Now that we’ve disclosed the identity of the 24 finalists of the 2022 Fashion Trust Arabia Prize, let’s continue to dig a little deeper and discover exactly who they are. After the Ready-to-Wear and the Accessories nominees, today will be devoted to an ever-competitive and scrutinized category: The Debut Talent Prize. Competing this year are Lebanese Claudia Khachan, Yemeni Kazna Asker, Moroccan Mohammed El Marnissi and Algerian Rayana Boulila.

Here, we’ll discover why they decided to apply to this year’s FTA Prize, and uncover everything about their relationship with fashion, how they think about it and how they see the industry as a whole.

Who will succeed the unforgettable Abdelgader El Tayeb, the winner of last year’s edition? The pressure is already on!

CLAUDIA KHACHAN: “THERE IS NOT ENOUGH COLLABORATION BETWEEN DESIGNERS IN THE MENA REGION.”

1/ What pushed you to send in your submission to this year’s FTA Prize? What do you expect from this experience?

Towards the end of my third and final year of my studies, after sharing my work among my personal circles, my dearest teachers and friends pushed me and encouraged me to submit to FTA and to share my work with a bigger audience. Even though I was a bit hesitant and nervous, I really wanted to share my experience, and this is when I took the decision to do so. I don’t expect anything, I really just want to enjoy this journey while being happy and grateful to be able to grow in this direction and I hope my work will touch people.

2/ What was the first object related to fashion (a piece of clothing, jewelry, an accessory…) that dazzled you when you were a kid, and why?

When I was 12 years old, I discovered a small room in the basement of my grandmother’s house filled with 35 x 15cm rectangle boxes, stacked one on top of the other. I opened one of them and found a red tie. I knew my grandfather ran his own tie atelier back in the 80’s and I knew his business was affected by the [Lebanese] Civil War, and he almost went out of business; but I had no idea that his pieces were still stored in the basement until that day. This red tie made me ask a lot of questions.

This is how my curiosity as a 12-year-old grew into a passion, and later dedication, to the fashion world.

3/ What was the trigger that made you realize that you wanted to be a fashion designer and nothing else?

Growing up in a very strict school, we were all dressed the same. I wanted to experiment and I loved having fun at home, in my room, dressing up and imagining being someone I really wanted to be when I grew up. With the debut of the Internet era, I was mesmerized, I could finally share these characters I used to create for myself with the world, all through a screen.

As a shy teenager, I had one goal, reinventing myself and deconstructing the codes by which we live, which was hard to do at the time. Fashion was, and still is, my answer.

4/ Which fashion designer, Arab or international, inspired you, and why?

Martin Margiela is one of the designers who inspired me a lot, and still inspires me every day, not through his garments themselves, but through his way of thinking about a garment throughout its making. He personally made me rethink fashion as a whole.

5/ What is the one thing you wish people would stop wearing?

I wish people would stop wearing clothes they don’t really love, feel comfortable in, or relate to.

6/ What was your worst fashion faux-pas?

My worst fashion faux-pas was following a trend instead of following my personal taste.

7/ If you were to choose one of your looks, or that of any other designer, to wear every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

I don’t really have a specific look in mind at the moment, but all I can think of is a comfortable 5XL T- Shirt and red boots that I would wear every day.

8/ Who do you dream of dressing?

I dream of dressing the people who inspired me growing up. Mainly singers and musicians I grew up listening to.

9/ What does the word “sustainability” mean to you?

Sustainability, for me, starts with carefully and wisely making choices on how or why the product is going to be produced, thinking about the material to be used and its cost to make.

Born in 2000, I grew up in a world where things were changing so fast around me, I had to rethink and find alternatives to the way things were. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. To me, choices such as upcycling, reusing deadstock fabrics and by locally sourcing and producing garments, is what sustainability is about. It’s a must, a need.

10/ What is something that makes you uncomfortable in the MENA fashion industry and that you would like to see changed?

I’d like to see less competition and more collaboration between designers in the MENA region. I believe that today, more than ever, it is important to grow in unity while keeping the uniqueness of each and every one of us, so that the MENA fashion industry keeps on flourishing.

KAZNA ASKER: “WE NEED TO SHOW MORE DIVERSITY IN THE MENA REGION, THE TRUE BEAUTY OF OUR PEOPLE IS NOT REPRESENTED.”

