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Thursday, 17 June 2021

Fashion for a cause: An Egyptian designer's different approach

Egyptian designer Rana Youssri Salah talks to Al-Ahram Weekly about her fashion brand Asory and the causes behind her work

Amira Elhamy , Sunday 16 Feb 2020
Salma Al-Husseini
Salma Al-Husseini

Who said that business cannot have a cause behind it? Rana Youssri Salah, a young and successful Egyptian fashion designer, has shown that business can have several.

“I was always passionate about fashion. It took me a year to build my brand, my team and my development plan for my brand Asory,” Salah explains. “It’s about making bold, classical, feminine fashion designs for women.”

“Though my work is about outer beauty, I am also interested in inner beauty. I started five years ago and have received many diplomas in fashion, one from the Marc Jacob’s house in the US,” she adds. “In every design I make, there is a story, and I have tried as much as I can to tailor my designs according to various women’s types and characters, always choosing special colours. I also work as a fashion mentor with Enterprenelle, a platform for startups, where I help entrepreneurs interested in building their own fashion brands.”

Salah’s approach to fashion is different to some others, however, as she believes there must also be a cause behind her work. Whether this is giving a chance to young people with special needs to be part of the fashion industry in Egypt or adopting a zero-waste work method and using recycled material in fashion designs, she is always concerned to promote a cause through her designs.

“About the special-needs division in Asory, in the haute couture and readymade garments divisions we offer young people with special needs the chance to participate in modelling or photo-shooting. Sometimes, we also promote specific success stories in our advertising campaigns,” Salah explains.

“Sport champion Salma Al-Husseini is a young woman with special needs and the perfect example of a persistent young woman with a will of steel. She came to us as she had a specific dress design that she wanted to make. We made a customised dress for her that fitted her own identity. She participated in the making of the dress, as well the photo-shoots. She is currently taking an online fashion-design course, and she has already succeeded in making some unique designs. I am giving her all the support I can,” she added.

Salma Al-Husseini
Salma Al-Husseini

Another example is Omar Youssri, a sport champion who has participated in many swimming championships. At the German University in Cairo’s division for special needs he is learning carpentry and making accessories, Salah adds.

Youssri joined Asory’s team to organise materials used in the production process, including fabrics and design tools. He is also receiving training for future engagements in more sophisticated tasks in the broader fashion industry.

Salah notes that Asory is collaborating with the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Reform Programme (TVET), a nationwide initiative co-funded by the Egyptian government and the European Union. This aims to build Egypt’s economy through the development of Egypt’s human capital. 

“With continuous efforts from Asory’s side and in collaboration with TVET, we have succeeded in allocating a percentage of personnel with special needs to work with the TVET programme,” Salah says.  

TVET also organises fashion events, and this year there will be a percentage of people with special needs participating in event organising as well as modelling, backstage and ushering.

Another successful experience of helping young people with special needs took place when Asory launched a line of scarves hand painted by people with special needs. “We are planning a special collection every season that will be accessible on the Asory online shop. Part of the revenues from these designs will be allocated to salaries, and another part will be allocated to the development of the programme. Asory also teaches young people with special needs embroidery, and later there will be a chance for them to be involved in the making and finishing process,” Salah says. 

“I am dedicated to making great efforts for young people with special needs. I encourage them to draw up their own designs, to be part of the making process and photo-shoots, and to help them to take fashion courses. Young people with special needs often have great motor abilities, and they can be perfectly employed in fashion.” 

Omar Youssri
Omar Youssri

However, Salah also has a second cause – sustaining the environment. In her haute couture lines, she employs a zero-waste method that means that all fabric waste is reused to make other clothes or accessories.

“We also use recycled material like electrical wires, and I actually once made a whole collection out of it using classic designs. Using recycled material does not mean that the designs will be extravagant – on the contrary,” she says. 

She adds that making a whole collection out of recycled material is difficult, especially in Egypt, as this requires a big fashion house with special equipment. However, there is a global direction helping fashion professionals to do so.

“I try to use recycled material in certain designs, one example being the raincoats I made out of the regular plastic we use in our daily lives. We are also trying to import recycled thread,” Salah notes, “all as part of the strong development plan for our fashion brand.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the title: Fashion for a cause

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