Having had her award winning designs float down catwalks in New York, Paris and Dubai, Sara Hegazy's name is quickly becoming synonymous with the regional fashion industry. We speak to the hardworking designers about what it takes to make it.
Sara Hegazy first launched her eponymous brand in 2010 in Dubai and rapidly garnered a fashionable fan base. With her avant garde couture creations that feature rich colours, plenty of embroidery and just a lot of all-around decadence – all entirely handmade no less – the Egyptian designer quickly catapulted into the foreground of the regional fashion scene.
An engineer by trade, Hegazy soon realised that her passion instead lay in creating elaborate flowing pieces. Now an established name in the field, she has a slew of accolades under her belt including being the first Egyptian couture brand to be featured at London fashion Week 2013, as well as being featured at both the Tiffany New York Fashion Show and Paris Fashion Week in 2014. She is also a mother, a TEDx speaker, and the owner of a myriad of fashion awards. We speak to the mogul to find out more.
How did you get into fashion and design to begin with?
I’ve always been passionate about design and creating new and unique outfits, especially ones for occasions, so that was the initial spark. So I applied for a position as a design assistant while I was in Kuwait and I got the job, which was an important stepping stone for me since it showed me that I could do it even though I may not have had a fashion education.
How and when did the line come about?
I had studied to be a communication engineer but I decided to shift that career path because I wanted to utilise my inner creativity full time and I wanted to make an build an empire - a custom couture empire. So in 2009 I started planning the whole idea and putting the wheels into action to pursue my passion. I took a number of professional courses at the London College of Fashion in Dubai, learning about design, fashion branding, the industry and how to start your own label, and luxury brand management.
A Maybelline Cosmetics competition was my first real foray into the fashion industry where I got to know industry professionals and such, which definitely benefited me! I think that I really started to get on track when I was selected for the Sheila and Abaya competition to show my designs in Dubai Mall – it was a great chance to expose my brand to the audience and it got great feedback and that was the spark for me to start creating my annual collections; my very first collection revolved around beautiful flowers around the world, followed by a collection inspired by some of the most memorable female icons in history like Um Kalthoum and the girl with the pearl earring, and my latest collection is about Cleopatra.
How would you describe the aesthetic of the brand?
Well, I believe that style and fashion are created from souls and that is why I only work on a one-piece basis, which is in line with my concept of creating unique fashion. I design custom made evening and wedding gowns, the design of which is entirely manufactured by my team, down to the last detail – even the intricate pieces are hand embroidered by the team. There’s a strong emphasis on luxury and uniqueness, as well as a trend setting aspect.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in starting your own line?
Well fashion is ephemeral; it is exciting, but it’s also dangerous and unfair, and it demands a lot from startups. I suppose the challenges can be divided into two sections; the specific industry challenges and the personal challenges faced by an entrepreneur. When it comes to the industry, you need start by having a deep knowledge of it, as well as the ability to forecast trends, you have to be able to think globally about fashion and not just in your country or region, and it will always require non-stop learning on your part about how to manage the brand both locally and internationally, and to always maintain its reputation.
On a personal level it’s quite hard to be in charge of every managerial, manufacturing, and marketing detail in your brand while also having a family and raising a child – especially when your brand is still new and requires all of your time and effort. You want to spend every second enjoying your time with your child and taking care of them – being a mum is really the hardest work ever – but you also have a company to manage. Luckily, I have the support of my parents, brother, and of course my loving husband, who all believe in my dream. And it’s amazing when your kid is proud of you as well, like my seven year old son Adam is – I’ll bring him with me to shows and that’s made it more enjoyable.
Where do you get inspiration and ideas for the pieces?
My greatest inspirations are Chanel and nature! And the ideas continue to roll in because the desire to succeed is an inner dream, a passion that results in endless hours of brain storming until I find inspiration and a willingness to always rise to the challenge.
Basically I’m inspired because I’m always thinking out of the box, thinking of unique unbelievable ideas. And creating new concepts is easy when you really insist on being different.
What is the design process like for you?
Well fashion isn’t just about sketching, or selecting fabrics; it’s about sensuality and charisma and about the woman who is wearing the piece – it’s her feelings that create the outfit. I usually work with one client at a time so this enables me to dedicate my work and direct my attention to focus on the individual and unique traits that would specifically suit my client’s taste and preference. So the design process starts there. And then of course I start drawing the piece – and generally drawing is my stress-free pill and the most lovely daily exercise!
Occasionally, I’ll get three clients simultaneously attending the same event! I find situations of the kind an intriguing challenge, where I have to come up with three different gowns, each of them stealing the spotlight from the other, and I do love to do that.
You've won numerous fashion awards, been featured in magazines as a female entrepreneur to be reckoned with, and participated in Dubai, London, and Paris Fashion Week but for you, what is your proudest achievement?
Of course Paris Fashion Week was a dream – and having the brand name mentioned as Egyptian during it. Also being named the National Brand of Egypt by the Middle East’s Luxury Lifestyle Awards 2015 was a great moment for me. But some of my proudest moments are when I see my family, especially my parents, glowing with pride at my achievements.
What advice would you have for up and coming designers?
If you want to build a business that will last decades, you should focus on your brand and not on sales. You don’t have to stick to your initial education and skills – just because you didn’t study design to begin with doesn’t mean you can’t still get into it so don’t let that hold you back. Challenge all the rules, and be different – always aim to innovate. It’s your desire and emotions that will constantly drive you to continue to achieve.
What do you think of the fashion scene in Egypt and how do you think it could be improved?
I think that one of the problems with the Egyptian fashion industry is in terms of creativity; while international designers believe that the design business is driven by art, in Egypt designers often merely follow the market trends. Egyptian fashion designers still cannot set their own trends. However, having said that, nowadays we have many new emerging designers in Egypt, presenting new ideas.
But there are also environmental obstacles. In Egypt, unlike other industries, the fashion industry doesn’t’t have a syndicate that caters for protecting the industry members or supporting them in setting up fashion shows or bazaars for instance. The government needs to be more supportive and forward thinking. Investors have to trust youth’s imaginations and provide added value not only money - NGOs are exerting a lot of effort to support youth but with little impact.
You split your time between Dubai and Egypt; how do you think the fashion scenes differ in both cities?
Well, I think in a nutshell, trends are created in Dubai while in Egypt we still follow trends more than we challenge the design norm. That’s also because clients in Egypt are more likely to want to stay on the safe side when it comes to fashion and wear things that have already been approved by society instead of challenging the status quo.
You can check out her Facebook page here or follow her on Instagram @sarahegazy.
Original photography by Kareem Hosem. Shot on location in Dubai, Jumeirah Lake Towers.