsets and how we manage and enhance our startups,” El Azm added, explaining that cultural exchange programs like ATX-EGY are very crucial because Egyptian fashion designers are working now to revive the fashion scene in Egypt, which was historically always present, and now is starting to boom.
Ghada El-Tanawy explained that although the Egyptian fashion designers displayed different products, the designs on the catwalk all looked relevant despite pulling off diverse looks. She is confident that the ATX-EGY II program will help to support Egypt’s thriving creative economy, promote economic growth and generate jobs in Egypt.
Egyptian fashion designer Areej, founder of AJ design, agreed the items on display were very diverse. “Egyptian fashion entrepreneurs create pieces for those who want to stand out, but literally everyone stood out, showcasing leather products, bridal wear, Nubian outfits, maternity wear.
We saw how the US market responded to our fashion products and we have learned a lot from this program,” Areej added.
Sara Fouda from South Studio is confident the program will help designers decide on the way forward, now that they all know where they stand and how they can compete.
“The US attendees greatly admired the diversity of our Egyptian products. I myself produce progressive designs and now I know that I can go beyond local production,” said the owner of the Boho chic label.
“We have always been obsessed with the idea of finding special pieces when it comes to picking clothes, special pieces that are not worn by many, that you just see once or twice yet they instantly catch the eye.
And over the years, we have found ourselves chasing after pieces that define comfort and ‘tribal’ at the same time. I guess at some point we thought that we would rather make our own special pieces than look for them, and that’s when we started the journey of finding both the perfect design and the fabrics that will compliment it,” Fouda recounted of her own experience launching her designer brand.
Hend Akid, founder of Orkadi, agreed people are still fascinated by the designs that carry aspects of history or culture, and it also appeals to younger generations. Her own brand is inspired by Nubian culture, and she is confident that the concept is still catchy and interesting provided that the right combination is made, so that the products are trendy and stylish while adding the edge of an idea or a story from history or culture.
“Our inspiration comes from the south of Egypt, or Nuba, where we are trying to revive our heritage and culture in a very artistic and fashionable way, keeping with you a piece of art,” Akid explained.
During the program Orkadi cooperated with Austin designer League of Rebels to produce a limited edition of products by both brands that will be exhibited in July.
The Egyptian designers said that they noticed the American customer preferred practicality and easy-to-wear outfits, looking for different and unique outfits while maintaining practicality and functionality.
Sustainability is another feature customers are now looking for. “In my collection, I used small upcycled items made from scraps and leftovers.
These items were so costly, that is why customers must bear in mind that these items are unique and not easy to make, so a price difference is thus justified. So, a certain mindset is still needed,” El Azm said.
The fashion designers interviewed for this piece all considered the ATX program a turning point in their professional careers because it gave them the chance to introduce their products in US markets.
The program also helped the entrepreneurs to get feedback from American consumers and manufacturers, and to gain vast experience from dealing with internationally acclaimed fashion designers.
Looking ahead, the fashion entrepreneurs agreed that the expansion is one of their main goals in addition to displaying their products online via e-commerce platforms.