We meet with the mastermind behind Sherwal, Hamsa Rabie, to talk colour, travel, and trends.
An explosion of vibrant colours greets you as you walk into Sherwal's shop. First impressions count and the clothes definitely make a statement, screaming character and demanding attention. A lively character appears before us, wearing a gorgeous printed Kaftan in rich teal; Hamsa Rabie. As we walk in to prepare for the interview, she turns on some music to play in the background, which helps to elevate our mood. Dream catchers, prints, paintings, an old guitar, and crafty jewelry surround us and we immediately feel relaxed and creative. From the music to the clothes, you don't know whether you're reminded of the beaches of Dahab, roaming through Asia or a hot summer night out in the city.
Rabei walks around in her haven, comfortable and cool, finally settling down on a beanbag on the floor. Her energy is infectious, “I’ve always worked in retail, at one point I wanted to bring a new brand to Egypt but I didn’t find a brand that represented me; everything seemed boring and repetitive. So I thought to myself 'why not make my own brand?'” At that time Rabie liked very much the Aladdin-style Sherwal pants and the name itself impressed her as she heard it for the first time from a Lebanese friend. Rabie fondly shares with us the growth of Sherwal that began in 2011. “There was a reason I started only producing sherwals, I wanted to master one thing and this gave me the pass into the market. At the end of the day this is a business and it’s not just about producing art - my pieces have to be both wearable and beautiful." She perfected the pants, making them more feminine and modern. “I didn’t start out with a lot of money; this has been a steady process of building up my brand with an identity. I want to always remain in small boutiques, because this preserves its exclusivity as well as having a different shopping experience.”
As each piece makes its own statement, it is obvious Rabie’s strong suit is in colour and print. One can safely say the pieces are one of a kind, and as Rabie explains her pieces she jumps up to show us the different items proudly. “They are simple pieces that are elevated by pattern and colour. I love colours; they please people...they're uplifting. The sherwal itself is a traditional piece but with colour and pattern it’s been transformed. I wore one of them to an engagement and it was a hit."
Her ambitious eyes give her away as a determined and persistent character, “I aim for Sherwal to be an international brand. I consider myself an entrepreneur. Local brands find it very hard to make it in the market with big shopping malls frowning upon them whereas they should be promoting them...as if it’s bad to be local or something.”
So where does she get the inspiration to produce such remarkable and worldly pieces? “I am a traveller. The pieces are not Indian nor Bedouin - you can say they’re ethnic and inspired by different cultures. I have travelled through Asia, going to the monks in the mountains of Thailand to get new fabric. I also do my own prints which are inspired by my travels...I plan to explore South America next.” Her statements explain why each piece is representative of a unique journey. “The sky's the limit,” she reminds us.
As unique and outspoken as her brand, Rabie suddenly says, “I hate fashion...it kills me.” A fashion designer who hates fashion? For some odd reason it makes perfect sense. The modern meaning of fashion has turned into what’s trendy and promoting mainstream regurgitated styles, which Rabie resents. “Fashion is all about what’s trendy. To me it’s about wearing something that is unique to you and representative of your personality.”
A full fledged brand, Rabie has extended Sherwal's clothes for the little ones, “I never see kids wearing fun innovative pieces so I decided to help out with that!” The different pieces help create a total makeover to any outfit, so if one doesn’t have time to be creative with their outfits, throwing on one Sherwal item is enough to bring on 180-degree change.
Positive, playful and ambitious Rabie bids us adieu as she goes back to experimenting with print, colour and culture.
Check out Sherwal’s Facebook page here.