“I’m just trying to represent this exile, to represent the story of where I come from and where this brand comes from and what my true culture and heritage are,” Libyan fashion designer Ibrahim Shebani tells Pulse.
Founder of Born in Exile, an up-and-coming clothing brand, Shebani experienced multiple exiles throughout his life. He was born in Germany, then moved back to Libya with his family only to be exiled to Cairo where he settled until in the mid-1990s, before returning to Libya yet again.
In 2014, the Libyan revolution-turned-civil war would force him to depart once more, this time to Jordan. “I was 100% pro change. I wanted to see my country develop and have a better future,” he says, “But I found myself at a point where I had to leave as well. It wasn’t safe. My brothers were kidnapped. I saw the country failing and it was just breaking my heart.”
A self-taught designer, Shebani plowed his way through the fashion industry. Growing up in Libya, he could not pursue his passion, partially due to the scarcity of study opportunities, but also due to gender stereotypes. So he settled for architecture, eventually dropping out and starting his own communications and media agency in 2004, which he managed for 10 years.
Upon arriving to Jordan in 2014, Shebani attended his first fashion course and designed a capsule collection, armed with his tutor’s comments. This encouraged him to pursue fashion professionally. He finally left to Tunisia, “which is a great place for manufacturing,” and founded Born into Exile in 2018.
“Libya is one of the most underrated countries in the world. I really wanted to do something I love, which is [to make] clothes, to [design] ready to wear modern clothing that has a touch of Libya, because I don’t see that represented anywhere,” Shebani says of the inspiration behind his brand. For him, the brand then was a testament to Libyans, “still sharing the same culture, [that] they all wore, ate, sang and danced the same things.” This is perhaps why he incorporates traditional Libyan embroidery styles and materials into his designs, albeit with a hint of originality and freshness.
“We take a basic rough material like denim and try to make it more luxurious and appealing. We try to give it a semi-couture [vibe],” he explains. He also sources traditional material all the way from Libya – one example being a six meters long piece of fabric, which is wrapped around the body in Libyan tradition. The fabric is made on a loom with real silver and gold threads. “The material is dying out. We wanted to take it and make modern pieces with it to also commercialize it,” he asserts.
With three successful collections to date, Shebani has certainly made a name for himself amid a rising Libyan fashion scene, his designs reaching well beyond the Arab world. “Beautiful things make it. It doesn’t matter where they come from or what color they are. If you make something that is harmonious, modern and easy to wear, then you can sell that.”