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Inspired by heritage
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 11 - 03 - 2015

The elegance of Egyptian women in the 1930s and 40s of the past century was noted throughout the world. The latest designs would be out in Egypt before they were out in parts of Europe. However, Egyptian women's interest in fashion declined, and some say that it got lost in a muddle of depending on Western designs without a real sense of the richness of traditional Egyptian culture.
Today, Allaga is a fashion brand that aims to revive Egyptian women's lost fashion heritage and offer them a collection of comfortable, practical and at the same time heritage-inspired designs with a twist of the old magic and using the charm of local fabrics. It is a brand made specifically for those who want to feel and look Egyptian and enjoy a stylish and trendy look.
Launched by the German Global Project Partners (GPP) in Egypt, Allaga encourages and supports Egyptian designers, most of them Fine Arts graduates, under the supervision of the Ministry of Industry and the Arab-German Chamber of Commerce. “The idea of the initiative was originally to teach designers and help them establish their own brands, but it then started developing and we switched to team work, making the outcome much more productive,” says Asmaa Fatouh, assistant chief designer and one of the project's founders.
Presenting the work of more than 20 young Egyptian designers this season, Allaga aims to bring Egyptian heritage back into fashion, allowing modern designers to focus on creating a blend of today's look with a style that stands out as Egyptian in materials and look. “We want women of all ages to feel Egyptian and dress in a manner that brings out their origins and character. If a woman is wearing an Allaga outfit and walking in a foreign country, people will instantly know she is Egyptian,” Fatouh explains.
Allaga produces a collection of outfits that are handwoven by Siwan women. “Siwan men often work in tourism, which is not booming nowadays, and the women are usually left jobless,” Fatouh says. A group of Siwan women are Allaga's behind-the-scenes team, making the designs come true. The latter are mostly made of hand-made and hand-woven fabrics and include Siwan embroidery, crocheting, heavy cotton and tassels. Eighty per cent of the fabrics are natural linen and cotton, and 100 per cent of them are made in Egypt. This is in line with one of Allaga's most important goals, which is to give back to the community by helping craftsmen and women in places such as Siwa, Nubia and Upper Egypt enjoy sustainable livelihoods.
Having launched their 2015 winter collection in December at the Shakti School of Arts in Maadi, the team is currently getting ready for their mini spring-summer collection which will be out by the end of March. “We will have a mini collection this year because we worked really hard to bring out our winter collection and we're looking forward to producing a bigger one next season,” Fatouh says. Following the brand's trademark of simple, plain colours and embroidery, and unlike its 2015 winter collection which was mostly in dark colours, Allaga's spring-summer collection will offer a variety of bright colours such as orange, red and shades of blue and use materials like Siwan linen, organic Egyptian cotton, hand-made Siwan embroidery and Nubian, and Bedouin-inspired designs.
It includes blouses embroidered with semi-precious stones and sequins and other pieces crafted with chiffon, as well as A-line skirts, button-through linen dresses and baggy shorts. There are also Nubian kaftans, spring waistcoats and local hand-woven bags. Allaga's sizes range from 40 to 44 and include one-size items.
The 2015 winter collection included winter colours like dark purple, black and grey, and used materials like heavy Egyptian cotton and hand-woven wool. Natural leather was used with designs inspired by Pharaonic and Bedouin heritage. Ingi Al-Kembeshawy, one of Allaga's team members, got her inspiration for this year's collection from film director Shadi Abdel-Salam. “I have always been influenced by him and his movies, as well as by traditional Egyptian galabiyyas and abayas which are fashionable this season,” Al-Kembeshawy says.
The brand is growing in the Egyptian market. “We are working on expanding in Egypt,” says Fatouh, who adds that the brand is amazingly popular in Germany. “This is our target market this year. Our products are very popular in Germany, and Germans love the styles, the handwoven fabrics and the textures of the clothes,” she says. Allaga will be launching many upcoming events in 2015 to increase exposure in Egypt, hoping to develop greater awareness of traditionally inspired fashions. “We're hoping to move forward in the Egyptian market and make people more aware of us,” Fatouh says.
The team will continue to have GPP's support until 2016, when a winning team will be chosen to establish their own collective brand name. Meanwhile, Allaga's focus on teamwork is the key to its success, as Fatouh explains. “Teamwork helps us learn from each other and develops our skills,” she stresses. Allaga also welcomes guest designers to join in events “usually for free or at very little cost,” and Fatouh explains that the Allaga team believes the contribution of other designers is very important for the Egyptian market as a whole.
“We're hoping to move forward more into the Egyptian market and to help develop the fashion movement in Egypt. What better way to do this than to team up with other designers,” she says.
Allaga's latest collection can be found at Kaf Fatma in Degla Maadi or the Zafir showroom in Zamalek. The team is also having a sale of its 2015 winter collection before launching the new one in March.

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