Young Egyptian streetwear brand Krak Baby has successfully brought 1990s-revival trucker hats and graphic t-shirts to the local fashion scene. But will they be able to make it long-term in a market dominated by high-end designers and high-street conglomerates?
In April 2012, Hatem Hannoun, a Palestinian of Moroccan origin, born and raised in Cairo, and Moustafa Moussa, an Egyptian graphic designer, decided to make a business of their passion for street culture. They established their own online fashion startup, calling it Krak Baby due to the idea that “we all like to have fun, and it’s only natural to get addicted,” their website points out.
Krak Baby currently offers a collection of clothing items and accessories, with designs inspired by urban culture of the 1990s. The Powerpuff Girls, Michael Jordan, Tupac Shakur, and Popeye are all emblazoned on t-shirts and caps, representing entertainment trends from years gone by. “What we do is present a specific lifestyle which certain people can relate to, and through Krak Baby gear people are able to connect to that lifestyle,” the founders say. Krak Baby products currently sell for around 75-180 Egyptian pounds ($10-25 USD), a reasonable price considering the quality of their products, the founders say.
Hannoun and Moussa, both 24 years old, implemented a strict bootstrapping policy, using their own funds to guide their company to profitability. The relatively low cost of founding a company in Egypt is one of the reasons they were able to pursue their dream – so far, with some success. However, funding still presents a challenge for them, as it does for many other young entrepreneurs.
While their aesthetic may be rooted in the 1990s, Moussa and Hannoun implement modern tools in managing their company. Rather than outsourcing its design work, Moussa does the job himself, having learned graphic design online by watching educational videos on YouTube.
But graphic design is not the only challenge the founders face to keep running their business running cost-effectively. Moussa and Hannoun decided early on to limit the quantities of their products to 50 only, so as to main uniqueness and exclusivity. The founders struggled to persuade a local factory in Egypt to manufacture their products, both in the small numbers and quality they require. “Manufacturers will not work with you unless you commit to buying large volumes of products, but luckily, we found a flexible manufacturer.” They’re betting that cultivating a buzz for their product will create hype that no expensive publicity could match.
As a bootstrapped company, Krak Baby is expanding slowly but surely; currently, their goods are only available on GreaterThanFashion.com and Cirqy.com, two Egyptian sites selling “artsy pieces and high street fashion,” as described by Amira Azzouz, founder and Editor-in-Chief of fashion and lifestyle portal Fustany.com. According to their site, they’ll soon also turn their sights on brick-and-mortar stores as well. The company will soon also expand its product line to include more accessories (right now only hats and t-shirts are on offer).
Startup fashion labels in Egypt face myriad problems, as they do the world over, says Azzouz. To achieve sustainable profitability, a small startup brand needs to have the “right people wearing them – socialites, party people in this case – and of course speak to stores to try to work with them on a merchandising, rather than consignment basis.”
But to be profitable, a lot of work is needed on the part of the founder – from publicity outreach, to marketing in malls and online, to yes, brick-and-mortar engagement, despite the risks of playing the tricky consignment game.
Startup success in the Egyptian fashion scene may also depend on how well one can read the political tea leaves. Kareem Mitwally, founder of KAF Wear, a similarly urban-minded t-shirt and clothing brand, had to close down his expensive stall in Cairo’s City Stars mall; in the aftermath of the revolution, buying power changed so much in the city that the stall became unviable. Another approach is one taken by NAS Trends, a success story as indicated by Azzouz, which currently features politically-minded t-shirts on its homepage – from ‘Remember Palestine’ to, the neutral Egyptian flag, to, simply, ‘Syria,’ NAS Trends seems to be harnessing the power of political solidarity across the region to its financial benefit.
Krak Baby seems to be hitting its stride in Egypt – and even globally, with sales now in the UK, the US, and Canada. Its success, in addition to that of KAF Wear and Nas Trends, might signal a new resurgence in one-off street fashion in Egypt. Keep checking this space for updates – and for analysis on what this might mean for the region as a whole.