by Esther Lee
Thursday, October 16th—Georgetown’s Arab Society hosted a conversation with Saudi fashion designer, blogger, and creator of the fashion brand Fyunka, Alaa Balkhy. In the Arab fashion world, Alaa is a pioneer and trendsetter—her creation of the brand Fyunka marked the beginning of a burgeoning of local brands in Saudi Arabia. Her goal, through her signature designs, is not only to answer the demand for local products made for local customers but also to make statements about Arab culture. In fact, many of her original designs mixed cultural stereotypes with satire, garnering much buzz within the local community.
Despite the initial controversy, Alaa notes that currently consumers are more open to cultural changes. The designer attributes the open-mindedness to social media and attests with an anecdote: “three years ago, I would have never put my picture online. Social media has completely changed the region.”
Alaa’s active participation within the online community and social media has actually been integral to the establishment of her brand.
“Instagram was a huge factor in Fyunka’s success,” she said. “I started the account 2 years ago—now whenever I go to a new country, I get more followers.” Alaa uses her Instagram to market products and designs, and even uses information such as the number of likes she receives on pictures to estimate production.
Alaa’s designs have become so popular that some Saudi-based brands devote their companies to creating imitations. However, rather than being frustrated by “knock-offs,” Alaa focuses on the positive repercussions, remarking that, “in order for a trend to spread and be established, it has to be seen more and more and in different ways.”
“People warned me against posting my designs online, but I’m not going to avoid doing something just because I’m scared of people copying me,” asserts the designer.
When asked about her advice for designers with similar aspirations, Alaa recommends, “testing the market out. Take advantage of Instragram, Twitter, and other types of social media. Contact bloggers and think about establishing your own signature style. But there’s no guidebook. Even I’m still figuring things out.”
Her dream for the future of Fyunka is to be in department stores, right between Kate Spade and Paul Frank.