On Dec. 8, Andrea Wazen will be honored as the Emerging Talent of the Year at the first virtual FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Dec. 7 print issue about her rising stardom in the shoe industry.
Since launching in 2013 with a boutique in Beirut — followed by her e-commerce debut in December 2017 — Andrea Wazen has quickly garnered a celebrity following with the likes of Kylie Jenner, Hailey Bieber and Jennifer Lopez, who can all be credited for giving the brand a boost.
However, celebrity co-signs are not what make this luxury label one to watch. It is
Wazen’s story, purpose and perseverance during a year that was filled with seemingly endless obstacles that prove she has the mettle to become the next big thing.
In the midst of a global pandemic, the Lebanese designer received validation for her business in May, when Fashion Trust Arabia recognized her as Accessories Designer of the Year. But then, on Aug. 4, an explosion hit her hometown of Beirut, killing more than 150 people, injuring thousands and obliterating her store and offices.
“When the explosion happened, it just put everything back into perspective,” she told FN. “I just felt that from the inside I was dying, honestly. I had to express myself in a way that I never did before.”
So for her spring ’21 collection, Wazen went back to her roots and dedicated the line to her city. “I had to be inspired by who am I and what I’ve lived, especially through this past year. What helped me heal was seeing everything I loved be torn apart and then trying to make it feel better by being inspired by this.”
What really sets Wazen apart from competitors is her commitment to producing footwear locally in Lebanon. “I found that whether we like it or not, there is a system in the fashion industry that sometimes we feel we have to abide by. Now, it’s changing, but back [when I started] it was very rare to produce outside of Italy,” she said. “In Italy, I needed huge quantities to produce. This was something ethically I was not OK with; this is not who I am. I like to produce small quantities and for my shoes to be quite exclusive.”
Wazen works with four Beirut-based factories, where she has a personal connection to the artisans and their families. “I felt like this is where I belonged. I never thought twice about producing somewhere else again,” she said.
Wazen, who describes her shoes as romantic and edgy, is finding success online through her own e-commerce platform, as well as at stockists in the Middle East, including Level Shoes in Dubai and Galeries Lafayette in Qatar.
Rania Masri, chief transformation officer at Chalhoub Group, told FN, “Andrea is a great talent from our region that we are proud to showcase on our Level Shoes platform. Andrea Wazen’s shoes are timeless and season-less and her focus on bespoke design ensures that sustainability is at the heart of her brand.”
What’s more, Wazen is cultivating a direct relationship with consumers: She is the one who communicates with them on Instagram.
That personal connection is the reason she opened her boutique in the first place. So she is forging ahead with the rebuild of her Beirut store (her mom is the architect) and plans to evolve her online platform into a more userfriendly space in 2021.
While reflecting on what she’s experienced in 2020, Wazen added: “I was on a train going so fast, and then I was able to sit down and have time with my thoughts and remember the purpose of my brand. I am a designer that does luxury but there’s a message behind the shoes that I make. The most important thing is being human, being kind and being good. We tend to forget this in fashion. This year I was able to figure that out.”
For 34 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards — often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The first virtual FNAAs will air online on Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. ET and are presented in partnership with The Style Room Powered by Zappos, and sponsors FDRA, Deckers Brands, Soles4Souls and Foot Locker.