In a time when social media is painting the fashion scene in monochromic shades of unity, high-end and high-street brands are racing towards the same short-lived trends and alienating designs.
For a wide range of different price points, millennials, as well as those much older, are compelled to recreate aesthetics created by social-media mavericks. Amid this hectic industry and right at the heart of the bustling capital, an oasis of authentic modest fashion stands against the odds.
The fashion haven is created to harbour those, who believe in fashion as an artistic method of self-expression and a platform for silent rebellion. Azola is a non-traditional concept store, where women of different backgrounds can hide from the concrete jungle and take cover in the surrounding greenery.
Ola Magdy, a 26-year old fashion visionary who took an experience of a lifetime from her family, runs a community of non-conforming women, who are keen to never mingle with the masses. The concept store is named after a scarce fern and stocks a number of local and regional modest labels. Meanwhile, it also offers a launchpad for related events, as well as premium fashion services.
Daily News Egypt spoke with Magdy to talk modest fashion and swimming against the tide, as well as the outcome of a childhood amidst the textile and fashion industry.
Can you please introduce yourself?
I graduated from Business Informatics, German University in Cairo—class of 2013. I started my career before graduating and almost probed every field you can think of before getting to find my passion. I worked in marketing, IT consultancy, graphic design, content creation, and teen counselling.
I also started my own stationery business besides my full-time jobs four years ago—called Nootah—even before I realised that corporate life is not my thing. Along this diverse career path, I continually worked on assisting my mom with her 18-year old Scarves brand “El Helwa” and this is where it all started.
I have always been obsessed with the idea of concept stores, I loved visiting them and getting inspired from each country I travel to. Those vintage, musical, and hip concept stores always managed to strengthen my belief that a concept store is the future of shopping since it combines the essence of digital culture with retail.
How did you find your way into fashion industry?
I have been obsessed with fashion, ever since I was a kid; it runs in my genes probably, because my whole family works in the textile and fashion sector.
What does name ‘Azola’ refer to?
We aimed to create a beautiful raw chic space,where the tree branches marries the pink paint and the space is filled with wooden structure along with classy crystal black chandeliers. That is why we decided to pick a fern name that also sounds easy.
Azola is a plant that is unique and looks nothing like any other typical ferns. It also reflects our values: authenticity, zest for life, optimism, love, and altruism.
Why did you choose Downtown Mall as your location?
After doing a market research, we realised that we need to fill in the gap in New Cairo. We wanted to pick a place that is easy to access and well known to the targeted community—Downtown Mall was a perfect fit for our criteria.
How would you define modest fashion?
Theoretically speaking, modest wear is non-transparent clothing that conceals rather than accentuates the shape of the body. Ladies all over the globe take a daily decision to wear modestly for religious or cultural reasons; meanwhile, sometimes women just do not want to show flesh regardless of their beliefs.
Personally, I believe that modesty is an everyday decision that reminds you of sticking to your identity and being.
What made you choose to specialize in modest fashion?
Being a hijabi for 10 years now with a passion for fashion, I have kind of witnessed the fashion cycle for the last decade. Ten years ago, it was very difficult to find clothing that was both suitably modest, but also on trend.
What was available was either frumpy or boring and this is really how the industry of modest fashion came about. It all started with local fashion designers making dresses with a modest silhouette, but with personality.
With the rise of more local designers, I thought why not gather them all in one place that acts like the home of modest fashion.
How would you evaluate current market awareness in terms of modest fashion?
I believe now that the nature of fashion cycle is totally changing in our favour, by means that is an antithesis to the boundary-pushing, revealing outfits that were in vogue a decade ago.
Modest fashion is now not only for Muslims, but for everyone. I mean look how skinny jeans are now ditched against the flowy wide-leg palazzo pants. The rise of the modest fashion week in London and more international brands started to launch modest collections to appeal to women, who dress modestly around the globe.
How would you describe your clientele in three words?
Woke, finesse, and always on fleek.
What do you aim to establish/achieve through Azola?
A fashion product always tells a much bigger story than just an Instagram photo. Azola is the platform to narrate the long-tail stories behind the work of independent designers through product, retail, and experience.
We are not aiming to grab the social media attention, but rather build a real destination, where you can meet your favourite blogger or know the story behind top-notch designers while having a cup of coffee.
Our mission is to provide the best in-store experience possible, to be a place where you come for inspiration and would love to stay. Also enable shoppers to get the whole outfit from one place.
How many brands do you currently have in stock?
We have 60+ brands with around 20 main partners.
Are all of your brands local?
At Azola we seek to offer the latest trends from different brands and designers. We support and stock local and international designers, who share Azola’s philosophy of authenticity, innovation and trendy designs. About, 80% of our brands are local, the international ones are Daniel Wellington and Herschel. We also have Arab fashion designers from Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
What are your main criteria when selecting new brands/buying new collections?
We follow a strategy to be home for customers and independent designers, who share the same eccentric taste of modest fashion. At Azola, you will find curated selection of fashion pieces and other handpicked products. Every piece reflects elegance, modesty, authenticity and modernity.
In your opinion, what is one piece of modest-wear that each woman should own?
Definitely a flowy white shirt or wide-leg pants.
What are your near-future plans?
Since we strive to make Azola a place that you would call home, where regular clients can come to say hi, check out new trends or get inspired to come up with new trendsetting outfits. We have accompanying services that supports the community; some of them already launched and we are willing to add more soon.
These services include in-store events, styling, and personal shopper assistance. Finally, of course, we aim to cover more areas and spread internationally with a pinned location everywhere on the map.