In a world where ‘algorithm’, ‘empowerment’, and the ‘new normal’, compete to be amongst the hottest of today’s buzzwords, it is easy for fashion to be viewed as frivolous. In fact, fashion is at the very heart of our contemporary culture. Fashion is fundamental, not frivolous. This is true nowhere more than the Arab World and, if you didn’t already know it, Tania Fares and Fashion Trust Arabia are on a mission to make that clear.
Established by Fares in September 2018, under the patronage of HH Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser as Honorary Chair and co-Chaired by HE Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani, Fashion Trust Arabia (FTA) is the only initiative of its kind operating in the Arab world and is dedicated to finding and nurturing talented fashion designers.
Tania Fares is a constant traveller. The day we meet – a warm day, still on the summery-side of the coming Levantine autumn – I find her in FTA’s Beirut HQ, huddled under a cashmere shawl, gently sipping her coffee.
Her week had been nothing out of the ordinary – her ordinary at least. With meetings in several countries over previous days, she’s touching down at home only until Monday when she heads off again, this time to Amman.
So well-connected is she within the world of fashion – in 2011 she founded her first Fashion Trust in Britain and is a long-time contributor to Vogue magazine – that perhaps it was only a matter of time before, having chosen to return to her birthplace of Lebanon, Fares would establish a Fashion Trust for her home region’s designers.
“I want to bring the west to the Arab World”, she says, her eyes burning brightly as soon as our conversation turns to her favorite topic. “I want everyone to see what our fashion designers are doing here”.
With just one year under its belt, for 2020 FTA is ready to step up its game. With new sponsors soon to be unveiled and strong support from a freshly announced advisory board (which reads like a Rolodex of international fashion goodness), the global fashion industry wants this to succeed. Indeed, it is in its interest that Fares and FTA do succeed.
“Our first year has seen us growing things slowly, organically. I was keen that we’d learn to walk before we run”, Fares notes. Reaction to FTA’s effect has been universally positive – “People aren’t surprised to see the talent coming out of the region, but they’re more than happy to see the depth of it. On our part, Fashion Trust Arabia is giving a voice to Arab designers”.
And what a voice: two FTA designers have recently found themselves covered by Vogue Italia. For Sabry Marouf and Krikor Jabotian it is a well-deserved honor indeed and, although they may have been destined for greatness, Fares correctly insists their emergence would not have happened so swiftly were it not for their involvement with FTA.
Also, earlier last month, all six of FTA’s first wave of award winners traveled together to the States. Salim Azzam, Roni Helou and Zyne spent time in New York on an FTA design-focused and Tania Fares-inspired tour of the best of the Big Apple’s ateliers and met many significant design-sector luminaries.
For 2020, Fares and her team again invited applications for support across four categories of womenswear – evening wear, ready to wear, accessories, and jewelry. A stipulation is that applicants must have been in business for a minimum of two years. The carrot? Winners of these categories will receive a financial grant up to $200,000 for key areas of business development. That’s quite some motivation.
New for FTA’s second round is the ‘Franca Sozzani Debut Talent’ category for applicants who have recently graduated university with a design degree and are beginning to launch their professional career. The winner will receive a financial grant to help jump-start their business as well as a tailored mentorship program from industry figures and partners to develop their brand.
“There’s always been talent in this region”, Fares continues, “and over recent years the eyes of the world have been upon us”. It’s fair to say that product designers and artists here have been ahead of the curve, but the region’s fashion designers are now catching up fast.
“Our aim is to provide a global marketplace for Arab fashion. Fashion Trust Arabia is not only about winning an award – it is an opportunity for designers to connect with and be mentored by some of the world’s leading designers and design influencers and, above all, to showcase their work”. Indeed, as Fashion Trust Arabia celebrates Arab designers, the one real winner being revealed is Arab design as a whole.
Big plans lay ahead, few of which Fares is prepared to share just yet. Expect big news in November however and, further down the line, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the announcement of collaborations between emerging FTA designers and established global giants.
“We’re covering a broad region,” Fares reflects. “From Morocco to Oman and everywhere in between, but our designers sense their common affinity. Through FTA they meet, and we’ve seen them begin to inspire each other and to realize they are sharing the same journey. It’s not easy to be an emerging designer in the region, but through us – and now together – they’re seeing a way forward”.
With a flick of her shawl and the return of her coffee cup to the table, I get the message that my time is up. Such is life within the fashion sector – “if you’re not moving forward, you’re going backwards” – that with a flurry from her team of assistants Tania Fares moves swiftly on to her next meeting and, 36 hours later, her next city.
Tania Fares was talking to Simon Balsom