Melad Hamed, is well-known in Iraq and across the Arab world as the cutting edge fashion designer with a heart of gold! In an interview with our reporter Lemya, Melad shared his rise to fame with Nina’s Lemya Izzet and his aspirations in terms of creating a positive social enterprise in the fashion industry. In this follow on piece he shares perspectives on some of the issues affecting the globalisation of fashion and what international success brings in terms of private sector opportunity and challenge in his home country.
I wanted to follow on from my interview with Nina, by giving greater insight into the importance of creating a business that is socially and culturally aware from the outset. I established my own fashion house called “Dunyazad” (Dunyazad Iraqi Fashion House) in Amman/Jordan in 2003 and staffed it mainly with young people and women. The name was inspired by the historical story of “the one thousand and one nights”. Dunyazad is the sister of Shahrazad who was the main character in the story. I wanted to empower the role of that unknown lady who was helping her sister in the story to keep the Prince Shahrayar engaged in listening – thus distracting him from killing a wife every night. I used the character of Dunyazad as the symbolic woman in all my shows. She is the speaker who conveys the message to the audience. I also combine a fashion display with a strong storyline, using dynamic effects set within a background of images, illustrating different aspects of culture and various Iraqi regions and periods of our history. It is always accompanied by music. A short snippet of a fashion show to music is here and you can get a glimpse behind the scenes here.
Other than giving me a great sense of creative achievement, being socially and culturally aware has really paid off business wise. The positive representation of Iraq I have been able to bring to bear through my shows has led to real international staying power; with over 40 shows in different countries. My first show was Amman. This then expanded to Dubai, Paris and other countries of the world. I always represent Iraq as nation that combines diverse cultures. Baghdad is a ‘beautiful lady’ who has been able to defeat the savage attacks which have been aimed at her throughout her history. This approach resonates with an international audience that is both fashion and socially aware. Just to illustrate the popularity of my work – we have been asked back to Algeria four times!
As we are speaking about the importance of fashion industry in an ambassadorial role for Iraq, I want to touch upon another point. In a previous interview with Nina, fashion designer Hannah Sadeq shared that she thought Arab fashion designers are finally getting the global recognition they deserve. I tend to agree with this – but of course in order to build on this, there needs to be both internal global awareness and external interest.
In Iraq, the Ministry of Culture supports culture, but we have no lobbying body working with a global private sector on our behalf. This support of the Ministry of Culture is much needed of course, but it is still it’s a governmental body and doesn’t address the issue of building a strong private sector via specialised institutions able to support it.
It is of course possible to create global access without this support. On a personal level I was able to create global access via Dunyazad. This had the knock-on effect of supporting up-and-coming designers and models in the process, some of whom are now well known. Of course a young outlook is also outward looking – social media and the many other internet tools drive this. This is one of the many reasons I like to support young people in the industries.
I wish to end on a note of challenge. I believe we need to preserve the culture and intellectual resources of our country. We have a great civilization and culture that needs to be protected by law. The Intellectual property law has long been a bone of contention. For example- in Mutanabbi Street (known for its intellectuals) many booksellers have been known to copy original books and sell them.
The issue of the intellectual property and copyright were marginalised in the 1990s due to sanctions and the subsequent economic crisis. As I have hopefully illustrated above, cultural exports are crucial in communicating Iraq’s importance on a global stage and can positively affect the economy. As a creative I need to be certain that my IP is protected. Many others in in art and culture feel the same. Iraq has updated the intellectual property law and the Ministry of Culture signed an intellectual property agreement with the WIPO in 2010 to cope with the development of new technology in the social media and internet. So, awareness of this issue and rigour in protecting what is in effect our cultural heritage, by ensuring it can be properly monetized, is something I want to leave you with. Choices you make in terms of how you behave and purchase can affect a nation’s wellbeing.
Ed Comment: Melad chose to focus on cultural awareness and business opportunity in this piece. It should be noted though that this great social entrepreneur has created charity fashion shows for both the children who suffer from thalassemia (over 13,000 children in Iraq), and also for the displaced persons in Iraq. Thank you Melad for being such an inspiration!