Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Zi — style narrative

Young Egyptian designer Zi talks about the sartorial zeitgeist to Dina Ezzat


Zi — style
Zi — style

Working with cotton fabrics, loose-but-sexy lines and a blend of ethnic themes, young Egyptian designer Zi has been trying to set her Boho Style brand on its feet in Egypt over the past seven years, and now she feels she has done it.  

“I worked on my first collection back in 2010 just before the 2011 Revolution, and I was literally in the finishing process when the 18-day story started,” Zi recalled.

Herself “so out of politics and so into fabrics and accessories,” Zi— the name she goes by to avoid what she says is a more boring Zeinab Talaat — was sitting before her TV screen sewing loose skirts and waiting for the demonstrations to come to an end so that her first collection could come out.

She had booked a venue for the collection to be presented on 2 February, as it turned out the day of serious confrontations between demonstrators staging a sit-in in the heart of Cairo’s Tahrir Square and thugs who arrived on camels in a bid to disperse the protesting crowd.

Seeing the turn of events, Zi decided to fold up her shirts and skirts and to box up her necklaces and earrings, waiting until the time was right to bring her “out-of-the-ordinary designs to the public”.

There was no better time to do that than the spring and early summer of 2011, she said. “My collection is meant to challenge the predictable and to walk the path of the unpredictable,” she added.

“When I was putting the collection together, there was already a trend to go for comfortable and free-spirited outfits, but it was not quite there yet. There was certainly no mood yet for designs of an African inspiration — either for clothes or for accessories,” Zi said.

By then in her late 20s, she had enough faith to believe that her new collection would work.

“I am not sure whether it had to do with the mood at the time or if it had something to do with the changes going on, but this style — loose, comfortable, but attractive and suitable for many settings — was fitting for the needs of Egyptian women, whether young, middle-aged, or even older too,” Zi said.

 In a country where the weather is generally warm to hot, where women are not known for their slim waist-lines, and where people like to play with colours, the Boho Style fitted well. This was especially the case since the simple designs and fabrics are not meant to pressure the budgets of students and others.  

Zi’s bet was proven right. She took her loose outfits and colourful accessories to display at an art centre in Zamalek. She hung the clothes and used lighting to show off the blend of metal-and-bead necklaces with loose cotton T-shirts embroidered with African motifs.

All hand-made with no assistance, the collection was not large. “And it sold out almost immediately. I was pleased and knew I was on the right track. I knew I could be what I had always wanted,” Zi said.

Ever since she was a child of 11, Zi knew she liked sewing and making clothes. Unlike other kids who were not into needlework, she had a passion for it.

Maybe, she said, it was partially about being born to a mother who was into interior design, an architect father, and a grandmother into fashion design.

“I am not sure where it comes from, but I knew I had to be doing this because I had tried working for commercial producers and I was just not into it,” she said.

When she finished school, Zi had wanted to study fashion and jewellery design. But like many other women her age with her interests, she knew that this was not something she could do in Egypt — not, at least, for someone from the middle class who would have to have a university degree.

The path was obvious: a degree from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo where she acquired “a deep knowledge of the history of art, the roots of design, the command of colours, and an awareness of different fabrics”. She then went on to do a two-year diploma at an Italian fashion school.

Like many other women her age, she has built her brand on social media, first on Facebook and then on Instagram.

“What I want to do is not about taking my non-traditional line of clothes into the traditional fashion system. This is not where my clients would be for the most part anyway. Instead, I am reaching out to those who would appreciate what I have to offer through the channels they know best,” she said.

“I am an independent designer, and independent designers are not about mass production,” Zi added. The recipe has been working, and she has already had three collections out since 2011. One of them she took to Lebanon, “where it was really a big success”.

Zi is convinced there is a growing market for the kind of designs and accessories she is putting out because “I think more and more women of different ages and socio-economic brackets are opting to give up on the sartorial constraints they have inherited of form-fitting outfits that they don’t look slim enough for and non-cotton fabrics that don’t look good.”  

This, she argued, had been proven by the growing number of independent designers mostly into her free-spirited style of clothes.

“Ten years ago the concept of a simple long white or black shirt was not there — not even a basic T-shirt. I remember frequenting several stores one after the other to get hold of just a black T-shirt,” Zi said. “This has been changing since.”

Along with the taste for the basic came the taste for the ethnic. “It has been happening for a few years — the Indian and the Pakistani, the Latin, and so on. My thing is essentially the African, because I think it is very beautiful and so under-rated,” she argued.

In additional work she does with video clips, Zi has tried to merge Boho and African, and “it did work well,” she said. She is not planning to constrain herself, however. “I just want to introduce simple and comfortable things that could fit many women and that would not necessarily cost a fortune,” she added.

She is now planning to expand her production. The trouble, she said, was that the market has been “so depleted of skilled workers who are not part of the mass production system. But I am sure I can find some skilled people who can help me put out my next collection — which will feature ultra-loose trousers and tops, as well as bracelets and clutches.”

This new collection should be out before the end of the year.

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