DEDI Green Gate participants make their own upcycled products using traditional Egyptian tentmakers quilting technique during a workshop at the Egyptian Clothing Bank. (Photo: Rowan El Shimi // DEDI)
The latest VR technologies, traditional quilt-making techniques and many visits to local sustainable fashion hubs inspire collaborations and inspire the 23 participants of DEDI Green Gate in Egypt.
By Rowan El Shimi
Everyday local fishermen at Qursaya Island take their boats out into the Nile. But it’s not fish they are after – it’s plastic waste which they collect literal tons of and bring back to VeryNile where it gets sorted, compressed, sold to recycling facilities and upcycled into trendy bags, hats and more. This was what the group of Danish and Egyptian fashion designers and social entrepreneurs witnessed at their visit to the initiative.
“We saw at VeryNile how they turn plastic waste into yarn and how they knit and crochet and make products out of that,” Linda Nyvang describes the women’s workshop. “I’m very interested in the handcrafts and how to take for example plastic waste and make it into products.”
Linda Nyvang is a Danish artist and designer studying at the Royal Danish Academy specialized in weaving and print design. She is one of the 23 Danish and Egyptian participants taking part in DEDI Green Gate 2022, an exchange program focused on sustainable fashion aiming to promote innovation, offer inspiration and know-how to designers and social entrepreneurs.
“I learned that there are a lot of opportunities to work with waste materials and for me that is especially interesting because I use textiles, yarns and deadstock materials so visiting different companies that work with waste materials and how to organize it and utilize the materials has been especially inspiring,” Linda Nyvang continues during the second international workshop of DEDI Green Gate taking place in Cairo, Egypt.
Visits for inspiration
The visit to VeryNile was the first during the workshop inviting the participants to get to know the initiative’s sustainability model.
“It was very inspiring to see how the fishermen collect the plastic waste from the Nile and how this waste gets recycled and compressed at their hub. There are other aspects too such as how VeryNile helping the women from the community find economic opportunities through working at the workshop and making amazing food for visitors. They also help their children gain access to education and work with the community on health-related issues,” Abdelkader El Khaligy says. “It’s an amazing model. It weaves various life aspects together such as the environment, social responsibility, health, and education. I believe it’s a perfect model for a social enterprise.”
Abdelkader El Khaligy is one of the Egyptian participants and is the co-founder and Product Development Director of Banlastic Egypt, an Alexandria based social enterprise aiming to end the use of single use plastic in Egypt.
In another visit during the workshop, the participants got introduced to an NGO working on a much larger scale: The Egyptian Clothing Bank. The organization collects, sifts though, repairs and upcycles clothes donations from all over the country and finds new owners for them. Under their umbrella is also the project Almah which aims to train young people, mainly women, on using traditional handcraft techniques to upcycle clothing.
During the visit, after a tour of the collection facility, Design consultant Bassant Sherif from the Almah team gave a presentation to the group about their work and the history of slow fashion from ancient Egypt till now.
VeryNile weaves various life aspects together such as the environment, social responsibility, health, and education. I believe it’s a perfect model for a social enterprise.
Abdelkader El Khaligy
For Abdelkader El Khaligy this was one of the most memorable visits. “I learned a lot from their business model for a sustainable fashion brand and how they engage women in this process and how to market for products in an attractive way,” he says.
Julia Veres, a Hungarian designer based in Denmark for the last ten years who is currently working for the brand Kintobe, found the visit to the Egyptian Clothing Bank left an impression on a different level.
“It was very emotional for me to see how some people are living in Egypt as I was really in my Danish bubble,” Julia Veres says. “At the Egyptian Clothing Bank, they were redesigning or repurposing old clothes into children’s clothing since that’s where the need is. It made me realise that I could use my skills and know-how in design to help people in need and create products that can make their lives a little easier.”
After the participants got acquainted with the Almah team, they started an upcycling workshop where they learned how to apply the traditional Egyptian tentmakers quilt making embroidery technique and got access to all the materials available at the workshop to make their own products.
“We partner with some of the organizations we visited, such as the Egyptian Clothing Bank, but I hadn’t met them or connected with them closely like we did this week,” Salma Ellakany says. “I was out of my own comfort zone by actually making something myself. Even though we have sowing machines at our workshop I never have the time to explore and play. Sometimes we don’t get to listen and learn in the day-to-day grind so having the opportunity to slow down and listen really was a privilege.”
Collaborations and partnerships
Salma Ellakany is a Project Manager at Very Nile where she oversees the women’s workshop where they produce products made from upcycled plastic. Upon her return from Copenhagen in August, she decided that their products have to be 100% zero waste.
She also started to question the non-plastic materials they use such as the cotton that is mixed with polyester and whether they can call their product an upcycled product when these are the materials they use.
