Te3raf tetkalem balady? Well now your leggings can speak it instead.
Now we’re not saying Egyptians are snobs (let’s face it, most kind of are), but Egyptians carry the infamous 3o2det el khawaga in their hearts. We can safely assume, without exception, that most of us have Adidas, Puma, or Nike trainers at home, that our jeans are probably from H&M or Pull & Bear, and that everyone in our social circle sports Abercrombie & Fitch sweatpants. That is just how things seem to pan out when it comes to fashion provenance, and yet, there is huge potential in Egypt to turn things around and put emphasis on local production.
As such, one emerging online brand, BelBalady, has taken on the mission to create a new trend of locally manufactured sportswear and clothes, providing an Egyptian equivalent to international brands like Lululemon and TNA. Launched on Instagram on May 6th by Omar Khaled, Nada Mansour, and Mohamed Mohsen, BelBalady's unique characteristic is definitely the slogans in beautiful Arabic calligraphy, one of which is the famous 'el batn chocolata' quote from Ahmed Mekki's hit movie, Teer Enta.
Currently, BelBalady only sells leggings, but has plans to launch two new mystery items into the market by summer. The price for the leggings is fixed: 370 LE in Egypt and 45 dollars abroad.
“We wanted something with a local identity and we were thinking about how there is such a high demand for leggings at the moment with summertime approaching. We asked around in factories and discovered that it wasn’t costly. At first, we thought of getting the leggings from abroad to guarantee higher quality, but then we decided that, if it’s going to be local, then we’ll make the whole thing here – from material to production and printing. It makes the concept much more real and complete,” Khaled enthuses.
He jokes that most people assume the whole business is run by women, and that discovering that not one but two males are behind the scenes is a startling fact for many. All three co-founders have jobs on the side; Khaled is business developer with a background in engineering, and although he now lives in Qatar, he will be moving back to Egypt. He explains that he had been toying with the idea of opening the business for a year now; he involved Mohsen and Mansour in the discussion and they got very serious about launching it when they realised Mansour had some knowledge about factories and printing shops.
“The main concept behind our label is to create an Egyptian product that is trendy and communicates our local identity through its design, hence the Arabic calligraphy and slang word,” said Omar Khaled in an interview with Daily News Egypt, explaining that for them it’s important to manufacture their own high quality products that resonate with an Arabic niche.
In a bid to help the Egyptian economy, they try to sell their products outside of Egypt in dollars, which isn't a big problem namely for those living in Gulf countries. BelBalady always attempts to look for big entities that know their country's market and that would ask for bulk orders; this proves to be a win-win situation because the products are gaining recognition abroad and they're investing in the local economy.
Contrary to what most people think, their items do not focus on sportswear only. "We are not a sports brand; we sell an idea: local touch and local identity. It doesn’t have to be sports or even clothes,” explains Khaled.
BelBalady products come in colourful waterproof bags to keep the leggings sealed after workouts, which they try to match with the printing of the leggings. There is a lot of focus on their items being practical, not just stylish.
According to Daily News Egypt, they are largely inspired by international brands even when it comes to the material they use; the leggings are made out of local nylon air-covered with lycra, which they name Skin-Feel – their version of Nike’s Dri-Fit and Adidas’ Clima-Cool. The only downside to the business is that quality control can be problematic in Egypt, and they have to be around the factories to supervise that the products end up being in a good condition. Khaled explains that they once had a batch of 500 leggings of which a few were very torn – without systematic supervision of the material, printing, and communication with the factory workers, things can go awry very quickly.
As for expanding to an actual shop, Khaled prefers keeping to their original strategy, which is focusing on sales online.
Image credits go to BelBalady and photographer Abu Samra.