Interview: Azza Fahmy Jewelry
“I feel a deep sense of gratitude when I see both my daughters, Amina and Fatma, possess such strong work ethics. As a family, we’re so busy building the brand that it takes me a minute to realize that they were once just my little girls.”
—Azza Fahmy, Founder, Azza Fahmy Jewelry and Design Studio
During Fashion Forward Season 2, Azza Fahmy’s eldest daughter and her fine jewelry brand’s Managing Director, Fatma Ghaly, gave a talk on how to stay pertinent while trying to expand globally. Indeed, few emerging designers grasp the extent of the business acumen required to launch a fashion brand internationally, an undertaking that Ghaly is comfortably managing. Today, the Cairo-based fine jewelry brand benefits from both an international reach and recognition, as most recently seen on the London Fashion Week catwalk for its collaboration with the celebrated English designer, Matthew Williamson.
In 1981, Azza Fahmy opened her first store. Seven years later, she oversaw an expansion across her native Egypt that led to the launch of six more standalone boutiques. Fahmy now has a further ten stores across the Middle East, as well as a retail presence in Harvey Nichols in Dubai and a substantial export business. In 2002, Fahmy opened a factory, complete with an in-house design studio; now the family-owned business—led by women—oversees 170 employees.
Style.com/Arabia sat down with Fatma Ghaly, the eldest daughter, who was keen to share the company’s experiences during its international expansion. Among other things, Fatma reflected on her 10+ years of development working on global PR and marketing campaigns. We start at the beginning, where the seeds of a life-long career were first planted on the floor of a workshop, stringing together one bead at a time.
Indeed, as little girls growing up, we would go to the workshop all the time. My Mom would invite my sister and I to bead our own necklaces. It felt like such a huge responsibility, but at the same time we were so proud of what we accomplished that young—and we were even paid! One Egyptian pound—it is nothing, but the idea was that our efforts were rewarded.
FINDING HER TRUE CALLING
Actually, I originally thought I would be in design. I went off to Italy and studied jewelry design and history; but then, I had some time on my hands in college and I joined the family business to help out in marketing because this is where I was needed. Quickly, I became very passionate about it and I decided to focus on marketing and PR and at that point my younger sister, Amina, decided to study jewelry design in the UK.
FROM LOCAL TO GLOBAL
When a company takes the decision to expand from its local market, many people will tell you that you need to change your product in order to adapt it for the new markets that are being considered for expansion. Ultimately, however, you must be completely secure with the brand’s DNA in order to maintain a strong identity. At Azza Fahmy, we always knew that we wanted to be an “Arab and proud of it” fine jewelry brand. Even if you might think that there are short-term returns to be gained by deviating from your core signature, in the long-term, you will lose.
When you don’t have enough workers, you need to create them. In our region, the design industry is new and we have to take it upon ourselves to create an eco-system—and thus, at Azza Fahmy, we created our own institution where everyone does what he/she is comfortable in. Make no mistake: building a team where each professional exercises his or her core competencies will take the business far.
The revolution in Egypt meant that companies took to online platforms to market their brands, and as for us, we just went for it. If you believe in your gut, it will work out. It’s not who comes in, it’s who comes in and stays. Certainly, we have met roadblocks, but failure is part of the process. For example, when we entered one new market, we were told that we needed to dramatically raise our price points, but they were set too high and so we decided to re-adjust them. In business, if you haven’t failed, then you are too cautious. It’s how you react to failure that matters—not failure in itself.