As runways come to halt, Jordanian fashion pioneer steers industry through new landscape

Shirene Rifai, during one of her events (Photo: Dragon Fly Media Productions via Shirene Rifai)
AMMAN — The fashion industry is a constantly evolving one, characterized by fast-paced major shifts, and no one is more aware of this than Shirene Rifai, one of the pioneers in the Jordanian fashion industry.اضافة اعلان

With over 15 years in the industry, Rifai started her Journey working in major fashion magazines where she was given the opportunity to travel internationally and attend runway events across the globe. But she soon found that her true passion was in fostering the careers of local designers and creatives to help them get a foothold in the industry.

Upon observing the local fashion industry, she found that it is not receiving the national support it warranted. She sought to change that through her various ventures, the most ambitious of which being Jordan Fashion Week.

 “This is a sector that no one supports, so I had to do something to give them support on a national level, Shirene Rifai on Tuesday in an interview with Jordan News. “That is why I called it Jordan Fashion Week; I wanted Jordan to be at the forefront.” 

 “We don’t want people to think that this is just a runway show, there is so much more good work that goes into Jordan fashion Week,” Rifai explained.

She describes Jordan Fashion Week as being less of a singular annual event and more of a counsel of mentors who partake in projects throughout the year to help local talents flourish. This, according to Rifai, includes helping them in the process of brainstorming and sketching, connecting them to factories as a way to boost their network within the industry, providing them with access to high-quality materials for their projects, as well as offering technical support. 

Rifai also takes an active role in reaching out and mentoring students. Last year, she worked with both the Design Institute Amman and Luminus Education to ensure that students receive mentorship from people within the industry.

Designers are not the only target beneficiaries from Jordan Fashion Week, said Rifai, pointing to partnership with the Ministry of Tourism to leverage an event at this scale for supporting the local tourism industry. 

This is in addition to partnerships with NGOs that seek to provide support to refugees and local communities.

#BornAgain in COVID                                             

The support Rifai strives to provide has come under the spotlight as the country started grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago. 

As she was unable to hold the second edition of Jordan Fashion week in 2020, Rifai wanted to launch other initiatives to help keep her designers involved and creative during unstable times, she told Jordan News. 

Hence, #BornAgain was born. 

Using discarded pieces of fabric and cloths, Rifai had local artists create sustainable mask designs, which were then made by women entrepreneurs trying to sell their handmade products.

Phase two of the #BornAgain initiative involved local artists working together to upcycle election campaign leftovers, including banners and posters, that were left behind by candidates vying for a seat in the 2020 Parliament. Artists involved in the initiative turned the materials into pieces of art and wearable fashion to prevent the materials from being dumped into landfills, damaging the environment.

Like many other sectors, the fashion industry has felt the crunch the worldwide pandemic, Rifai says.

 “Worldwide, consumer behavior changed completely,” Rifai said, adding that people are less willing to spend at pre-pandemic levels, not to mention a higher focus on sustainability, which “completely changed the whole ball game in the whole fashion industry.” 

Nevertheless, designers are adapting to the post-COVID landscape. 

“There are no rules; couture designers are doing ready-to-wear, fashion designers are doing home accessories and perfumes, and even going into beauty lines,” said Rifai. 

“You find that within the whole fashion industry everyone is searching and trying to figure out how they can keep their band afloat and alive.” 

Being thrust into an unstable situation gave designers the chance to reevaluate and revisit their previous strategies through a new lens, Rifai explains.

Rifai believes that young designers should find a very specific niche to cater to and have an intimate understanding of the client they are targeting, rather than just designing for the general public. She also stressed the importance of learning to budget effectively, since now more than ever, there is no such thing as a steady form of income. 

“I would say that the fashion industry changed for the better, and I would say that there are a lot of challenges, but they are good challenges, and now you are seeing designers finding solutions that they didn’t before, in this new norm for the industry,” Rifai said.

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