Deeba Hasan sits down for coffee with Ahmed al Balushi, a student studying civil engineering, who also happens to love fashion design and has his own T-shirt range, to find out more about his twin passions
As soon as I see Ahmed arrive for our meeting, I know who he is. Such a flamboyant style – chic jacket, skinny khaki jeans, boots and hair gelled to one side – could only be carried off by someone with a real flair for fashion.
It’s fair to say that it’s not the look you might expect from a trainee civil engineer either.
But then, as I discover, Ahmed is not your usual student or engineer. He may be only 20, but already he’s an exhibited fashion designer with a show and his own designer label, called ‘Kash5aful’.
“When I initially designed T-shirts for myself and wore them outside, friends and family described them in Arabic, using a word that means something close to fabulous.”
It was the natural name to choose for his own brand of T-shirts. “It’s a mix between English and Arabic and because there is ‘ful’ at the end of the name, the idea is that it means more than fabulous.”
Ahmed’s passion for fashion isn’t a recent affair – he has been a fan of fashion labels and brands from a very young age. “Growing up in Abu Dhabi, I was looking at people on TV, watching celebrities walk the red carpet at ceremonies wearing the most elegant of designs. That stuff inspired me,” he recalls. “I even chose clothes on my own when I was little and went out shopping with my parents”
Ahmed, who grew up as one of only two boys between nine sisters, admits his dual loves might seem at odds, but says: “I always wanted to become an engineer as our brain has two sides, one is the creative and the other is logical. I wanted to be able to exercise both sides of my brain equally. I don’t think I have to study fashion to be a fashion designer.”
So he simply combined studying engineering at Caledonian College of Engineering with his ideas for funky T-shirt designs.
He took inspiration from other designers and added his own striking stamp.
Most of Ahmed’s T-shirts – he’s wearing one when we meet – feature Arabic phrases, lyrics from popular songs and catchy quotes, all captured in beautiful calligraphic designs, Arabic patterns and attractive symbols. “With most of my T-shirts I try to create a mix between English and Arabic,” says Ahmed. “I recently designed a collection for National Day. One featured khanjars (the traditional Omani dagger) and another had the superman logo and the Omani flag in the middle, with ‘Super Omani’ written in Arabic below.”
Ahmed recently held his first fashion show at his college, featuring both girls and boys modelling his T-shirts. He received a huge response to the show, where he also joined the models on the the runway at the end wearing an elegant suit, just like all other fashion designers do. More are planned for the future.
He has quite a following already with over 7,000 fans on Instagram. Ahmed mostly markets his products on social media, but also takes part in local exhibitions. Word of mouth has helped him a great deal.
He charges RO8 to RO9 for a T-shirt and says it is worth the expense. “I know that I am giving them good quality and put a lot of effort into every T-shirt that I design.”
His fanbase stretches far and wide with customers not only from all over Oman, but also Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and as far afield as the UK, Germany and Austria.
His sisters also seem to make good use of his eye for fashion. “All of my sisters come to me for advice on gowns or casual wear for various occasions and I haven’t disappointed them yet. Even before coming for this interview, I was shopping for two siblings – my little sister asked me to buy her a sweater.”
I wonder how he strikes the balance between his studies and a burgeoning fashion business?
“There are times when I have to bunk off classes because I also take orders for occasions, which means I need to deliver the product to my customers on time, as I don’t want to be the cause for ruining their event,” he admits, but adds that his studies aren’t suffering.
As for his personal fashion favourites, he loves brands like Zara, Pull & Bear and Bershka.
His dream is to stage a show in Paris, one of the fashion capitals of the world and would love to see celebrities like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, Rihanna and the boy band One Direction wearing his designs one day.
As to which career – engineering or fashion – Ahmed might choose, it’s unclear.
“I plan to continue the balance between my passion for fashion and my profession in the future and will not focus on one more than the other, but we will have to see what happens,” he says.
Whether it’s engineering work or fashion design that Ahmed makes his name in, I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from him in the future.
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