Operation: Fashion for Freedom

Two years ago, in the midst of the war in Gaza, four Arab creative minds decided it was time to introduce a new concept to the region: contemporary fashion with a conscious. The result was El Horreya.
A Cairo-based initiative that is constantly evolving in order to support current humanitarian organizations in need across the Middle East, El Horreya produces original items in which a percentage of the profits garnered are allocated to charities in the hopes of providing direct relief to those seeking aid. In fact, the word horreya translates to “freedom” in English.
Due to the tumultuous state of Occupied Palestine, the designers, Heba Elawadi (of fashion brand, Hebz by Heba Elawadi), Hana Elawadi (jewelry genius behind Hana Elawadi Jewelry), Dina Sabet (artist and gallery owner of Studio 14 and KDS) and Meram Maafa (partner of Ghazl Banat Boutique in Cairo), decided their first collection should be to design something dedicated to the people of Palestine, while incorporating their traditional black and white scarf in a modern way.
The outcome was a range of trendy accessories that not only reflect Arab culture, but a Pan-Arab concern for each other.
“Palestine was going through a difficult time, as we all know, and we wanted to do something to be able to support them, so we started by creating pieces that integrated the famous kuffiya scarves and recreated them onto handbags and scarves mixed with other materials that have ethnic associations, such as coins and tassels,” explained Hana.
The collection was a success. “Legendary music producer Quincy Jones was at the launch of El Horreya, which doubled as a celebration of his birthday,” revealed Heba. “Special guests at the event included Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, Egyptian actress Yousra, and Moroccan singer Abdou Sherif singing Abdel Halim songs among other performances to keep the guests entertained.” Other celebrities have also shown their support by sporting the kuffiya. Singer Akon rocked an El Horreya scarf on stage when performing in Cairo, as did the Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.Am., while Fergie chose to show her support in the form of a feminine clutch.
“Taboo and Apl.de.ap have laptop cases, which apparently they still talk about!” gushed Heba. “Paris Hilton has been seen wearing our famous plasticized pouch, which is our staple item.”
While the celebrity support is super cool, El Horreya also has a loyal clientele of regular fashionistas who can’t seem to get enough of the hip accessories. “Our customers always tell us when they travel that they always get stopped and asked about our products, which is fantastic!” stated Heba.
What makes El Horreya so unique is that while it stands for something deeper, it’s still trendy and fashionable on the surface. A lifestyle brand, El Horreya not only designs and manufactures men and women fashion lines; it also includes home accessories and small leather goods.
“We also have a children’s line,” added Heba. “The El Horreya consumer is fashionable with a conscience in keeping the ethnic vibe alive.”

The traditional materials from the Middle East form the basis of their designs, while their diverse backgrounds and unique styles allow them to manipulate these materials into modern fashion trends.
“My sister Heba and I are half Egyptian and half Moroccan, Dina is from Alexandria and Meram is from Libya. So, we are quite diverse in culture,” revealed Hana. “We all have different styles, so we are all able to create items that will make it available for a wider market group.”
“El Horreya’s mission is to modernize Middle Eastern crafts in order for the Middle Eastern influence to become widespread across the globe,” stated Dina.
“And, to continue to grow and continue to support the craftsmanship into the products we create,” added Hana who revealed that each item is handcrafted locally in Egypt.

El Horreya implements many cultural techniques, in addition to the materials used. “We use several techniques and handcrafts in our products,” explained Hana. “Some to mention are the khayamiya technique, which we recreate into handbags, laptop bags, skirts and home accessories and toiletries. We also use the jalabiya material and tailor it into modern products.”
El Horreya also utilizes the Arabic language in the form of silk printing, while their favorite materials are the Bedouin floral prints and checkered male scarves. “We also use the silversmiths Martele technique, the tally silver thread embroidery,” added Dina, “We use the technique of Egypt’s Siwas embroidery and Mars Allam’s leather tassels and beading techniques.”

However, it’s not just the techniques and the materials; El Horreya goes even deeper, employing local talent to manufacture their designs. In addition, the designers have implemented an internal program to help the unprivileged by finding work for them, either employing them in their own local workshop or by using other organizations of means.
“For items that are outsourced, we make sure that we only engage in fair-trade, and we often work with organizations who employ impoverished women in order to give them an income,” explained Heba.
“After all, our aim is provide direct relief to those seeking help, hope and a brighter future,” added Meram, reasserting the brand’s dogma.
“The proceeds go to different charities each season,” explained Heba. “But when we launched, we had initiated this project in order to give back and help Palestine. So, we sent funds through SOS Children’s Villages.”

Currently, El Horreya gives its “Fashion Zakat” to various charities of different causes. In the end, Heba believes: “El Horreya is a style, not just a brand. Through our designs, we make it possible to remind people that culture is art and fashion is art.”
More than that, El Horreya is reminding fashion that it’s not just all about fashion. Sometimes, helping your fellow human brethren is the chicest way to show your hip side.

Article by Marriam M Mossalli – Arab News

1 comment to Operation: Fashion for Freedom

  • Zee

    loved the compassion and determination of these designers. Their desire to give back with Fashion Zakat is a voice many others need to immitate.