Over a year after making her debut in the fashion world on Project Runway Middle East, Amna Elshandaweely is still making waves for her distinct aesthetic that always takes her back to her roots.
When I think about fashion, what immediately comes to my mind are impractical outfits on glossy magazine covers that are not in any sort of way appropriate for daily commutes on the metro. All the reason why I had to battle my skepticism as I made my way to Galleria40 on a particularly lovely fall morning to sit with up-and-coming Egyptian designer, 26-year-old Amna ElShandaweely.
With distinctive wardrobe choices, a whimsical sense of style, and colours so screaming you can't miss them from a mile away, Elshandaweely - who was featured on our 2016 25 Under 25 list - definitely has a distinct identity. And that identity seeps into every piece she designs, with collections heavily infused with tribal patterns that reflect the traditional wear of various local communities across her home - Africa.As the Project Runway ME participant walked me through the strikingly colourful items and narrated the story behind each line, pattern, and design, I began to get a sense of the personal relationship she has with her creations. "I have pieces that comprise parts that were handmade in St. Catherine with other parts coming from Siwa and so on. The design is eventually a piece of art that tells a story beyond just a piece of fabric from a factory. And that's what I want to embody in my designs," says Amna Elshandaweely with flaring passion.
From tribal designs all the way from Kenya to sublime creations inspired by Siwa's traditional wear, Elshandaweely has carved out a distinct spot for herself within the fashion industry; an authentic identity that steers away from the westernisation mania sweeping through every aspect of our lifestyle and wardrobe choices. "Fashion is not about wearing expensive high-end items, it's more about representing who you are. If you're in a crowd, and your identity is distinct and obvious to everyone, then fashion has served you. You don't need to be trendy, you just need to be yourself," explains Elshandaweely, adding that she's not opposed to big fancy designer pieces if they actually reflect the identity of the person wearing them.
Fashion is not about wearing expensive high-end items, it's more about representing who you are
The authenticity and liveliness of the isolated community in Siwa was the electric charge that pushed Elshandaweely to launch her latest collection, her biggest one to date, City of The Amazighs. The young designer was particularly taken by how every woman she saw on the street was bearing a full-body niqab. But these were not the typical pitch black shade niqabs usually come in; they were vibrantly colourful. "I was utterly surprised and astonished by Siwa, the place which inspired my proudest collection, which was also the hardest collection I've worked on," elucidates ElShandaweely.Similarly to the City of The Amazighs, Amna Elshandaweely's previous collections were also inspired by local cultures and communities across the whole continent of Africa. Her anticipated upcoming collection, however, brings it closer to home. "It's called Cairo Punk, a collection that will channel the identity crisis faced by most Cairene youth today," she explains, "The collection is inspired by Afro Punk festivals, albeit in Cairo street style. It's kind of sportive-style tribal pieces for people who are always on the move from one place to another, which is the normal everyday hectic routine of Cairenes."
Her pieces, style, and inspirations are nothing like the impression I had of fashion going into this interview. Fashion, in her eyes, is not impractical clothing that is restricted to magazine pages and cannot really be worn by regular people living regular lives; it is an extension of your identity, and you select it to fit your lifestyle, not the other way around.
Enough with copying and westernising our fashion, and abandoning our roots
Elshandaweely's utmost dedication to her African roots has already garnered her attention from across the continent; CNN recently included her in their 2017's Faces of Africa list, which is dedicated to Africans who contribute to enriching the culture of the continent's local communities. After the news made the rounds, Elshandaweely was approached by several artists from across the continent, with which she's collaborating on her next collection Cairo Punk.
"Enough with copying and westernising our fashion, and abandoning our roots. We need to express who we really are," concludes ElShandaweely.
Keep up with Amna Elshandaweely on Instagram.
Shoot by MO4Network's #MO4Productions
Photography by Amr Medhat
Videography by Fady Ragaey