1/ What pushed you to send in your submission to this year’s FTA Prize? What do you expect from this experience?

I have always wanted to apply to the FTA Prize and when I graduated from my Masters, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to apply for the Debut Talent Prize! Being the daughter of Yemeni immigrants and extremely influenced by my Yemeni culture and heritage, it has always been a goal of mine to represent my designs in the Middle East.

I think Fashion Trust Arabia is an amazing platform for MENA creatives and the diaspora, as we are not authentically represented in the Western fashion industry, so it allows us to finally be able to showcase our culture and the diversity in the MENA region on a platform that truly represents us! I believe this opportunity will allow me insight into the MENA fashion industry and inspire me to create further collections to represent my culture.

2/ What was the first object related to fashion (a piece of clothing, jewelry, an accessory…) that dazzled you when you were a kid, and why?

When I was really young, my dad bought me and my siblings matching Rocawear tracksuits from New York for Eid. It was the first time I had ever seen American bright, graphic tracksuits and hip-hop fashion and I thought we were so cool.

3/ What was the trigger that made you realize that you wanted to be a fashion designer and nothing else?

When I was 8 years old, I won a little local competition designing a jockey’s silk for a race course – all I did was draw some balloons! My parents said ever since I won that competition that they always knew I was going to be a designer.

4/ Which fashion designer, Arab or international, inspired you, and why?

Virgil Abloh is extremely inspirational to me – the way he authentically represented his people though fashion and gave his community a platform is how I aspire to be as designer. He was able to challenge the industry’s perception of beauty, change narratives and give back to his people whilst being authentically himself.

5/ What is the one thing you wish people would stop wearing?

Jeggings.

6/ What was your worst fashion faux-pas?

My silk headscarf blew off in the wind on a very busy road!

7/ If you were to choose one of your looks, or that of any other designer, to wear every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

I would probably wear one of the tracksuits I have designed – comfy and cool.

8/ Who do you dream of dressing?

Mustafa the Poet.

9/ What does the word “sustainability” mean to you?

Sustainability means to me to design with purposefulness and prioritize presence and impact over productivity.

10/ What is something that makes you uncomfortable in the MENA fashion industry and that you would like to see changed?

I think we need to show more diversity in the MENA region, rather than the same well-known countries being represented over and over again to be the faces of the region. There are so many different countries that have different tribal cultures and fashion and facial features that go unrecognized and are not truly represented within the MENA world, as we have a presentation of Arab beauty standards that doesn’t represent the true beauty of our people.

MOHAMMED EL MARNISSI: “THE MENA REGION’S FASHION IS VERY MUCH FOCUSED ON WOMENSWEAR, WE NEED TO INCLUDE ALL GENDERS.”

1/ What pushed you to send in your submission to this year’s FTA Prize? What do you expect from this experience?

As a young designer starting in the fashion industry, it can be quite challenging. The inspiration, skills and eagerness are all within me, but where do you begin to find a flying start for your brand? Once I read about the FTA Prize, I thought that this would be the perfect way to receive mentorship and awareness with a wider and promising audience. I hope to amaze men and women with this experience, with my designs and silhouettes and to show how beautiful our Arab culture is and how it can be combined with contemporary elements. After all, I wish to encourage everyone to be there true selves by telling them to do what they really like and wear what they really love.

2/ What was the first object related to fashion (a piece of clothing, jewelry, an accessory…) that dazzled you when you were a kid, and why?

From a very young age I have always been mesmerized by the colorful and detailed kaftans my mother wears. Especially the traditional kaftans, which she wears for weddings and special occasions.

3/ What was the trigger that made you realize that you wanted to be a fashion designer and nothing else?

It must have been because of special occasions, where my parents and sisters where dressed up for traditional celebrations and weddings. The colors, details and craftsmanship created my interest in fashion design.

4/ Which fashion designer, Arab or international, inspired you, and why?

As nominee with a northern African heritage, it may sound cliché. But the designer who has, and still does, inspire me is Yves Saint Laurent. His approach to fashion goes beyond any imagination. From art to exotic places, his haute couture collections always remain inspiring, regardless of the spirit of the age.

5/ What is the one thing you wish people would stop wearing?

I do think that fashion and style should not be decided for one and another. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable and happy in who you are and what you wear. Therefore, I do not have a wish that people stop wearing something.

