By Cynthia Jreige
No quarter-life crisis here (yes I do intend to live until I’m 100, 3a2bel 100 to me), just a taken opportunity to put down in words what’s been waltzing in my head for 24 years. I mean, I founded JDEED, so let’s start off by stating my undeniable love for the Arab World, for discovering new talents that are emerging here, just for the talks and the sharing of experiences and opinions.
I might have never presented myself, not out of fake modesty, but because I created a platform for self-expression and promotion, where what matters is the talent of the people we discover and love and who we try to give a push to, even small, to be known and put on the track to recognition.
So yes, I act in the shadow, with extreme attentiveness to your comments and inquiries. I happily witness the growth of this community we’re creating together, all of us united by arts, a similar culture, and I’m stoked to admit, a raging envy of peace beyond any kind of geopolitical context whatsoever.
Creativity is the base of all the initiatives we praise, but not only. How many designers have we interviewed who work with refugees, disadvantaged women, who give back to charities… Philanthropy is just as much of a weight on the scale as the creative fiber is.
I’ve been trying to envision what life in the design and art communities in the Arab World will be in like in 5,10,20 years from now. We might be going backwards on some level but forward is the way we move on so many other. If being known internationally is still what seems to be trending in the common dream department, returning to our sources, finding solutions with what is available around us, helping each other, and taking pride in being made in the MENA is slowly but certainly becoming the new cool.
For having talked to so many designers, whether they specialize in products or garments, it isn’t about competing with Paris, Milan or New-York anymore. It’s about being relevant to our markets, producing locally, not having to define ourselves as Western or Eastern or funky or couture, just doing what we want, the way we want it.
Doing what we want also implies to follow our own rules and try to position ourselves as leaders, us who were always pointed at for trying to imitate what was done in Europe or America.
And initiatives have come to life. JDEED is proudly taking part and supporting an anonymous collective called The Local Ninjas, that encourages local business to refrain from going on massive sales to compete with fast-fashion brands. #YourLocalNinjas is globally pledging for « *YES to ethical and transparent business practices and slow, conscious commerce.
* NO to succumbing to market pressure and unfair competition in the absence of legal regulations.
* YES to respecting the time and labour of our local production network – from makers, to artisans, creatives, distributors, salespeople – and paying them what they deserve.
* NO to devaluating our products.
* YES to running loyalty and quantity discounts, sample sales and any kind of punctual promotions after which our prices go right back up to normal.
* NO to slashing our prices mid-season to meet fast retail.
* YES to maintaining the value of our loyal supporters who pay full price again and again.
* YES to fostering, growing and supporting local small businesses and industries. »
The Local Ninjas aim to awaken people’s conscious on what has become a surreal and non-sense conception of fashion made by small businesses, start-ups and very young designers who can’t meet – and don’t want to meet- fast fashion monster’s ways of functioning.
Talking of very young designers, the future of Middle-Eastern fashion starts even before any of its actors’ name ever gets known. The Lebanese American Univeristy (LAU) x Elie Saab x London College of Fashion, ESMOD, ALBA (Academie Libanaise des Beaux Arts) in Partnership with Rabih Kayrouz and La Cambre, the tuition-free Creative Space Beirut: Universities are where it all begins. I remember a talk I had with Jason Steel, LAU’s Head of Fashion program (which you can read about in JDEED El Awal) who told me that they had replaced eveningwear with tailoring. Jason told me that « There’s no way on this earth [he ] was doing eveningwear! And everybody seems to love the tailoring. » Because things are changing and we’re not missing the train this time.
Exit the drama, bye bye to the boxed image of what Arab Fashion is, as to know, glitters, feathers, bling-bling and other. Yes, surprise, we’re not just capable of producing couture gowns who will hit the red carpets of international ceremonies and events, although, and good for us, we still do it well.
A breeze of fresh air is hitting our dear Levant, our dear Gulf region, a breeze infused with daring concepts inspired by East Berlin, the SM or mental illness, no longer with Celine Dion, Elissa and Cinderella. The thought of being restricted and seeing our initiatives overshadowed by anything Western is gone. Our voices are loud and bold and we just grabbed the mic to be heard better.
As per Art and Design, they are not left aside. Take Tashkeel in Dubai or The Louvre in Abu Dhabi but also CAP in Kuwait, YARAT in Baku, or all these platforms for young artists that are trying to foster emerging talents through workshops, contests or mentoring. Encouraging the youth is at the center of our ambition, betting on the future being our best option with a past almost deprived of any major artistic momentum.
And we try, work on prototypes, use local resources to create. Again, why look further away than right here around us? Emirati artist Zeinab Al Hashemi created installations using camel fur, bag designer Azra also turned to camels to propose camel leather pouches and semi-circle shaped bags, Khulood Sharafi and Hamza Omari are creating cups with Dubai sands, Faissal El-Malak brings some of his fabric from Yemen. And the list is endless.
The only fact that I could be writing this article from, let’s say, the Kalei coffee shop in Beirut, sipping on a slow-drip mixed with rice milk and a gluten-free cookie is already kind of being in the future when you think of what the city was capable of a few years ago. But because our young entrepreneurs are great thinkers and willing to move mountains, we’re slowly starting to fly with our own wings. In a region where everything has yet to be done, darers and dreamers are paving a road in solid concrete.