A promising fashion future is on the horizon for Africa’s largest country, Sudan — a culturally rich and diverse nation with a budding contemporary fashion scene. The Northeast African country’s modern history with fashion, particularly textiles, dates back to 1945 when the first modern textile factory was established using the country’s abundant, locally produced cotton. Today, young Sudanese designers are emerging and are reclaiming their narrative through their craft. Two Sudanese women have been shortlisted for this year’s FTA Prize, Eilaf Osman in the Accessories category, and Yousra Elsadig, in the Ready-to-Wear category. We spoke to both women about Sudan, its rich fashion history and their hopes for the future of their country.

Eilaf Osman is the founder and creative director of Eilaf — a contemporary luxury handbag brand that combines high quality craftsmanship with traditional Sudanese art motifs. Osman argues that while the fashion and creative industries in Sudan are rich in heritage and culture, they still represent an emerging force in the country’s economic environment. “Now though, you feel a great energy in Sudan as young designers are excited to join the global market and showcase their artistic expression,” she adds.

New Toub designs

Sudan is known for its beautiful and vibrant expression of color, whether it be in print, embroidery or elsewhere. Osman and Yousra Elsadig, founder of BDN, a contemporary ready-to-wear line for the modern woman, explain that Sudan is most known for its traditional Toub — a garment now more commonly worn by brides. Elsadig explains that the Toub is a “4.5 meter-long piece of gorgeous material that wraps around and covers a woman’s body from head to toe. The Great Um Kulthum wore one when she visited Sudan in the late 60’s and it looked marvelous on her.” Osman adds that local designers are constantly creating new Toub designs, focusing on “embroidery, painting, glitter, rhinestones, and more to embellish the designs to create glamourous evening wear looks for special occasions.”

Osman describes the fashion industry in Sudan as one that is rooted in its history and yet is also pioneering. She explains that the industry is ingrained in Sudanese heritage and that designers are embracing the modernization of traditional craftsmanship. Across the country, the youth are discussing important issues that could forever change the course of their lives — forging new definitions of what it means to be Sudanese, “while they are looking inwardly at their own heritage, they are also examining their external relations to African culture and Arab culture in this new era,” she says.

Elsadig describes the country as raw and exquisite, it’s “earthy, organic, original and speaks to one’s soul. We have the best resources like cotton, gold, leather and supply the world,” and the country boasts a rich and diverse history that dates back thousands of years. “We have hundreds of tribes who have impeccably gorgeous costumes that can be very African in the South and West, and very Arabian in the North and East. That makes us a nation with great resources and potential and if we apply that to the area of fashion design, we can be unstoppable,” she says.

“We need to be upbeat”

If we look at FTA’s history, from Omer Asim in 2020 to Abdelgader Eltayeb for Eltayeb Nation in 2021, both Sudanese FTA winners, one can’t help but take note of the incredible emergence of Sudanese designers.

So what does the future hold for Sudan’s fashion industry? Elsadig argues that designers should create trends, rather than solely following those that already exist, by staying authentic to the rich culture of the nation. “We need to be upbeat and ready to adapt and accept change, within our boundaries and ideals,” she adds. Osman explains that “when the Sudanese revolution succeeds, free elections are held, and global relations are normalized, I see the fashion industry in Sudan entering the global arena with great opportunities for trade and cross cultural connections.” She tells us of her current project, which is focused on implementing sustainable practices at Sudanese textile mills to create eco-friendly cotton materials. “I believe [those materials will] be used by Sudanese and international designers looking for sustainable, high quality materials,” she concludes.