Saudi fashion blogger and designer Alaa Balkhy discussed fashion in the Arab world and her creation of the brand Fyunka at an event hosted by the Georgetown Arab Society in White-Gravenor Hall on Thursday.
The event, co-sponsored by the Georgetown University Lecture Fund and the Georgetown Retail and Luxury Association, featured the 25-year-old who currently lives in New York as part of an initiative to bring a part of modern Arabic culture to the university.
Balkhy was born in Saudi Arabia but lived in Canada until the age of nine. Balkhy spoke about how she noticed several cultural differences that made an impression on her.
“As a child, I never understood why in Ramadan we had to eat late or why we couldn’t eat pepperoni pizza. It was so hard for my parents to explain to us, as kids, why we were a little bit different,” Balkhy said.
She then returned to Saudi Arabia, where she jumped between different schools and cities. When she graduated from high school, there weren’t many options for women in terms of universities, with only three private schools and one public university accepting female students, but she still managed to graduate from college and earn a bachelor’s degree in graphic design.
After graduation, she assumed that she would be able to find a job since graphic design was a growing field.
“I was looking for a job for a year, but there was nothing. So, I thought about creating something. You tend to be bilingual in the way you design. You have to mix Arabic and English, and that for me was very interesting,” she explained.
As she continued to look for a job, Balkhy conceived the idea for the brand Fyunka, which mainly focuses on bags.
“I wanted the name of the brand to be Arabic — that was so important to me — to show where it came from. I also wanted to show that the brand was from Jeddah,” she said. “I tried to make a statement bag, because in the Gulf specifically, girls tend to carry more expensive bags or designer bags. I wanted to break this trend.”
Balkhy noted the importance of social media to Fyunka’s success, especially in her home country of Saudi Arabia.
“Instagram was a huge factor. We have 11,000 followers right now, and I can see that every time I take Fyunka to another country, there is repercussion in Instagram. People, especially in Saudi, tend to use social media more, because there is no public social life. So it tends to be more online,” Balkhy said.
She then discussed her plans for the future as she looks into possibly creating a new brand as well.
“I want to be in the department stores. But I would also love to create another brand, other than Fyunka. Something that is more mature. I feel like I created Fyunka three years ago, and I’m evolving. I’m growing and I feel like the brand is also growing. Maybe keep Fyunka and create something else that is more mature,” Balkhy said.
Salma Jordan, who owns the accessory brand TARB, attended the event.
“I own a company and as an owner, it was interesting and brought insight. She talked about her struggles and how she decides which products to put up and at the same time maintain the integrity of her brand. I’ve been following her work for a couple of years and I’m excited to see where it is going to go in the future,” Jordan said.
Alexandra Medellin (COL’16) said that she particularly enjoyed Balkhy’s personality.
“I thought the event was great. She was an incredibly candid and charming speaker, and was willing to take as many questions as we threw at her. I found it really informative,” Medellin said.