Luckily, through DEDI Green Gate, she connected with Haidy El Gendy, one of the other participants who runs Cotton Town, a marketplace for all stakeholders working with Egyptian Cotton from farmers to manufacturers to distributors and exporters.
Together they created a tote bag under both brands, sourcing the plastic from VeryNile and the cotton from Cotton Town, and gifted the rest of the participants a bag during the workshop.
Several of the participants were particularly excited to work with Haidy El Gendy to access the Egyptian Cotton market, as it is difficult to get access to pure Egyptian cotton that’s genuine. Among them were Linda Nyvang, Abdelkader El Khaligy and Ioana Opris, founder of the jumpsuit brand Nordkoncept.
For Haidy El Gendy herself, the workshop in Denmark inspired her to rethink her own model. She started working with NGOs that employ local women to produce carpets and other handcrafts using the traditional weaving technique and started collecting textile waste from cotton manufacturers and making it available to these NGOs. She started the project with an NGO in Giza and El-Saf. This elevated the quality of their products allowing them to enter new markets.
“After coming back from the workshop in Denmark I felt equipped with new tools to help me make that happen,” Haidy El Gendy says. “The workshop inspired me to seek out partners and collaborate to make new products happen.”
Capacity building and peer-to-peer learning
Aside from the various visits that took place at VeryNile and the Egyptian Clothing Bank, a major component of the workshop was also learning.
Some of the learning was done through group debriefing following an experience and others through workshops and trainings.
The visit to the local Egyptian informal secondhand clothing market El-Wekala crystalized the problem of fast fashion for many of the participants. After the visit they reflected on the sheer overproduction of clothes by large corporations that ends up shipped to these endless markets and sold for a fifth of its original price – or worse even just dumped in landfills. The participants discussed both the responsibility that needs to be taken from the producers’ side but also the consumers’ responsibility in demanding slow fashion.
DEDI Green Gate 2021 Alumna Nermeen Farahat, hosted a workshop at the start and end of the workshop, inviting participants to think of how their projects can tackle the intersection between the environment, the society, and the economy to be a well-rounded sustainability project.
A day at Consoleya, a co-working space in downtown Cairo, was dedicated to workshops on how to develop and present ideas to investors as well as different ways to finance fashion start ups. The School of Fashion Management and Entrepenelle, whose founder is an alumna of another DEDI Project Women Take the Lead were running these sessions.
“It’s great to be able to support each other to gain confidence in ourselves and our projects – and finding out that these projects can really make a difference. A small idea can have an impact on a lot of people’s lives and the environment,” Linda Nyvang says.
While the workshops provided an opportunity for industry experts to share their wisdom with the participants, it was the peer-to-peer learning that was really at the heart of DEDI Green Gate.
“The peer-to-peer learning aspect widened my vision to the sustainability context from all over the world. It made me rethink a lot of concepts I had regarding sustainability, circular economy and sustainable fashion – which I think was shared by us all as you can see from all the results such as partnerships and collaborations that are being planned by many of the participants,” Abdelkader El Khaligy concludes.
It’s great to be able to support each other to gain confidence in ourselves and our projects – and finding out that these projects can really make a different. A small idea can have an impact on a lot of people’s lives and the environment
Other potential collaborations are also set to take place between DEDI Green Gate participants in the future:
Khadija Hossameldin, a designer and lecturer at the Art and Design Faculty at MSA University in Egypt and Trine Skoedt, a PhD candidate and researcher at the Royal Danish Academy are exploring doing an exchange program between their universities or inviting each other to give lectures and workshops.
Linda Nyang, Ioana Opris, founder of the jumpsuit brand Nordkoncept and Abdelkader El Khaligy are also planning to work with Haidy El Gendy on sourcing pure Egyptian cotton for their work in Denmark
Julia Veres is planning on collaborating with Egyptian footwear designer Youssef Anwar on a product for his new line.
Julia Veres and Helene Hsu, who works at VAER making upcycled footwear are discussing sharing deadstock materials between their brands.
Both Basma Tawakol, founder of online second-hand shop Dayra and Abdelkader El Khaligy at Banlastic are planning an original upcycled clothing line with designer Menna Remah.
Salma Ellakany and Julia Veres are exploring creating a product together between Kintobe and VeryNile.
Designer Norhan El Sakkout, who is one of the founding members of the Sustainable Fashion Alliance in Egypt, had a technical meeting with Danish participant and consultant Tanja Gotthardsen to support them in drafting policies for sustainable fashion in Egypt.
And possibly many more to come…
This project was managed by Civic Partnerships Manager Rana Khamis, Project Officer Yousra Fouda and consultant Sonja Katharina Zipelius.