For the last couple of years, the local fashion-design industry has focused on women’s fashion: unique clothing lines, jewelery and accessories are introduced in the local market with a specific Egyptian or Arabian touch to them, which attracts the curious eyes of female shoppers looking for a different and authentic look.
Male fashion, meanwhile, has been largely ignored in favor of the booming market for female fashion.
Designers, however, are now branching out into the male fashion industry, and while their efforts are still tentative, they are gradually building a name for their male fashion lines among the young generation on the lookout for a unique style.
“Even when we are marketing for our male fashion line, we target the women,” says Harun Rashid, managing director of Islamic Design House. “The market is limited, as men rarely buy for themselves and women might buy t-shirts for family members.”
Islamic Design House is the local branch of a British company called Silk Route, which concentrates on female fashion that integrates Islamic modesty with feminine and funky design. A new line of men’s t-shirts, hoodies and sweatshirts was introduced lately for sale on the company’s Facebook group.
“The concept is that of exchanging cultures between the East and West,” says Rachid, sitting under a poster carrying the company’s slogan: Enna Allah Jameel Yohebo Al-Jamal (“God is beautiful and He appreciates beauty”). “We take the traditional trademarks of Islam–such as Arabic words and Islamic calligraphy–and modernize it,” the manager explains. “Our vision is to embody the contemporary Islamic lifestyle.”
Indeed, with their t-shirts carrying words such as Sabr (“patience”) surrounded by a vast number of unreadable Arabic words, and the word Nour (“light”) written in brown on a white t-shirt, they deliver a medium that fuses the beauty of classical Islamic design and the uniqueness coveted by youngsters.
The 15-to-25-year-old set are certainly the main market for these new and hip t-shirts. Young men in Egypt have previously been labeled “metrosexual”–a contemporary term for urbanized heterosexual men who have a strong concern for their appearance–and are increasingly hungry for new and modern fashion. According to Nevine Mansour, a marketeer who has researched metrosexuality and the fashion industry in Egypt, this consumer category “presents a largely untapped source of revenue that has the potential to be very profitable.”
“Fashion in traditional outlets in Cairo emulates Western styles,” says Rashid. “There is no originality in the fashion houses around Cairo. Our t-shirts, however, are linking Arabic speakers to their culture.”
While the company uses Islamic symbols in their designs, Rashid insists that the designs are far from radical. “We are not saying ‘Jihad’ on the t-shirts, we are releasing a design that anyone can relate to,” he says.
Islamic Design House is not the only company working on a male fashion line. Horreya Design for Freedom is also introducing a men’s clothing line this year as part of their new collection. Their Zamalek boutique on the shores of the Nile is inviting and tastefully decorated, and while the women’s wear and accessories take up most of the space, the corner dedicated to men’s fashion is rich with color and variety.
Hana el-Awadi, one of three partners and founders of Horreya Design, explains that they tried to keep “a simple-yet-cool style” for men’s t-shirts and shirts. “Designing for a man is a lot harder than designing for a woman,” she says. “We were worried that the t-shirts might look too girly for a man’s taste.”
While the clothing line in Horreya’s organic cotton collection is manufactured abroad “to secure a better quality and a perfect fit,” the design and style of the products the company offers are inspired by Middle Eastern themes and Egyptian characters.
“We wanted to integrate the basic design with the Horreya themes and material,” the designer explains. “We used the Palestinian scarf [keffiyeh], a typically Egyptian flower print and other themes in adding touches to our men’s line, such as a small pocket on the left hand corner on the front of the t-shirt.”
Horreya also offers plain “perfect fit” t-shirts with only a small Horreya logo on the back. “Our clients love these t-shirts, because it is really hard to find a good quality plain t-shirt in the market,” el-Awadi says.
According to el-Awadi, the fashion line that she and her two partners worked on as a team has received a good deal of positive feedback, and she believes she is making inroads into the men’s market in Egypt.
“We’re launching our new line in September and October,” the designer says. “We will have men’s hoodies and long-sleeve t-shirts as well.”
She has no plans, however, of introducing a full men’s fashion line, at least for the time being. “Maybe in the future, when the market grows bigger,” she said.