“It all started in 2017, I was sitting at a cafe in Amman, where I was living at the time. Someone was distributing leaflets to advertise for a one-month fashion design course and I had always dreamt of pursuing a career in fashion …. I joined the course to improve my sketching skills and ended up designing a capsule collection.” And the rest is history as they say… and not just any history… but one that is steeped in art, culture and yes…… EXILE! CIIN had the privilege of gaining an exclusive interview with Ibrahim Shebani (Alshebani), the creative force behind the brand Born in Exile.
Born In Exile is a ready-to-wear brand that celebrates authenticity, culture, heritage and history. Taking a look at the brand’s first collection “Modern Heritage” one can’t help but be transported to a time and place where history meets fantasy and where the juxtaposition of the term “Modern Heritage” isn’t lost on anyone. Inspired by traditional Libyan horse track, “Modern Heritage” is a collection of edgy leather and denim ready-to-wear, and shoes and accessories that are a reflection of a modern Libya as interpreted by Shebani. Figure-flattering pieces are made of aniline leather and Italian calfskin, while denim pieces come in slightly oversized bomber jackets that are the perfect embodiment of street style. A leather/denim high heel that is intricately adorned with dainty pearls and tassels is the perfect addition to the brand’s avant-garde statement pieces.
Shebani prides himself on the brand’s organic inception and growth, as if the universe was collaborating and planning things and he was just a player in a much larger game. Shebani’s instructor in the fashion design course he attended in Amman, fell in love with his work and encouraged him to produce prototypes and to simply try his luck in this competitive field. This little piece of advice took him to Paris and Milan where he scoured countless fabric shops, exhibitions, and leather tanneries, and there he obtained the needed material, set up a small atelier near Bologna in Italy to produce his prototypes, and following that he set himself up in Tunisia for manufacturing.
Tunisia was such as obvious choice for Shebani what with its booming fashion scene, its great craftsmanship and manufacturing know-how, its proximity to Europe and the International markets, and its similarity to Libyan culture and traditions. “I want to be an Arab designer who designs for an Arab brand that produces in the Arab world and sells internationally.” Shebani explains. Being born in Exile had its negatives yet it also had some positives according to Shebani; having grown up in Cairo in the 80’s and early 90’s was such an enriching experience for him and for his mother to whom he was always especially close being the youngest of his siblings. Ibrahim would accompany his mother everywhere from tailors to Khan Al Khalili, Kerdasa and Wekalet El Balah for accessories, embroideries and fabrics.
However, according to Shebani, nothing compares to growing up in Libya, which was “special” yet we read ‘challenging’. Shebani’s family moved back to Libya in the mid 90’s and Ibrahim was mesmerised. For Ibrahim Libya was like a blushing bride full of mysteries and secrets and so few were able to know her well! He was captivated by the traditions, the culture, the folklore, the music and the art…. it shaped the artist and designer he became today. In fact, one of Shebani’s favourite pieces in his collection and one that means a lot to him is the ‘Libya’ leather jacket which was inspired by the traditional harness of the Libyan knight, and it also boasts the traditional embroidery of the horse saddle.
Growing up in Libya during that period of political unrest that resulted in an international embargo, meant that they were secluded from the outside world and Ibrahim’s time would consist of playing tennis, playing music, painting or simply hanging around his mother while she painted or sewed. At one point in his life Ibrahim wanted to become a professional tennis player!! Ibrahim also loves traveling, cooking, and he’s obsessed with history and archeology and we are not surprised!! Adult Ibrahim, however, doesn’t have time to indulge in all that, he has a day job to help him pay the bills and after 3PM he would go to the factories, the fabric suppliers, the pattern atlantis or to his atelier. By 7:30 PM he will have his dinner and then does research and sketching till it’s time for bed and that’s usually before midnight. He reserves his Sundays for resting, sketching, and for meeting up with friends.
Prior to unleashing the designer in him, Ibrahim admitted that he tried his hand at a number of practices including a media and marketing agency which he had founded with his brother. He attempted to study business in addition to architecture and urban planning but hated both subjects. Which thankfully led him to fashion design and the birth of Born in Exile. Ibrahim draws his inspiration from everything and anything… he loves beauty and authenticity and he derives his inspiration from his experiences, the people in his life, the places he visits, from a sketch, a fabric or a piece of stitching or embroidery. “I am really motivated by my love for what I am doing…It is a great feeling I can’t fully explain, but it leaves me wanting to do more, it pushes me to create more.”
Ibrahim is taking things slowly and growing his brand organically; he’s currently preparing for his second collection which will undoubtedly be as ravishing with trendy, edgy and feminine pieces that will give the word heritage a whole new meaning. Ibrahim hopes that his brand will garner the support of Arab media, buyers, celebrities and influencers alike for “once a brand is strong in its own market then it is very easy to dominate other markets.” Shebani explains. In the long run, Born in Exile is hoping to grow and expand into menswear, perfume and accessories.
One last piece of advice from the uber talented designer to the ladies out there. “Be daring, be different. Don’t be scared to express yourself through fashion and be extra. Extra is good!”