INTERVIEW: Marie Louis on inspiration, philanthropy, and uplifting a new generation

Ingy Deif, Sunday 7 Apr 2019

The pioneer Egyptian designer talks to Ahram Online about uplifting younger generations, expanding philanthropic work, and the potential of the famed Egyptian cotton

Egyptian designer Marie Louis

For decades, her name was synonymous with the upscale textile and fashion industry in Egypt.

Marie Louis Bishara, who started her own line of clothing in 1989 after obtaining her degree in Fashion from Esmode in Paris, had been collaborating prior to that for years with her family’s business, Bishara Textile Garment Manufacturing Company (BTM).

Ahram Online talks with the businesswoman and designer who was one of the people behind the establishment of the Egyptian Fashion and Design Council, discussing her inspirations, focus on Egyptian materials and philanthropic work through creating job opportunities for underprivileged men and women in various governorates in Egypt.

You have been acclaimed internationally on many levels. Which countries' aesthetics go in line with your famed classical trend?

I believe the French and Italian. We have actually done several collaborations with French entities and we were on the catwalks of Paris Fashion Week for several years.

In your latest collection, we see a nod to fair shades of colours and a younger vibe, tell us more about it?

We are in fact currently working on projecting Marie Louis to the new generation; to those in their 20s and 30s who haven’t met Marie Louis yet. As we were busy focusing on the international market and catwalks, a young fashion-educated generation emerged with the new globalisation, media and fashion schools.

So now we are trying to bring to Egypt our collections that were initially targeting the international markets; in other words, we’re trying to internationalise our Egyptian brand in Egypt.

Now the Egyptian market is mature and the young people have become fashion oriented, so it’s time to start focusing on them.

You were one of the people behind the establishment of the Egyptian Fashion and Design Council. What accomplishment has it been credited with?

It’s a dream that was launched with the idea of creating an Egyptian fashion week. I collaborated with Susan Sabet, Azza Fahmy, Fatma Ghaly, Paul Antaki and Abdelmalek Shamsi, who are all Egyptian players in the fashion market.

We created it with a mission to help various designers at various stages of their businesses through our support initiatives and programmes to lead them into bringing forth the image of Egypt, and therefore, lead in the area.

The council is a platform where designers will get the chance to brainstorm new ideas, to create, to connect with other countries and collaborate with other talents; and hopefully, pave the way for a local fashion week.

You take pride in using many of the pure Egyptian fabrics in your designs; tell us more about it and what challenges does this pose?

Egyptian cotton is the most attractive and most beautiful yarn in the world -- in fact, many countries are asking for accreditation to use the Egyptian cotton logo on their products. Egypt exports 80 percent of its cotton – though our strength would be to export it as a finished product. So my aim is to export a final luxurious Egyptian cotton product, and that’s why we are working on fine tuning the final product, as I believe that Egyptian cotton will be one of the main factors to move the Egyptian industry forward.

Tell us more about the company's philanthropic work focused on education as well as creating job opportunities in the remote parts of Egypt.

One of our core values at Marie Louis is social responsibility. To achieve this mission, we work on finding solutions for unemployment while giving back to the brand.

Given that we use 100 percent Egyptian cotton, along with UNIDO, we work on teaching underprivileged men from Upper Egypt how to plant cotton. This way, we are both helping create more work opportunities and becoming self-sufficient in terms of resources.

We also offer work opportunities for women in Sohag and Assiut, where we sometimes outsource the Tally work.

On another note, we own an NGO called Ana El-Masry for the rehabilitation of street children. The aim of the organisation is to assist in rehabilitating children through art, sports and vocational training in order to integrate them into society and enable them to take part in the workplace.

And finally, our Amal Bishara School has received and educated over 600 secondary students showing interest in craftsmanship. With a curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education and adjusted according to the industry needs, successful candidates leave the school with a certified degree, allowing them to become professional technicians.

Recent years saw many young names in Egypt reach international and regional fame with new aesthetics and designs. As someone who paved the way for them, how you see this development in the fashion field?

I see many names that have potential, and this is why we are trying to create an industrial and technical hub that will serve in facilitating their production processes, for them to run and grow. Many are so talented and I’m proud to see many of them getting established in Egypt and abroad.

In fact, without them I can’t create an Egyptian fashion week, because when I approached the federation in France in order to create our first fashion week, they told me that unless we have 17 Egyptian designers we cannot create an Egyptian fashion week. Some are mature designers; some still need support, and so are working on giving them this support at the EFDC.

What remains your indisputable source of inspiration?

Arts, nature and music are my main sources of inspiration. I also get inspired by the avant-garde products and the impressive young characters that have stamina -- I’m actually thinking about creating a collection around a character or a young person who inspires me.

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