There is a certain allure and intrigue to playing with a piece of cloth until it turns to a piece of clothing. Captivated by this process of making a piece of wearable art from fabrics and patterns, Farah El Ashiry (nicknamed Fufa by her sister) saw this allure quite clearly and from a young age.
“At the age of 10, I had a strong liking to cutting fabrics, turning old garments into something completely different,” Farah said.
Lucky to have someone just next door who was skilled in the art of patternmaking and sewing, Farah seized the opportunity.
“I used to go to my next door neighbor, Ahmed, and ask him to teach me how to sew and spend hours there just watching the tailors cut and sew,” she said, “I knew I’ll be doing something related when I got older but had no idea what exactly.”
The path to a career in the arts is often riddled with risks and uncertainty, and that was one of the challenges that Farah had to overcome in order to create FUFA.
While enrolled at the American University in Cairo in a degree of Integrated Marketing Communication, Farah knew that she wanted to follow her dual dream of travelling and studying fashion. Her father enrolled her in the newly opened Italian Fashion Academy for a diploma in Fashion Design and Patternmaking, and Farah pursued that alongside her academics.
“I was super excited and took it a lot more serious than Uni. I would schedule all my classes to finish early just so I can attend the pattern classes,” Farah said.
But even armed with her diploma in fashion, the road still wasn't clear, but things started to take shape after the release of the first collection.
"When I launched the first summer collection and saw the feedback it got, I was determined to give it a go. I told my parents to allow me 6 months in this. And, yes, I knew I was taking a risk, but I was excited and knew I had to try.”
With the fashion dream down, Farah still had to travel dream to go and she saw Fufa as way to bridge both dreams.
“Egypt is filled with crafts and talents that are yet to be discovered - my grandfather kept telling me this,” she said, “And he was right. Everywhere I travel in Egypt, there’s so much culture that people don’t acknowledge at all. And this is exactly why I wanted our clothes to speak this culture and show the beauty of it!”
Creating collections inspired by different places in Egypt (such as Siwa and Fayoum which inspired different collections, Farah enjoyed the challenge of learning about different cultures and translating them into clothes, but creating collections inspired by different places while still staying true to the brand aesthetic is a delicate balance.
“One of the very important factors in FUFA is brand identity! We pay a lot of attention to the content, the colors, the vibe, the girls and the message. It’s all consistent with one another.”
But that challenge also presents a lot of difficulties because Farah is essentially starting from scratch.
“This is always difficult because we study a new destination and a new culture, its people, the history, the traditions and all,” Farah said.
“And then you take this research and create a color palette and from that, [you create] patterns that resemble the destination the most. Then you begin the fabric sourcing and the printing which is another travel since we produce in the outskirts of Cairo,” Farah explains, “Once the fabric is ready, we start really designing the clothes which is another nightmare. Details and quality are a very important step and you try to explain to manufacturers a design that isn’t really something they are used to. Once the production is ready you go into distribution, marketing, inventory management and sales, so it’s all a lot of fun but exhausting.”
The Siwa-inspired collection especially, according to Farah, was especially challenging.
“But I loved every bit of it,” she said, “It was difficult because we worked with artisans from there and Siwa is over 10 hours away. Communication wasn’t the easiest at all, but we managed, and it turned out really beautiful and the work of the women was just incredible.”
“Everywhere in Egypt we get blown away by the endless charms we find. The people are the core of every destination; their stories, their traditions are so different and magical you can’t pick one.”
Challenges aside, there’s one thing in particular that inspires and propels and brand forward and that is seeing people wear the clothes.
“I never thought I’d turn my passion into a career and see random people in Egypt and abroad wear it.”
“It’s the reason we keep going,” Farah said, “[That’] the only reason why every step we take is worthwhile, that and for the artisans we encourage and empower in the process.”
In addition to this, Farah is happy to be able to work pursuing the dream she’s had since she was 10 years old.
“I love working with my hands and for that I get very easily drawn to all things made in Egypt by artisans,” she said, “My passion and dream is to discover all the handicrafts and talented souls behind them, encourage them and promote their work for the world to see.”
Farah is also passionate about promoting tourism to the places she’s visited and now hold so dearly to her heart.
Her next collection, Farah teases, is inspired by a surprise colorful destination.