By: Lemya Ayub
Melad Hamed, is well-known in Iraq and across the Arab world as the cutting edge fashion designer with a heart of gold! So when his team approached Nina with the offer on an interview I was very excited.
I knew certain things about him; for example his conception of a ‘fashion and folklore company’ staffed with mainly of women and youth the Dunyazad Iraqi Fashion House, started in Amman/Jordan in 20014. I had also come across him as an outspoken advocate in terms of those involved in art and fashion acting as ambassadors for a ‘ better Iraq’.
Amongst many accolades, he has personally been awarded the best fashion designer accolade by the Arab Group in London and, via Dunyazad, has participated in many fashion festivals across Iraq , the Middle East and Europe.
We met in the lobby of a Baghdad hotel. Despite the heat of that afternoon, and the many checkpoints he had to pass through, he arrived – full of apologies for being few minutes late and bursting with energy and enthusiasm. When we started talking though, I realised this energy was coupled with a quiet, almost studious passion for seeing positive things happen in a country he loves.
I kick off with questions of how he started, and indeed (as a Nina reporter) whether there were any strong female role models that led him on this path.
My mother is my ultimate idol, she’s the one who taught me and I owe her everything. I still remember when I was a little boy and used to watch her for hours sewing with her old “Singer” sewing machine. I used to think of it as a magical wheel, one that could produce beautiful pieces of clothes. She was the one who taught me fashion design, leading to me being known as the youngest fashion designer in Iraq while I was still in elementary school!
My mother’s influence has meant that I have tremendous respect for Iraqi female workers. The Iraqi woman has to confront the restrictions of the society, violence and terrorism. To my mind, I consider Iraqi women as heroines – both home and in the workplace.
To what extent does your heritage influence your designs? Which elements came from east and which from west?
Melad, with some of his designs
The market place is always of utmost importance. So, yes I do respond to the audience I am designing for, whether it’s in terms of ‘class’, intellectual level or indeed nationality (i.e Iraq, Lebanon, or France). Personally I think that incorporating traditional designs, that are reflective of culture or historical eras, offer designers the most challenging of paths.
How do you weave in what you see as being the main components of Iraqi identity in your designs?
To my mind a powerful Iraqi ambassador is a woman who wears, for example, a hand-made piece of ‘tradition’. An elegant scarf which is embroidered with a verse of a famous Iraqi poet for instance is able to introduce her national culture as it encourages the audience to ask for the origin of the poem’s story. This may then lead onto a much wider narrative in terms of civilisation and Mesopotamian history.
As I mentioned at the start, one of the reasons I was so keen to meet Melad is that he is widely respected as a social entrepreneur – someone who uses money and business acumen to do good things, building human capital as well as profits. We move on to this next:
Finding ways to empower women through positive economic activity has always been at the heart of my work. In terms of Iraq I don’t believe that austerity measures are the way to go. Instead I think we should look at investing in our women and young people as a solution to the economic crisis. As I am sure you’ll agree war and difficult times are not new to Iraq!
I think though also that we as business people in the private sector have a duty also. For example, there is huge potential for young people to find employment in my line of work. I have actually researched the labour market, and found that Iraq is flooded with Turkish imports! Bearing in mind we in Iraq are focused don high quality goods with a real interest in fashion and in buying new clothes and accessories we are missing a key opportunity. I think this is partly caused by our weak customs regulations.
We are intensive consumers and importers but lack the capacity for production. This problem can be solved by establishing specialised institutions which train and teach fashion designing and production (in the case of my industry obviously). In this way we would be able to create our own production chains and even export our goods.
My personal vision is that of a generation of well-trained young people, able to design, produce and market. Their actions can directly contribute to a stronger economy and nation building; we just need to find a way of making it happen.
Tell me more about that, you obviously have a plan?
I returned to Iraq in 2006 during the difficult times of conflict, to serve my country and work in the Ministry of Culture. As you know I currently work in and support the Dunyayzad Iraqi Fashion House which is one of the biggest fashion institutions in the Middle East. I have recommended the establishment of the first vocational centre on our premises, specialising in for fashion design studies. The Iraqi Fashion House has all the necessary capacities for such centre. I am delighted to announce that the fashion design training will start shortly after I come back from my fashion tour next month. Application forms will be distributed for young people who would like to register. Young people are asked to register via this Facebook portal The centre has already started assigning professional instructors and trainers in coordination with the Ministries of Culture and Higher Education. We will be providing practical training and official certificates on graduation. Everything is designed to be practically relevant in terms of creating employment opportunities.
So what’s next for Melad Hamed? Any projects underway?
I have a big fashion show entitled “Recaybes” to be first performed in Algeria which conveys a message of revolution against violence and against all the crimes that are being committed now. These are imported and not rooted in our native culture. I absolutely believe that we shall defeat violence in the end. This is because I believe in our power as Iraqis to overcome adversity.
I also intend to implement a wider economic venture, base dagain on social entrepreneurship. I am aiming to connect the fabric and clothes manufacturing factories to provide jobs for our young people. In this way they will be able to build business as well as supporting the Iraqi youth and fighting unemployment. I have already met with Iraqi businessmen and owners of fabrics and fashion production companies, and we have discussed possible cooperation. The defining factor of this project is an integrated supply chain starting from fabrics manufacturing and ending with marketing.
And finally coming back to our launch of the training centre at the Iraqi Fashion House. I am managing this and looking forward to seeing the wonderful progress of our young people, as we will be empowering them with skills to find jobs and to start businesses.
Working with Nina has given me some great opportunities to meet people and get closely connected to what I see as the beating heart of Iraq, ordinary people with big ideas who are determine to make a better Iraq accessible to all. Melad is an extraordinary person, with a huge vision I have completely bought in to. As an Iraqi I feel proud that he is a fellow countryman.
I thank Melad and ask whether he might consider writing for Nina personally. My ‘ask’ being based on getting a bit more deeply into how he started out and indeed some of the issue affecting the business of fashion. I am pleased to report that we will be able to share this next week!