Article originally published by Q1
Written By: Candace Shaw
SNC has collaborated with Candace Shaw Co-founder of Q1 to bring you their first Global Business feature. Each month the Q1 team explores the globe in search of fresh businesses across the world. They travel to these locations and meet with the owners and briefly ask them questions about what makes their business special.
For the first feature, the Q1 team decided to explore Cairo, Egypt. What better way to start off this segment than to choose the country where civilization started?
Exploring the city, Q1 team member Candace Shaw identified an exciting business trend. The busy city appears to be an amalgamation of multinational corporations such as Starbucks and Coca-Cola, and small businesses. As such, the city had a vibe similar to major cities in the United States, like New York. However, after speaking with locals, Candace identified that these business norms were not consistent throughout the country. In fact, within the city of Aswan, where the majority of the Nubian population resides, there is a much slower, peaceful pace where small businesses and trade along the Nile are more prevalent.
Candace’s travels took her to Amna Elshandaweely, a clothing store owned by 25-year old Egyptian fashion designer Amna Elshandaweely who has been a Project Runway ME participant and has been featured on CNN’s 2017 Faces of Africa list. Walking into Amna’s delightful shop was like diving into African culture. Items were neatly placed together with fabrics that could brighten up even the coldest Egyptian night. Amna’s current store collection includes materials from Kenya to the Siwa oasis in Egypt. The styles were eclectic, and while trying on many different items, it was difficult to choose which items to bring back to New York. In an article in the Cairo online magazine, CairoScene, Amna noted, “Fashion is not about wearing expensive high-end items, it’s more about representing who you are.” Amna holds true to her beliefs by keeping items uniquely styled and selling them at a reasonable price.Amna’s latest collection, Cairo Punk, is inspired by the popular global Afro-Punk festivals. Amna’s goal is to bring Afro culture to Cairo, which is something that ironically lacks within the city. History shows that this is likely the case due to the massive Arabian influence and population that began after the Arab-Muslim conquest in the 7th century AD. Candace observed this and found it somewhat difficult to see signs of Afro culture, thus finding Amna’s store, was a breath of fresh air. Candace reached out to Amna, who is a lovely and passionate person. Her dedication to her business is truly inspirational. Here’s what Amna had to say: Candace: How did you get started?
Amna: Ever since I was a young girl, I had a passion for fashion designing. My mother used to take me to various tailors to create the pieces I wore because I was always against the clothing that I would see in our local stores. For instance, I did not like the pink puffy dresses that were often sold and I would always prefer to wear a unique colored jumpsuit or shorts. When I went to school, I studied English and Chinese Literature and Digital Marketing. It was during those days in school, that I realized that I wanted to start my own brand and started making my friends dresses and other clothes.
After the [Egyptian] revolution [in 2011], I was inspired to go out into the world and do the thing that I loved the most—fashion designing. When I started my first collection, my goal was to mix the things I love the most which included, traveling to visit tribes that have cultural significance, history, and fashion designing. I also wanted to create a brand that fit my rebellious character and identity as an Egyptian, African, and Middle Eastern girl. As such, my tribal, ethnic punk brand was developed. My first collection was inspired by Fayoum, a small city in Egypt that is comprised of artists who create art projects inspired by Islamic architecture or the faces of the Fayoum people. With the launch of that collection, people began to notice my work. It was at that time; I felt that it was necessary to leave my corporate job to start focusing on building my brand.
Working on my first collection opened my eyes to many global issues, and lead me to my next collection—The Road to Nairobi. To develop that collection, I moved to Nairobi, Kenya for a few months to study what Egyptians have in common with Kenyans. After studying the culture, attitudes, and art of the people, I found that there were many similarities between the two groups. The Road to Nairobi was especially important because it showed Egyptians the important role that we play in Africa, despite our inclination to consider ourselves more Middle Eastern than African. My collection was the first collection in Egypt where all of the models were dark skinned. This was a shock to the fashion industry and catapulted my brand recognition.
Candace: What makes your business special?
Amna: I think what makes my brand special is that every collection tackles a social issue. This can be an ethnic group that we want to shed the light on or an issue that the brand would like change. What makes our brand special is that every piece has a story behind it. For instance, in The Road to Nairobi collection, there were pieces made of waxed printed Kenyan fabric and Egyptian linen. We decided to name those pieces, Nuba Mountains, as a tribute to the mountain range which connects both Kenya and Egypt. Other ways we try to make our brand special is to create pieces that are modern with a very traditional print. This is unique and fresh coming out of Egypt since most of the designers are very westernized. We tend to always follow the international trend, however, there is a twist because we have such a unique culture. So to sum up, what I think makes our brand special is that it serves fashion in a modern way while supporting important tribal and ethnic causes.
Candace: What makes you Q1 Global?
Amna: I think what makes a brand global, is that it can be recognized throughout much of the world and can attract different markets. This usually happens when a company create pieces that have a different edge, that add something to the world, or uses art in a way in which many people can relate. I believe that many people from around the world would really love to wear a piece that tells a story and opens up a conversation. This continent is full of stories to be told through fashion—this is where I think my company stands out and becomes a global brand.
For more information follow Amna Elshandaweely’s brand on Facebook: www.facebook.com/amnaelshandaweely and Instagram: @amnaelshandaweely.
Q1 is dedicated to bringing you business inspiration from around the globe. Know of a cool business to feature? Tell us about it. Visiting Cairo? Check out Amna’s store in Galleria40. Oh and don’t forget to plan a trip to Aswan!