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Meet The 5 Creative Minds Behind Cairo Fashion Festival

Ahead of the yearly mammoth style extravaganza that is Cairo Fashion Festival, this year set to take place at Cairo Festival City's sprawling amphitheater, we speak to the team of fashion icons spearheading the game-changing event.

It started as a 700-guest show in 2012, and grew to become Egypt’s biggest fashion event, expecting 15,000 people this season. Spearheaded by a dynamic team of fashion icons, Cairo Fashion Festival (CFF) promises to take the industry by storm and transform the entire design landscape, adding talent, dynamism, and local flavour to a sector that has been steadily booming since 2011.

“We set up the first Cairo Fashion Festival during a very critical political and economic situation, in 2012. At the time, we didn’t have these kind of events; there were only elite society fashion shows for a few people. So I decided to create a platform for local designers to showcase their talent together with international brands,” says one the festival’s founders Omar Madkour, who also runs high street fashion brand Ultimate Fashion Wear.  

The first edition was in a very small venue. No one understood the idea and they didn’t believe we would achieve anything; but it was a concept and we wanted to do it,” he says. Three years and five editions later, the festival has become a trademark in the local fashion scene, aspiring to consolidate as the Middle East’s fashion destination. “With 2,400 guests last year, we are ranked as the biggest fashion event in Egypt and North Africa,” says Madkour’s partner, Karim El Bialy.

 "We are ranked as the biggest fashion event in North Africa,” says the festival's co-founder Karim El Bialy.

The founder and CEO of Fashion Republic, El Bialy has been directing the fashion show throughout the five editions, organising everything from backstage, to styling and casting, together with Hadeer Al Agabany, an industry pioneer who joined them on the festival’s third season. “Fashion in Egypt is a billion dollar industry. Nowadays, a lot of the factories started manufacturing for international brands and exporting. So it is a very expandable industry,” says Al Agabany, a fashion consultant and CEO of AlAgabany, her own fashion marketing and consultancy company.

Set to take place on November 7th at the ever-expanding Cairo Festival City, the festival will feature three parts; the catwalk show, where 4,000 guests will get a glimpse of the latest trends on both the international and local arena; a bazaar, where attendees will be able to shop unique designer items; and the presentation, an innovative format introduced by the social media startup Slickr, who joined the festival this year to bring in their avant garde vision to the local sphere.

"With the revolution, a lot of designers began emerging at an amazing speed," says Ghadeer Al Agabany.  

“The organisation contacted us because they saw they could leverage our network and experience in the fashion scene, and they like our vision, which is very different from the standard,” says Slickr’s co-founder María Sanchez. “We are introducing The Presentation, which is something completely different from the fashion shows. It’s a still performance which portrays the brand identity of each designer and not only the collection,” she explains.  

According to Madkour, the festival will host 15,000 guests in the CFC's public area, whereas 4,000 VIP attendees will access the amphitheatre to watch the fashion show. Collaborating with CFC since their second event, the organisers visualise this partnership as a golden opportunity for the show to grow. “The Amphitheatre is the perfect setup for us, with a great view and enough space to accommodate many people. There is no other space in Egypt that can accommodate this amount of guests; besides, they are giving us many facilities, cooperating with us and involving brands,” El Bialy explains.

Slickr's co-founder, María Sanchez, is introducing The Presentation to the festival this season. 

“I was here while it was being built, wearing safety belts and boots, and I remember telling them: I want to do the festival here. And honestly, they believed in us and gave me the green light for everything. Today, if I wanted a bigger place, I would have to rent the stadium,” he jokes.

Independent designers, pushing boundaries

As they join efforts to boost the local designer sphere, the festival’s organisers emphasise on their relevance, not only in building a strong local industry but also in enriching fashion as an art. “Our aim is to involve more people to come and watch the new designers, who don’t have the resources to showcase their brands. Actually, most of the designers we hosted in past editions went on to participate in fashion weeks abroad, such as Temraza, who hit Paris Fashion Week and is now at LA Fashion Week; or Nourine Farah, who went from showcasing her first collection with us straight to New York Fashion Week,” says Madkour.

Omar Madkour, founder of Ultimate Fashion Wear, created the festival in 2012. 

“While living in London, I was constantly inspired by discovering unknown designers. Personally, those are the treasures in my wardrobe,” says event coordinator Clorinda Siag. Her experience working at London Fashion Week, she says, gave her exposure to independent designers as they came up with trends that overshadowed the bigger brands. “When I came back to Egypt in 2013, there weren’t a lot of independent designers, mainly because they weren’t encouraged,” she says, “Now they are more excited because they have competition; for example, Amina K. started when there was no one, and now has competition. In Egypt, the coolest thing is that we have so many tribal patterns that they can modernise.”

“Nowadays, there are a lot of talented young designers; they just need someone to guide them. They need the culture of fashion and entrepreneurship,” adds Sawsan El Mohamed. The Moroccan-Egyptian journalist had followed the first four seasons of the festival closely, and approached the team this season to complete the dynamic event doing PR and communications.

"Independent designers are more excited because they have competition," says event coordinator Clorinda Siag.

“Back in the day, going to a fashion event meant wearing luxury brands, but nowadays that is not cool anymore; what’s cool is to wear local designers,” adds Siag, optimistic about the future developments in this sector. “Every season, I see them educating themselves more and following international standards. For example, they are now focusing on ready-to-wear fashion, whereas before it was mostly soiree. We are building them steps to showcase and platforms, like Slickr, that will help them sell,” she says.

A reviving industry

As independent designers energise the industry, attracting investments and crafting their own trends, the organisers believe the fashion landscape can grow to become a global destination. “The fashion industry here is still nascent but building up. So far, it is drawing influence from abroad and adapting it, so I still think they have to somehow find their own identity and grow from there,” says Sanchez.

Moroccan-Egyptian journalist Sawsan El Mohamed is the latest addition to the festival's organising team.

“People are also getting involved from the customer point of view; they are more aware, following of trends,” adds El Bialy. “There have been investments and huge development since the revolution. In three years, Egypt will be back on the map of the fashion industry again. We are in the refreshment era.”

“The revolution ruined a lot of industries, but strangely enough, it was also the revolution of a lot of designers who started emerging at an amazing speed in the past five years. I do believe we will be at the international level to compete, we just have to do it smartly,” says Al Agabany. And their plans, El Bialy anticipates, are big. “I am looking forward to putting Egypt on the map. We have many upcoming events, we are planning to break a World Guinness Record, but it will be a surprise. We can tell you though that we are collaborating with Oriental Paris Fashion Week and Middle East Fashion Week Dubai, to create an event called Middle East Fashion Awards.”

You can find out more on Cairo Fashion Festival's Facebook page here or follow them on Instagram @cairofashionfestival.
You can also check out Cairo Festival City's Facebook page here or follow them on Instagram @caifestivalcity.

Photography by Ahmed Najeeb.