Cross-Cultural Identities | An Interview with Hicham Amrani of SHARQ & GHARB

We all desire to express our individuality. Through our choices in clothes, style, vehicles, hairstyles, etc., we seek out ways to show our lifestyle, our beliefs, and causes we support. We are now in a time where pride of cultural and ethnic identity has become an important part of personal expression, especially for people who have grown up in societies far removed from their ethnic or cultural heritage. How does one maintain and express this sense of pride within a different society? This is a question fashion designer Hicham Amrani personally dealt with as a teenager. Living between two cultures and societies, he searched for a way to carve out his own place of pride and expression. His hard work has resulted in the creation of SHARQ & GHARB, a men’s contemporary fashion brand that mixes Arab culture and art with casual fashion and sportswear from the West.

On behalf of Haute Arabia, I interviewed Hicham to gain a behind-the-scenes look into his life and work as the CEO and founder of an emerging fashion brand. Read on to learn more about how SHARQ & GHARB came to be and how you can help shape the future of SHARQ & GHARB and fashionably support this fascinating brand!

SHARQ & GHARB Arabian Sunset T-Shirt

Aamaal (HA): Welcome Hicham! We are very excited to learn more about SHARQ & GHARB! But first, tell us about yourself. How did you get interested in apparel design?

Hicham: I am a 31-year old self-made fashion designer, born and raised in the Netherlands. My parents are Moroccan. As an 18-year old, with no experience in the fashion industry, I knew then I would make a brand one day mixing Arabian culture/art/fashion with contemporary fashion from the West.

About eight years ago, I was asked to work for a fashion company as an artwork designer after they saw some of my t-shirt designs I was selling. I had just quit school to pursue a career as a music producer. So, with no experience in fashion design, I started my journey and learned about the industry while working with the company. Within two months, I had figured out much of what I needed to know to make a collection for a men’s streetwear brand. During this time, the company purchased a new brand license and decided I was capable of designing the collection. I worked on this brand for about three years, and continued learning about the industry. I also started giving workshops to colleagues on how to improve their designing skills in the software programs we were using.

Soon afterwards, I was promoted to be the Design Manager for the company’s top brand. Now I had a new challenge ahead of me. I would have to manage a team, in addition to my regular collection development and traveling on sourcing trips to the Far East. After six years of working for the company, I decided it was time to move on. I started working for a German online shop that sells over 200 well-known brands, including four in-house brands. I started from square one with this company to create a sense of professionalism and to bring diversity in each brand. I am still working for this company, where I am responsible for the entire family of brands, from development and design to production and retail. I am involved from the initial design phase to making quality assurance visits to company factories in China, Tunisia, Turkey, and Pakistan, making sure goods are shipped on time and will arrive to the company warehouse in a timely manner.

Aside from my day job, I am also occupied with SHARQ & GHARB and building the brand from scratch. My main hope is that it will be successful, and people will appreciate our vision and our products.

Aamaal (HA): Wow, you really are very busy! So tell us, what is SHARQ & GHARB? What sparked your interest in creating your brand?

Hicham: Since I was young, I have had a fascination for combining art/culture/music from the Arab countries with western things, as this is also who I was as an individual. I produce music as a hobby, where I mix classical Arab music with everyday Pop/R&B, which started at the age of 16. But I was stuck between two worlds. I was a foreigner living in the Netherlands. I was also a foreigner when I visited Morocco on vacation.

When I started working in fashion, I started creating ideas to design clothing with an Arabian twist. I wanted to incorporate Arabian culture, art, and symbols, but also create designs that everyone could wear it. This process has been on-going for eight years, and I believe the brand is finally at the stage where it is ready for the public.

SHARQ & GHARB means EAST & WEST in Arabic. Our mission is to combine the beauty of the Middle East with contemporary fashion from the West.

Aamaal (HA):  We often see clothing and style of dress used by many to express their individuality and cultural interests. What does SHARQ & GHARB help wearers “communicate” to the world?

Hicham:  Our mission is to promote and celebrate Arab culture and lifestyle by enabling young people all over the world to express their identity and heritage in a positive way via contemporary fashion with an Arab twist. Keeping a balance between eastern art and western styling will attract people from other cultures and ethnic backgrounds who appreciate Arabian art, culture, and beauty.