6/ What was your worst fashion faux-pas?

As I live with the idea that everyone should be their purest self, including their way of styling and dressing, it might be a difficult question to answer. I can tell you that it might be an outfit which I was wearing in my teenage years, but after all, this was in another era in which other elements where key.

7/ If you were to choose one of your looks, or that of any other designer, to wear every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

Within my collection, there is a white shirt which has an illusion print on the back panel. It shows a picture of two loved ones, and once you pull a string, small blue hearts will appear all over the picture. It’s an ode to forbidden love, which was a main inspiration for my collection. As this shirt can be worn in multiple ways, due to the illusion effect, it is a piece I could wear for the rest of my life. And not to forget, a white shirt never gets out of style.

8/ Who do you dream of dressing?

Besides all of the royals in the MENA region, I dream of dressing fashion icon Iris Apfel.

9/ What does the word “sustainability” mean to you?

Sustainability has a very broad meaning to me and has always been a part of my creations. Naturally biodegradable materials, sustainable textiles, dead stock fabrics, but also equal partnerships, are important aspects which reflect sustainability in my work. I try my utmost to create innovative and competitive silhouettes, while being aware of my choices and responsibilities.

My aim is to use sustainable or recycled materials and incorporate them into a product that takes on a new meaning. This is a topic that is not currently seen as fashionable by everyone, but certainly should be.

10/ What is something that makes you uncomfortable in the MENA fashion industry and that you would like to see changed?

Nowadays, I have a strong feeling that fashion in the MENA region is very much focused on womenswear. To include all genders, I aim to create unisex couture.

RAYANA BOULILA: “THE HYPERCONSUMPTION IN THE MENA REGION DESTROYED LOCAL KNOW-HOW.”

1/ What pushed you to send in your submission to this year’s FTA Prize? What do you expect from this experience?

Each contest is, above all, an enriching experience that allows us to strengthen our vision of fashion through human interaction. Of course the FTA Prize also allows me to reconnect to the MENA region by offering mentoring, but there’s more to it, a kind of family aspect that I want to be part of …

2/ What was the first object related to fashion (a piece of clothing, jewelry, an accessory…) that dazzled you when you were a kid, and why?

A classic maybe, but I loved rummaging through my mother’s things, being a little girl with my triplet sisters, we loved the noise made by a pair of heels from when we were small. It was the noise of satisfaction, the step that I enjoyed so much, and running after my sisters when we were playing. I was 8 years old I think, but when my mother went shopping, I loved to wear her new heels and I felt confident and assured. That was our secret, with my sisters. We always took a silk scarf and black heels…

3/ What was the trigger that made you realize that you wanted to be a fashion designer and nothing else?

Well, it is a funny story. I was already convinced that I would be a fashion designer, but at12 years old, I wanted to bake a very complicated cake for my family. At this time I loved making cakes and putting decorations on them. So I made a bet with myself, if I succeeded, I would become a pastry chef… and if I didn’t succeed, I would become a fashion designer. Obviously, and fortunately, I lost my bet.

4/ Which fashion designer, Arab or international, inspired you, and why?

Thierry Mugler, Phoebe Philo for Céline and Elie Saab. These are three different universes which are all different, but which in my opinion make the woman powerful and illuminate her in all her splendor. Each of these universes are part of my aesthetics.

5/ What is the one thing you wish people would stop wearing?

Flat ballerinas! And maybe slim jeans …

6/ What was your worst fashion faux-pas?

Well, I have to say slim jeans, with a lot of bad quality spandex. When I wore them a lot, the jeans became puffy in certain parts.

7/ If you were to choose one of your looks, or that of any other designer, to wear every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

The last collection from Mugler, because it made us more conscious of our body and the fashion industry is accepting of everybody.

8/ Who do you dream of dressing? 

Yasmeen Ghauri, a famous Egyptian model from the 90’s, and Catherine Deneuve.

9/ What does the word “sustainability” mean to you?

It means, above all, producing an intelligent garment through quality cutting, and recyclable textiles. Also producing in small quantities…

10/ What is something that makes you uncomfortable in the MENA fashion industry and that you would like to see changed?

The hyperconsumption in the MENA region and everywhere in the world. The major problem with this overconsumption is the loss of local know-how.