Thursday September 14, 2017
By: WOE Staff
After working for multinational companies for several years, Aya Abdel Salam co-founded “Comoda” a furniture design factory, and within a few years her showrooms achieved high sales in spite of the fierce market competition. Her success in the furniture business motivated her to pursue her childhood passion of creating her own clothing brand. Bijar, her fashion brand which she launched in 2015, became an instant hit and was sold out.
Aya participated in the Goldman Sachs Women Program, which provides business education, mentoring and networking to female entrepreneurs. The experience she gained from this program helped her to expand her businesses into international markets.
WOE: What sparked your interest in fashion?
AA: Since I was a child my interest in fabrics and colors was obvious to everyone. I still remember the first dress I designed for my Barbie doll when I was a child. I made it from my grandmother’s fabric scraps. I sewed it with simple stitches. I loved this dress so much, I still have it to this day.
WOE: When did you know you wanted to be a fashion designer?
AA: More than 10 years ago. On a trip with my family abroad, I liked a collection of fabrics and I imagined using this fabric to design scarves and shawls unlike what was available in the market then. That was the moment when I started dreaming about creating my own brand.
WOE: Are you self-taught or did you study fashion design?
AA: At the beginning, I taught myself, by reading and surfing websites and then I joined one of the fashion schools in Egypt. It really improved my skills, specially that I combined my “self teaching’ experience and the program application. Then I was selected in a fashion industry program organized by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, The Fashion Design Center (FDC) and The German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ).
WOE: What does Bijar mean?
AA: Bijar is a city in Persia renowned for its delicate taste and outstanding colors.
WOE: What influences your designs?
AA: There are several factors that influence my designs, and it is different for each collection. However, all these factors fall under the umbrella of orientalism and cosmopolitism infusion. I believe that beauty and music are alike, people cherish and enjoy them regardless of their culture. For example, my current collection was inspired by Sufism. When you see my latest collection, you will immediately notice the effect of Sufism both on the finest details of the designs and how they are presented.
WOE: What and who inspires you in the fashion industry?
AA: In general, it’s not the designer who inspires me, but any outstanding design, regardless of who designed it. However, I heard some comments that my pathway as an entrepreneur resembles Armani, since our careers combine both fashion and furniture. No doubt this is a huge compliment. We are incomparable. I wish one day I can be like Armani.
WOE: How do you define your style?
AA: Practical, comfy and conservative, with a touch of feminist that is missed these days.
WOE: Who is the woman that wears your clothes?
AA: I know my answer might sound exaggerated, but I think the woman who wears my designs is one who is consciously or unconsciously ambitious. Someone who believes in cultural diversity, appreciates beauty and likes to look beautiful without attracting others’ attention. She is someone who is pure, spiritual and believes in symbolism.
WOE: How do you describe your style?
AA: I can describe my style in 6 words: Modern, feminine, simple, spiritual, modest and practical.
WOE: What are the challenges of your job?
AA: Shortage of experienced garment workers who are keen to work or even to learn. Also with the economic situation and the devaluation of the currency, importing raw material and accessories is becoming very hard. Not to mention the social culture of some of the people we deal with. One of the workers, a simple woman who works for me, refused to sew one of my designs and asked me to change it to a more conservative style, even though the design was very conservative.
WOE: You’ve been working in fashion and furniture. How do you divide your time between them?
AA: Comoda was founded 3 years before Bijar, and as you know, any new business needs a lot of time and effort, and once it gets going, it requires less time. That gave me the opportunity to achieve my dreams to launch my fashion brand. Now with both of them established, I find no conflict between them.
WOE: What is your favorite material you like to use for your designs?
AA: I love to use linen, it resembles my Egyptian culture, and I like using it in both furniture and garments.
WOE: Where is your fashion sold?
AA: Currently, I am concentrating on the Egypt market. It is a big market and very promising. Thanks to the internet, now I have customers from all over the world, and that’s why I am also focusing on online sales. Comoda’s page became one of the most popular furniture pages in the middle east. We have more than half a million followers. And Bijar’s page is also gaining momentum fast.
WOE: What advice would you give to young designers?
AA: I advise them to start and not to hesitate when a new idea comes to their minds, as long as they have conviction that the idea is good, because this idea can change their lives. Work hard to achieve your dreams. Never stop learning or seeking knowledge.
WOE: What is your goal, from a business point of view?
AA: I dream of creating a high quality Egyptian product that is globally competitive; one that reflects our bright and civilized side.
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