As the world globalises, fashion trends spread more quickly. The internet is making the world smaller and markets more transparent. Since the early nineties, most popular clothing brands have evolved towards becoming general lifestyle brands. Initially, they started out targeting specific markets such as sports, denim, and outdoor or more specific cultural niches such as skateboarding, hip hop, surfing, etc. Nowadays, companies like Adidas not only produce functional sportswear, but complete collections of jeans and more.

Because of this, the boundaries between different styles of clothing and brands have further faded. Basically, more companies are offering everything to everyone and this results in consumers dressing (and looking) more and more alike. Teenagers and young adults feel a strong urge to express themselves and their identity, especially through their clothing. And in these times of economic crisis, there is a clear need for two things: positive stories and clarity. People do not like feeling unsure or insecure, so they go for things they know and relate to and things they recognize as authentic.

SHARQ & GHARB Respect T-Shirt

Aamaal (HA):  What goals would you see like to see SHARQ & GHARB accomplish in a year? In 5 years?

Hicham:  The first year will be the most important year for us. We want to have a strong Spring/Summer ’14 collection. But more importantly, we want to have an even stronger Fall/Winter ’14 collection. We want to offer a solid collection. Although the crowdfunding project suggests that we only have tees and polo shirts, the collection will be complete. It will include apparel like high-quality denims to light jackets, sweaters, and more. A complete line!

So our first year goal is to focus on our online sales and build from there. In five years, I want our wholesale department to be up and running, to cover both online and retail sales. If feasible, we might even open a few flagship stores.

Aamaal (HA):  Who is your ideal customer? Who is an SHARQ & GHARB man?

Hicham:  Our ideal customer is the guy that is aware of today’s trends but wants to remain close to his heritage. He likes quality clothing. He can be dressed sporty or classy. For all occasions, SHARQ & GHARB fulfills his fashion needs.

Aamaal (HA):  We see that SHARQ & GHARB is running a fundraiser on IndieGoGo to launch the upcoming collection? How can the public help and what are some of the incentives offered for those who support the project?

Hicham:  People can help by placing a pre-order. You can do this by selecting one of the perks which are described on the project page. By placing a pre-order, you secure your place as one of the first customers of SHARQ & GHARB. Supporters also have the honor of helping SHARQ & GHARB become a successful brand.

We have five perks:

Bronze
Silver
Gold
Platinum
Diamond

For instance, the Silver perk is for supporters who only want to fund the project. All the other perks offer clothing in exchange for your support, which is the so-called pre-order. The Diamond perk is the most exciting one. Diamond supporters, will join me at one of our production factories for two days, all expenses paid (hotel, food, etc.), except for their plane ticket.

Those interested in learning more can visit the SHARQ & GHARB fundraiser on IndieGoGo.

Aamaal (HA):  What are your thoughts on ethical and sustainable fashion? With the increasing embrace of ethical and sustainable fashion by consumers, does SHARQ & GHARB currently embrace or have plans to embrace sustainable production practices?

Hicham:  It’s very important that we keep developing this. I look at it in two ways. Not only is it good for our environment, which our children and grandchildren will live and grow up in, but it’s also essential for the people who work in the factories every day and risk their health to make clothing. If we can improve their work environment by using more health and environmentally-friendly methods, it will be a win-win situation for us all in the long term.

Aamaal (HA):  While looking through your product line, we noticed there was a product segment missing… Where are the Ladies’ shirts?! Will SHARQ & GHARB offer a womenswear collection in the future?

Hicham:  As of now the main focus the first season of SHARQ & GHARB will be menswear. However, depending on sales and demand, we definitely want to expand towards a womenswear collection. Apart from the seasonal collections, we will also offer charitable apparel, with all proceeds being donated to charitable causes. For these projects, we plan on offering women’s styles as well, depending on the demand.

SHARQ & GHARB Gaza T-Shirt

Aamaal (HA): Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to interview with us Hicham! Haute Arabia is honored to support your project. We look forward to seeing more from SHARQ & GHARB very soon!

Again, to support SHARQ & GHARB, visit the fundraiser on IndieGoGo!

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