Amna El Shandaweely Bringing Ethnic Flair to Fashion

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For the past couple of years, Egypt has seen many artistic fashion designers prosper with unique ideas inspired by different stories. Obsessed with the natural beauty of diverse cultures, Amna Elshandaweely concocts her designs through the prism of whichever cultures she stumbles upon. eniGma’s Laila Rostom sat with the culturally-enthused designer to learn more about her creative journey.

Tell us about yourself and how you found your passion?
I’ve always seen myself as a wanderer. I’ve always been the kind of person who loves to explore new cities and learn about diverse tribal cultures. I try to reflect the stories I read and the different cultures I discover through fashion, whether through my amusement with the colours I see, the music I listen to, or the beauty of a place I visited.

What made you interested in fashion design?
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the dolls my parents bought me; you could say I was a doll-a-holic. However, I always despised how the dolls were dressed. I was never a fan of the pink tutu dresses and glittery head pieces. I would cut out curtain fabrics or use any old materials I could find in the house just to re-create my dolls’ costumes. The more I grew up, the more I hated what the market had to offer and began to develop a revolutionary vision. I began looking for better alternatives that best suited my style, which I found when my mom took me to a fabric market in Alexandria called Farsana Street. Ever since then, I began designing my own clothes and made it a point to never wear anything that I didn’t like again, so I only wear my designs.

What inspires you the most in developing your creative ideas?
I always feel inspired to wear and dress people with pieces that have a cultural reference or are imbued with an ethnic idea. With every collection that I create, there is a story behind it of a tribe, a city or a culture that inspired me. I think that’s what gives my pieces a unique and obvious individual characteristic.

What obstacles did you face while starting on this path? And how did you overcome them?
It’s tricky to achieve a balance between being the brand owner, director, and main designer of a company. Overlooking the brand’s operations, marketing, managerial and financial work is definitely a challenging hassle. On the other end, you still have to work hard on maintaining your creativity as a designer, researching every day inspirations to add to your mood board. I think I overcame the challenge by building a bigger team that supports the managerial work and follows up with other team players. This definitely gives me a wider creative space to focus and develop myself as a designer.

Where do you get your fabrics from?
Sometimes I get them from the cities that inspire me like what I have done in my collection “Road to Nairobi” and “My Little Indian Capsule.” Other times I buy fabrics that have never been used in clothes but in other items, such as curtains, out of which my “Road to Al Fayoum” collection was created. My upcoming collection “Road to Siwa, The City of the Amazigh” is all done in Egyptian fabric, with the addition of handmade work.

Do you have a certain purpose behind every collection or design?
In every collection, I work hard to make people read more about the different cultures I refer to and the cities I visit. I created a piece once called “Nuba Mountain Poncho” and a client contacted me to tell me that he started reading more about the Nuba Mountains and the origins, culture and architecture of the Nubians of Egypt, which were reflected in the piece by the handmade khayameya work. I think that’s what makes me the happiest: seeing people inspired by my creation to tell a story of something very rich in culture. It’s definitely a unique and inspiring feeling. I believe the world needs more original designers with diverse visions. People who believe they are crazy enough to change the world are always the ones who do.

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