Nataal caught up with this young Egyptian designer and Design Indaba 2018 speaker to discuss her revolutionary approach to fashion

After the Egyptian revolution of 2011, Amna Elshandaweely ditched her corporate job to launch a fashion brand driven by her desire to shake up her society from within. Elshandaweely’s afro punk collections take inspiration from experiences and cultures the young designer has sought out around the continent and aim to remind Egyptians that their country is not only part of Africa but must also address its lack of race and gender equality. She’s taken part in Project Runway ME and her fashion films have gone viral for going against the grain of accepted notions of beauty by depicting dark skinned, curly haired models in her striking streetwear. Nataal met with Elshandaweely at Design Indaba 2018 to discuss her riotous ideas.

Why did being part of Design Indaba appeal to you?
It’s interesting for me to be with international artists who want to change the world in whatever they are doing. Knowing that there are other people out there who work as hard as I do to make a difference is very empowering.

How would you frame the arts scene in Egypt?
It only began to build after the revolution. People like me started doing creative things but a lot of artists only focus on local issues and don’t know how to market themselves to the world. It’s also still unsafe to express yourself. People are going to jail for sharing opinions on Facebook or flying a rainbow flag for homosexuality. But we must not be scared and we must document what is happening.

What is your creative process?
I go to the place that inspires the collection [which previously has included Faiyum and Nairobi], take photos and check out the street style. I want to see who the people are in this place. Then I do a moodboard and manipulate African fabrics to get the same textures of the streets that I’m feeling. I use local craftsmen to create the pieces and then shoot a video.

What are your signature styles?
My outfits have to be comfortable, colourful and ready to go. I love jumpsuits, bomber jackets, fanny packs and oversized trousers.

How did your collection City of The Amazighs come about?
I went to Siwa on the border of Egypt and Libya and enjoyed its amazing scenery and music but realised there were no single women out in public. I asked to be taken to meet some and found out that they stay at home from the age of seven to embroider the dress they will wear to get married in aged 16 or 17. I made a collection and took it back to the city. I wanted them to realise that they make amazing art but are not free. The project made an splash in the art scene but did not have a social impact, which depresses me and was a lesson learnt.

Tell us about your latest collection, Once On A Wall.
I’m collaborating with different graffiti artists around Africa. The first capsule is with Egypt’s Zeft, who has drawn the collection’s key motif - Queen Nefertiti wearing a gas mask. Next I’m going to work with artists in South Africa, and then Sudan. I’m interested to know what messages they are sending out on the walls of their cities. And I want to remind young people that they have power and that there is hope.

What are your future goals?
I hope that my brand expands so that women in the Middle East and Africa, who don’t relate to how beauty is represented in magazines, can see that they can be proud of their own identity and where they come from.

Portrait photography Rudi Geyser

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Published on 14/03/2018