Valentina Primo meets the local fashion industry's most vibrant, outspoken and downright hilarious duo at last weekend's Creative Industry summit. They talk being best friends in business, the burgeoning fashion scene and the problem with bloggers...
You could call it a dynamic duo. Even if they are not partners, Sundos Al Ayoub and Aisha AlShabrawy make up an impeccable symbiosis in fashion styling and photography that ignites sparks on set. A part of the brimming artistic scenario boosting the fashion scene across and beyond Egypt, the two young artists narrated their professional journey as they presented their work at the Creative Industry summit last weekend in Cairo.
“It started as a way of playing, 11 years ago,” Al Ayoub says. “My friend Ahmed Mubarez and I knew the owners of several magazines, so we decided to do a shoot in which I styled. I thought that since I was able to dress well, I could style a shoot. But it was terrible,” she recalls with a smile.
The experience, however, gave her the first impulse to enter the fashion industry, where she began styling editorial shoots and branching out to visual merchandising. “One of my epic moments was when Guess watches and accessories launched in Egypt. It was a very primitive production, but it was my first fashion show and that’s when I understood the insider demands and how fast things are. That’s also when I decided to quit,” she says.
Hungry to test her boundaries, Al Ayoub worked for several years in advertising and submerged into retail, where she learned tricks she had never expected. “It’s crazy, but thank God I did it, because I learned a lot,” she says. “I realised that styling requires strong managerial skills. You need assistants, but delegation does not mean giving them the dirty work; it means teaching them. And being able to evaluate others reflects back to you. I need to be able to manage my team, because I can’t be providing clothes and at the same time styling, looking for fabric and tailoring it myself, and then meeting the clients. So working there made me understand the importance of working in a team. This is not a one-man-show.”
For her longtime friend Aisha AlShabrawy, fashion photography came as something of a surprise. “I have been taken pictures since I was in university; but I always thought of it as a hobby. I was doing travel and street photography. It was one day, when I decided to quit my job in advertising, that I bought a camera and began working on it,” she says. “I thought: if I like it so much, why not take it to a professional level? And there was Sundos, who came in to support me, teaching me the dynamics of studio shoots and styling my shoots,” she says.
Ever since, the duo has produced superb photo shoots for brands such as Nina Bakry and Rons bags, featuring Egyptian rising icon Salma Abu Deif. But are things easier or more difficult when you work with your best friend? “Both,” AlShabrawy says. It’s amazing and we have a lot of chemistry, but it can be tricky because there is a thin line between professionalism and being a good friend.”
Aware of an increasingly rich fashion scene looming up on Egypt’s horizon, the artists visualise a “spiderwebbed” industry with plenty of promise. “It’s really happening right now,” Al Ayoub says. “We have fashion designers working really hard to develop their skills. It’s not about what they like anymore but their identity and how they are really creating their brand. It is not a solo project anymore; stylists, photographers, designers, and bloggers, we are all from the same caliber, we all understand what we are talking about. And at the same time, they are looking forward to present their work abroad, it´s not only Egypt, but the region and beyond.”
In a nascent industry with plenty of challenges ahead, professionalising the field is one of the main directions both artists would like to steer. “I'm really loving the fact that there are more stylists, I'm loving the bloggers who are really trying hard,” says Al Ayoub. “My concern is that fashion bloggers market things that aren't available in Egypt. That’s my pet peeve right now. Do not get me all crazy because I won’t be able to get that, because that is just showing off!”
“There seems to be a lot of amateurs,” AlShabrawy adds. “It seems like anyone now can just find nice brands, get a skinny girl and call themselves ‘fashionista’ or photographer without understanding lighting or the techniques. There is also lack of organisation in the field. We have random freelance photographers, but there is no specific good talent management company where you can go to specifically find models, for example. I would love to see someone finding and training models, because a lot have potential, but lack guidance.”
A passionate fan of street photography and street fashion, AlShabrawy thinks time has come for the fashion industry to take it to the streets. “It’s one of the things I would love to do, because Egypt is so visually rich, we have perfect locations, such as Sinai or Sahel, as well as old cultural places that could be used,” she claims. “We did one in El Andaluz Park in Zamalek and it was hard to get permissions, but it’s still something I want to explore.”
Main image by Mohamed Diaa