Interviewed by: Salma Hussein
Written by: Olivia Sherif
Remember when you used to go to the market with your mother, and the fruits and vegetables would get weighed on iron weights? Remember when the bus ticket cost twenty five piasters? Remember when RIVO was a solution to everything? Or, when you stood in line to get a loaf of baladi bread to compliment your foul dish? Well, Cairopolitan has brought all these memories back to life, and transformed them into notebooks,cushions,candles and much more. We sat down with the people behind it all, Manager and Creative Nelly El Sharkawy, and Founder, Owner and Designer Ahmed Hefnawy, to know more about the brand’s identity and how it all started.
Can you tell us about yourself?
Nelly El Sharkawy: I have been working here for more than a year. I met Hefnawy when this place existed, but needed a little push. When I started working here I was still in college studying architecture. At first, I didn’t know how to balance between both, but it was worth it, even if it meant giving up sleep.
Ahmed Hefnawy: I graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, and worked in the advertising industry for nearly twenty years –while working on the idea of Cairopolitan. Then I quit, to fully focus on making it a reality. I started working on the idea twelve years ago to present it to the public as Cairopolitan.
“Cairo is a cosmopolitan city –it’s the heart of Egypt”
What inspired you to start this project ?
Ahmed Hefnawy: These items have always been present in our everyday life; we just extracted them before they become extinct, and transformed them into iconic products for people to keep and cherish.
Why the name Cairopolitan ?
Ahmed Hefnawy: Cairopolitan…Because Cairo is a cosmopolitan city –it’s the heart of Egypt. What better way to combine these two words to create a unique name for a brand?
Why did you choose Cairo to be the inspiration behind your project ?
Ahmed Hefnawy: It’s a weird city honestly; it deserves to have a lot of attention but it’s so crowded that we don’t get to notice its small details. So what we did is pull these small details, and transformed them into products like notebooks and candles.
“Nelly EL Sharkawy: we should run our social media profiles ourselves to be able to capture that Cairopolitan spirit,”
Your social media launch campaign was quite unique, it felt like we were reading a novel. What sparked this idea?
Nelly El Sharkawy: At first, it was hard because we couldn’t quite establish the voice of the brand itself to be able break into the social media world. We couldn’t decide whether we should communicate to the public in English or the Egyptian dialect, or find someone who fully understands our brand to take over our social media profiles. But we came to the conclusion that we should run our social media profiles ourselves to be able to capture that Cairopolitan spirit.
Why did you choose Garden City to be the place to introduce Cairopolitan?
Ahmed Hefnawy: I have always been in love with downtown Cairo and its spirit. I stumbled upon this place by coincidence in Garden City, and it made perfect sense because it’s the center of Cairo –and our brand is all about the special things in Cairo.
What were the challenges you faced starting this project ?
Ahmed Hefnawy: One of the major challenges was the production process: from finding the proper materials to manufacturers, and trying to convince the public with our brand concept.
Nelly El Sharkawy: Some people took our idea for granted, and made it sound silly. This really frustrated us, to the extent that I was convinced we shouldn’t open the store. People couldn’t see it from our perspective like we did.
“Ahmed Hefnawy: Where have you been, man, you are so late!”
What is your advice for anyone who wants to start their own business ?
Ahmed Hefnawy: Don’t depend on anyone but yourself, because you are the only one that will benefit yourself.
If Cairopolitan was a person, what would you tell them?
Ahmed Hefnawy: Where have you been, man, you are so late! I hope you become an important place in Cairo, and bring back good childhood memories .
What’s your biggest fear ?
Ahmed Hefnawy: That this place will be abandoned. I once imagined that after twenty years this place will be neglected, and no one will buy our products, and it’s just hanging there with dust on it; or that the idea will die after a while. This thought always hangs over our head; that’s why we push ourselves and strive to stand out.