How local fashion is growing and surviving in Egypt

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When we think of locally-designed and manufactured clothes in the 90s in Egypt, an image of a brick-and-mortar florescent-lit store comes to mind. At least that’s the prevalent image from early childhood (we hear you millennials). Older generations would probably remember the good times of ‘Bata’ when they hear ‘local fashion’; the popular, cheap locally-manufactured shoes. Younger generations perhaps remember shoes from Zalat and Lutfy. Some can recall that many Egyptian homes found Malabes El Mahalla (Mahalla Garments), Jil cotton garments, and many other Egyptian brands that gained wide popularity among Egyptians reliable. These local brands were distinguished for high quality and affordable prices at their time.

While ‘local fashion’ as a concept has existed for long decades, in the current era we see that a few things have changed. Local fashion is now sold online, and has a large niche audience that is loyal to several brands that have established themselves over the past few years in the Egyptian market.

“Egypt is the 39th largest market for eCommerce with a revenue of $5.2 billion in 2021, placing it ahead of Philippines and behind Iran. With an increase of 44 percent, the Egyptian eCommerce market contributed to a worldwide growth rate of 15 percent in 2021. With a yearly growth rate of 22 percent between 2021 and 2025, Egypt is even expected to outperform the global average of 6 percent,” reported eCommerceDB. Interestingly, the fashion sector is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the eCommerce market in Egypt, according to statistics produced in June 2022 by Statista.

Mohamed Abdel Salam, Chairman of the Ready-made Garments Chamber at the Federation of Egyptian Industries (FEI), says that the average consumption of clothing in Egypt is estimated at $16.5 billion annually, with 20 percent being imported, worth $3.3 billion. The rest (accounting for 80 percent) is produced locally, worth $13.2 billion, Youm 7 reported.

Two types of ‘local’

Egyptian customers still have famous favorites when it comes to local brands up until this day, and those brands have found that communicating with their customers through social media and maintaining some sort of a virtual presence is as important as opening a shop at a mall or a large shopping complex. Carina Wear, a brand of home and casual wear that has been in the market since 1996 and became significantly famous in the mid-2000s is one good example. Another Egyptian brand that has stood out for years is Mobaco Cottons, offering high-quality Egyptian cotton; and the casual clothing of ‘OR’; in addition to many other names in the market. Chairman of “Town Team” ready-made fashion, Hany Goweida, says that Egyptians now have trust in many local brands that provide decent products and services to customers. “In 2007, our company laid out a strategy where production would 100 percent rely on only local products,” he said, according to El Watan.

That’s only one type of local fashion brands. A new type of local brands that would have never existed if it weren’t for the internet era is steadily on the rise. These have started off as small online shops on Facebook or Instagram and managed to quickly grow either to become brick-and-mortar shops or expand their online presence. Offering products that the Egyptian market is hungry for, these brands catered to a segment of customers interested in items that are perhaps much less prone to the impact of global shocks so are more likely to be available, made of high-quality material, and are simply just ‘Egyptian’.

From small online shops to brick and mortar

Dina El Mosalami is a young Egyptian woman and the founder of an Egyptian locally-manufactured brand named ‘Pepla’. It has been in the market for four years and caters to the taste of A-class working women who would like to dress modestly. Pepla is an example of an Egyptian brand that started off online and grew to conquer markets outside of Egypt, and even earned a display at Debenhams, a UK retail fashion store in Egypt. “I think Debenhams displaying local products is an amazing step, and I’m incredibly proud of all the local brands we have. Egypt has a ton of talent and sadly not enough exposure,” said El Mosalami.

As a local brand, Pepla sources its materials from both Egypt and abroad, and like any business, it deals with many challenges. Luckily, being a local brand isn’t one of them. Dina believes the Egyptian startup ecosystem is ideal and attractive for local fashion. In addition, “there is a particular sweetness to growing and expanding in your own homeland”, said El Mosalami.

Palma is an Egyptian designer and manufacturer of clothing items. It produces and sells its products 100 percent in Egypt. From bags and shoes to cardigans and scarves, Palma’s designs are inspired by nomads from Sinai and Aswan, giving their designs a unique authentic identity that non-Egyptian brands would not provide. The brand grew from a small online shop run from the bedroom of the founder, into a company with a headquarters, nearly 20 employees, and several stores.

Is local production under siege?

Are raw materials available? And did the import crisis affect the local fashion market? Gamal Tanna, owner of ‘Pyjamoda’, a local ready-made garments manufacturer, answers that raw materials are available in the local market; however, their prices from suppliers have increased by at least 40-50 percent after all the recent global crises that affected the economies of the world, which makes the situation all the more challenging for local ready-made garments manufacturers and can make prices less competitive compared to their imported counterparts. He explained that sales have declined by 20 percent despite the lack of availability of imported garments. “Consumers can’t seem to fully digest the new price increases,” he said.

He added that it’s important that the government provides incentives for the factories that provide production requirements and materials because they serve the entire large ready-made garments sector. It should also work to facilitate the import of raw materials and speed up their release at customs.
For her part, founder of Palma, Dina El Mosalami, says that it is normal for local products to be expensive at times. They target various segments of customers, and for each segment there is a price range, says Dina. “It doesn’t mean that the prices of local products aren’t competitive. It’s not fair to treat local brands like they should be cheaper just because they’re Egyptian. Creating a sound product here is just as difficult if not more difficult and costly than creating it abroad. Why doesn’t an Egyptian worker deserve to be paid highly? If they’re able to create a high-quality product then our factory workers should be well paid to make a proper living,” says El Mosalami.

Do local products suffice?

There is a broad spectrum in terms of taste in Egypt, and some prefer to buy famous global brands, while others opt for high or medium-quality local products as long as they do the job. According to a poll conducted by El Watan for young people, 87 percent said they prefer imported ready-made garments, and only 13 percent prefer local garments.

Those who preferred imported garments said that their choice is based on many factors, including the high quality of imported products and the ease of finding trendy designs. Those who prefer products said that they find that local brands can now offer high-quality garments that compete with non-Egyptian products.

El Sayed Abdallah, Head of El-Orouba Company for Ready-made Garments, said that the purchasing power in the local market is currently seeing a change of preferences due to the increase in the prices of necessary commodities. “We are seeing greater demand by consumers to buy cheaper local products,” he said, according to Al Borsa News.

Egypt’s ready-made garment exports increased last year by 41 percent, recording $2.49 billion, the highest increase in its history, compared to just $1.457 billion in 2020, according to Arab News.

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