Calling Fadwa Baruni multi-talented would be an understatement. Her passion for fashion was not realized until after she has become an engineer. She stepped away from a successful engineering career to chase her dream of becoming a fashion designer. Combining her expertise in engineering, her artistic flair, and her upbringing in North Africa, her unique pieces have grown in popularity. Now, her designs have been sold through department stores for the last few years as well as a couple of e-commerce outlets in the region. We speak to her all about her journey, girl power, and fashion design as an art form.
An engineer and a fashion designer. What strengths do you have in fashion design which you attribute to your study of engineering?
Engineering had a profound effect on my thinking and approach to problems. This is really helpful in allowing me to be organized and focused at each stage in the design and production process. This is probably as valuable to me as the training in art and design which I also undertook – it’s great to have some kind of balance between left and right sides of the brain. Though perhaps well-balanced is not the adjective that immediately springs to mind when you meet me.
Shifting from engineering to fashion design. Did your family fight that decision at all?
When I was growing up in Libya, my family made sure we were very focused on professional opportunities – law, medicine and engineering were the preferred careers. The idea of becoming a fashion designer at that point was a non-starter. I trained as an engineer and had a successful career in industry for few years before I had the courage to take the plunge and change directions into fashion.
What were the greatest obstacles you faced? And how did you overcome them?
The greatest challenge was internally having the courage to decide that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and realizing the challenge this would be. Another great challenge was to be able to sell into boutiques and stores. It is a very competitive market and when you start with no track record it is hard to find stores that will take you seriously. Then there is the major challenge of finding your niche – were I only to design for my personal style, I would not be in business for long. I needed to learn how to design for my customer and even before that to find out who my customer was.
You say you draw inspiration from engineering as well as your North African roots. Tell us about examples of how you incorporate those elements into your designs.
My engineering left brain works to define the structure of the garments. I don’t do detailed engineering calculations, but the ‘feel’ of what will work definitely comes from this training. I think my color palette and sense of which colors work well together are very related to my background in North Africa – life in the UK seemed very monochrome when I arrived to work and study there. My childhood was in full cinematic color.
Do you find fashion design – as other art forms – a form of self-expression for the designer as well as the consumer?
Clearly, working as a designer includes strong elements of self-expression and artistic flair. The issue is that as your question points out, if there is no customer to wear the garment then that self-expression goes unexpressed. So yes, perhaps more so than other art forms, the consumer of the fashion item is expressing themselves in choosing to wear my clothes. Perhaps that’s why I love meeting my customers and seeing them wearing my clothes.
How can powerful female figures in the Middle East join forces and support each other in your opinion?
Social Media is a helpful platform to express support of each other. The problem is that this media is so overused that it is difficult to have your voice heard.
How can creative female entrepreneurs such as yourself set the best examples for young girls to follow their dreams?
I have a 13-year-old daughter and I often think and worry about her future. I think that it is important to balance the message of ‘following their dreams’ with the reality of preparing for an adult life that is likely to be far more challenging than it was for my generation. There is so much disruption going on in business and other parts of society that now is one of the most challenging times to be growing up.
Would you say designing fashion for women gives you an opportunity to empower them through your designs?
Absolutely – designing to empower women is exactly what I am working to do. I really want my customers to be full of confidence when they walk into a room knowing that they look uniquely their best person.
What are your future plans for Baruni Couture?
I feel that we have expanded and gained acceptance for the brand and now I want to expand the coverage to America and Europe and express our values through a clearer and stronger voice. So far this has just been the opening chapters of the story.