Amina Khalil, with her sparkling eyes and sprightly curly hair, is the epitome of youthful vibrancy. She may not have expected her presence in the world of beauty and fashion to be so big so quickly, but with her successful studies, prestigious internships, and her clear vision, she is more than prepared to excel.
Khalil is the founder of Amina K, a clothing and accessories brand with an Egyptian touch. She is based in Cairo and makes her clothing, bags, and belts out of local fabrics, many of which are adorned with traditional designs.
She began her career by receiving her bachelor’s in fashion design and marketing from the American Intercontinental University in London. She went on to intern at Matthew Williamson, a British luxury fashion house based in London. Although her internship lasted only seven months, Khalil insisted on switching departments on almost a monthly basis because she wanted to get as much exposure as possible. But the internship gave her no exposure to the design department. Her plan at the time was to work for a big design house before venturing to create her own line. It didn’t turn out that way.
"Actually, it all started with Mounaya," Khalil says, referring to a boutique in Zamalek that highlights local designers of clothing, jewelry, and housewares. "I spent two years in London, taking courses and completing internships and was designing pieces along the way – Mounaya asked for 30 pieces and afterwards, Loolies [another Zamalek based boutique that sells high-end women’s fashion and furniture] wanted a few… there was an open day in Hacienda [a compound located on the north coast of Egypt, near the city of Al Amein] and I started to realize I needed to be back in Cairo – people were interested in my clothing and despite feeling that I needed more time to gain experience, I knew I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to get started on my line."
Khalil moved back in January 2009 to start setting up a workshop and establish her brand officially and properly.
Knowing she could easily get caught up in the hype of selling in Cairo boutiques, Khalil decided her best bet for long term success was to build her brand on a good foundation. She explains that the process of creating a good look book (a book used to show stores and clients new looks and samples of fabric in order to allow them to order items from the collection) and a well structured website are crucial, she says.
She is still trying to lay the groundwork for her brand’s success. "I’m finally finishing up my studio, since I’ve been working from home so far, and trying to move away from custom made clothing to focus solely on my winter and summer collections."
Khalil’s style is unique. She uses Egyptian fabrics from local markets—sometimes even tent fabrics—but her designs are far from what you would find in the streets of Cairo.
Last summer she debuted her long flowing halter dress in white and adorned with pieces of vibrantly colored Egyptian motif fabrics, striped through the middle of the skirt and covering the bare halter top. Winter brings what has become a very popular hooded jacket, patched with a multitude of fabrics. It looks perfect over jeans. The hood also appears in a winter dress look, at a length that would probably require anyone but the model to don a pair of leggings.
But Khalil wasn’t always so Egypt-centric. "When it came time to put together a collection for my BA final project, I originally put a more generic, evening gown collection together in my proposal," she explains. That collection lacked distinctiveness and her professor, in proper fashion school form, criticized her designs. From that moment, Khalil looked within and found that the idea that inspired her most was an undefined look, one that had yet to be properly portrayed for the world to see—the Egyptian look.
"Initially I expected my work would be solely appreciated on the international scene, where it represented something different," Khalil admits, "but I found that back in Cairo, a lot of people were willing to take a step away from the generic European attire and take pride in clothing that was Egyptian – unique and really ‘theirs.’" For her 18-piece graduation collection, Khalil came to Cairo to buy fabrics. She had no idea she would be back for good so soon.
Khalil sees a lot of promise in the fashion industry here, with new blogs popping up and new boutiques opening for local designers. She knows that things here can only get better if she sticks to her goals and solidifies the progress she has already made. "There’s been a lot of expansion in the past year," she says, "so although it’s tempting to open up a boutique now, I’d rather stabilize for a while, make sure my collections are well planned and consistent, pull out some of the ideas I’ve been saving, etc." Despite the sparkle of inspiration that twinkles in her eyes at the mere thought of a boutique and the expansions to come, you know she’s got things under control.