Ibrahim Shebani is the ambitious designer behind Born In Exile, a brand that celebrates the cultural heritage of Libya through beautiful works of embroideries, patterns, and that most of all, has a story to share. Passionate and hard-working, Ibrahim has big dreams for his label: international recognition, making it to major runways, being stocked worldwide…not timorous, he admits “This is the dream I’ve always had, and I will do everything possible to see it come true.” Meet Ibrahim.
Hello JDEED! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. My name is Ibrahim Shebani, I am from a beautiful city in the east of Libya called Benghazi. Due to the political instability of Libya my family moved around during the late 70s before settling in Cairo-Egypt where I grew up and spent most of my childhood.
As the youngest of six children I was always glued to my mother who is a lover of arts, fashion and everything artisan. I remember going everywhere with her, when she went to her tailors in Cairo to make clothes, when she went to Khan El Khalili to make jewelry and accessories, Kerdasa and Wekalet el Balah for embroideries and fabrics. I was always going to these places with her growing up and I feel that it truly sparked my interest for arts and craftsmanship.
Upon moving back to Libya in the 90s, I got myself involved in arts and cultural projects at school and gradually started knowing more about fashion and design through magazines I managed to get while traveling out of Libya, or television.
And things got even better when I got access to the Internet which was granted to Libyans in 2000. It was around the same time I graduated high-school and left to university. At the time I had read an article about Central Saint Martins (a renown art, design and fashion school in London) and instantly knew that this is where I wanted to go to study.
I discussed it with my late father but he wasn’t fond of the idea at all! Libya is still a closed society and men are mostly expected to become doctors or engineers and if they stray away they become businessmen! Arts are just a hobby where I come from. Not being able to convince my father, wanting to please him but still having this burning love for arts, I decided to join the school of architecture and urban planning at the university of Libya – “hitting two birds with one stone’’ as per the saying- studying something my father will be proud of yet something artistic. Actually it was the only and most artistic field you could study in Benghazi (where there is not any art or fashion school available).
My interest and love for fashion kept on growing while I was studying architecture and I would sketch figures and garments more than I sketched houses and buildings. After university, I started a successful career in marketing and advertising but couldn’t get rid of the idea of creating a brand inspired by Libya’s culture.
In 2014 after the civil war broke out in Libya, I left the country and moved to Amman, Jordan, and by coincidence I ended up taking a fashion sketching course there in early 2017. The instructor really liked my work and encouraged me to produce prototypes. I tried my luck in this very competitive industry. I travelled to Paris and Milan and toured fabrics shops, exhibitions and leather tanneries, bought all the materials I needed, found a small atelier near Bologna in Italy that could make my prototypes then moved to Tunisia and found manufacturers. That’s how my journey began and that’s how my first collection ‘’Modern Heritage’’ saw the light.
I always say Libya inspires me and you can see it in my work but the inspiration I draw from Libya is not only confined to traditional clothing and fabrics. From my perspective, Libya is synonymous with culture, tradition, architecture, politics, experiences, music, and people, and so much more, with which I identify and draw inspiration from in my work as a fashion designer.
Combined, these aspects, and particularly my personal experiences, have imprinted on and shaped Born in Exile, especially through the materials and embroideries I use. For the most part, Libya remains a mystery to people and I try to share my vision of the country and familiarize people to that vision. What truly inspires me are my memories of Libya and how I imagine it. Libya is always with me even when I travel.
I absolutely love embroideries, but I don’t want to be only known as the embroidery designer. For the first collection, my strategy was to create strong looks relying on Libyan traditional pieces that were heavily embroidered. We took inspiration and created modern garments that embodied the traditional embroideries without ending up looking like costumes.
Maximalism and street style are two style guidelines for the brand. I will always use embroideries as I believe they elevate the garments.I would like to think that Born In Exile’s brand signature is about ethically made modern garments that tell a story through culture, heritage and style.
The Born in Exile woman is a woman with a story. She is the kind of woman who swims against the current. She is the woman who doesn’t fit the mold and challenges social norms. She is resilient and resistant. She has a soul and it reflects strongly on the way she dresses. For her, dressing is a statement, she is extra, she embraces it, she loves it and she doesn’t care. She is not boring, she is anything but boring. She doesn’t care to look pretty, she cares to look strong, she doesn’t act, she simply just lives.
Thank you so much, it really means the world to me to be a finalist at FTA! I am really eager to meet everyone, the organizing team, the finalists and the jury. I really want to meet Tania Fares and thank her so much for creating this initiative that supports regional talents, gives them an international platform and sheds light on their work. FTA truly shortens the journey for young designers; the fashion industry is cut-throat and very competitive; winning FTA takes you places in a short time. You can only either dream of such a thing or work a decade (at least) before achieving this.
I would really love to meet all the judges and hear their thoughts about Born In Exile as a brand and what could be improved.
I also can’t wait to meet you JDEED you are such a cool platform.
(FTA has been postponed due to growing concerns and new travel regulations in regards of Coronavirus.)
As a designer I would love to grow Born in Exile into a successful international fashion house. If I had to dream big I would love to be able to surround myself with a strong creative team and present new collections on major runways. I would love to see Born in Exile boutiques all around the world, sell at all major retailers.
I would love to produce women and menswear, evening wear & accessories, turn the idea of Born In Exile into a successful lifestyle brand. This is the dream I’ve always had, and I will do everything possible to see it come true.