EILAF is a LUXURY handbag and accessories brand, founded by Sudan-born designer Eilaf Osman, that combines high-quality craftsmanship, minimalist silhouettes, and East African techniques to bring thoughtful products to the world and share the talent of the region with others. This year, EILAF was awarded the Fashion Trust Arabia Prize in the accessories category. Straight after the announcement, we talked to Osman to find out her initial reaction and what she hopes to be achieved since being recognised by the organisation.
Eilaf Osman at the Fashion Trust Arabia Judging Day
Congratulations! How does it feel to be selected for the FTA prize in the accessories category?
It feels surreal to be selected for the FTA prize in the accessories section because overnight my brand has suddenly gained some of the opportunities and support that it needed to gain access to the global market.
Tell us about your brand and your journey to where you are today.
My brand is a contemporary luxury handbag line that combines East African and Sudanese artisanal motifs with high-quality craftsmanship to bring thoughtful products to the world. I started my brand two and a half years ago during the COVID-19 lockdown after I completed an internship at the Emilio Pucci Heritage House. I was constantly thinking about how to bring Sudanese heritage to the luxury world and show and share the value of Sudanese craftsmanship with others. It has been a long process of research and design as I developed my raw materials in Sudan and Uganda. We worked with handwoven Sudanese cotton and an experimental garden in Uganda to create more colours using local flowers for the basket dyes.
Can you share a little about how your brand is influenced by your Sudanese culture?
My entire brand is completely rooted in my Sudanese heritage. I work with a research and design centre in Khartoum that travels around Sudan to research and archive different Sudanese tribal art, especially marginalised tribal art. We focus on using this knowledge to bridge the gaps of tribal tensions and promote peacebuilding in the country after years of conflict and the revolution. Then we train women with IDP status in the different art and craftsmanship we’ve archived to support them to sell in the local market. I use this knowledge of different Sudanese artisanal motifs as the basis of my designs to also bring sustainable solutions such as natural flower dyes for the basket weaving, handwoven Sudanese cotton, and basket weaving motifs from marginalised areas.
Can you share a little about how you think the impact of FTA prize will help your business?
The prize greatly impacts my business because the grant money now allows me to build a team to support me with my e-commerce and social media strategy. The prize also offers me showroom representation and PR consultancy with Maison Pyramide and placement on Matchfashion.com. It is so important for my brand to gain retail placements to increase brand exposure and the prize will help me get into rooms that I could not have entered on my own.
Tell us about your experience during the awards ceremony and the reaction so far?
I had the best night of my life. In a second, I was embraced by the fashion elite and at the after-party I had thoughtful conversations with different changemakers about working with them. A lot of people praised my speech and how I showed my emotions and passion for showcasing Sudanese craftsmanship on a global stage.
We saw Bella Hadid was wearing one of your bags – what was her reaction?
Bella Hadid is genuinely one of the sweetest people, she immediately wanted to wear and photograph my bag to support me even before my win was announced. This just shows her true dedication in supporting emerging designers from the region.
What is the plan moving forward?
My first step is having retail meetings for my SS23 collection that I debuted at the FTA showcase and my next plan is to do my SS23 photo campaign with the support of Deena Ali Al-Juhani and major fashion magazines in the MENA region to show my brand’s visual direction.
What is a message you would send to the organisers and also to the industry in the Middle East?
I cannot thank the organisers of FTA enough for leading the charge of developing a competitive MENA fashion scene that can push forward from the margins of the fashion world and enter the core of the global fashion market. I would like to thank the organisers and the industry for embracing Sudanese culture as a core culture in the MENA region.
Tell us about your creative process?
My creative process is focused on researching different artisanal techniques that are indigenous to Sudan and East Africa and seeing how we can use these techniques to present sustainable solutions. I then think about how this artisanal motif can be used in a contemporary way by the modern muse that enjoys unique quality craftsmanship that sparks conversation.
Where did your passion for design begin?
My passion for design began when I was in the 6th grade. I had moved to a new school and had a really difficult time making friends. So I started making little bags and selling them to students. For some reason, my bags became a trendsetter at my school and it was a way for me to initiate conversations with people and make friends.
Who or what inspires you the most?
The beauty of resilience inspires me the most. The ability to go through a difficult time in your life but find pockets of happiness whether through community support or art is such a beautiful experience and gift given to us.
What is the motto that you live by?
I live by the motto: “it’s never too late to start because time is passing regardless if you start now or never.”