In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout, the businesses of young, emerging and independent designers are likely to be the most vulnerable. In a Supporting Independents, FN will spotlight these creatives to learn how they are adjusting to a new way of working and living.
Despite industry uncertainty, fashion is still forging ahead when it comes to supporting its rising talent. Just look at Andrea Wazen.
Last year, FN put a spotlight on the Beirut-based designer as an emerging talent to watch, and nearly a year later she has been honored with the Fashion Trust Arabia Award, naming her Accessories Designer of the Year.
Officially having launched in 2013 with a boutique in Beirut followed by her e-commerce debut in December 2017, Wazen quickly garnered a celebrity following from the likes of Ciara, Kylie Jenner, Hailey Bieber and Jennifer Lopez, who can all be credited for the giving the brand a boom.
While her colorful shoes have connected with customers, what really sets Wazen apart from competitors is her story and commitment to producing footwear in Lebanon, which is something that caught the eye of Christian Louboutin and Diane von Furstenberg, who were part of the FTA judging committee.
As part of the prize, each winner, which was announced this week, will receive financial support of up to $200,000, as well as industry mentorship and the opportunity to sell their spring 2021 collection through FTA partner Matchesfashion.com.
“I did not expect to win. I’m so happy,” Wazen told FN. “When you apply, they ask you why and what you want from the fund and the mentorship program. For me, this was about how to take a my brand international, how to establish my brand online further and how to grow my team.”
Despite growing traction in 2019, Wazen is now faced with fashion’s changing landscape due to the coronavirus.
“I thought 2020 would be my big year, everything was on track and then the coronavirus comes and there’s the shift,” she said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. The market is changing so much. Two years ago I don’t think I would survive.”
Though her brick-and-mortar store in Beirut remains closed, Wazen is focused on e-commerce where she is still selling well, she said. Plus, being small and nimble has proved beneficial.
To Buy: Andrea Wazen Denver Heel, $475.
“I’m at this stage where I’m not a brand that depends on retailers,” she explained. “We have under 10 retailers so I’m still able to produce my shoes [in time] and there’s still no team so I move spontaneously.”
Looking ahead, Wazen said she plans to continue with spring ’21, but will adjust her designs to include more casual options to reflect the world’s position due to COVID-19 as well her signature flamboyant heels but with neutral color options.
“The dream aspect of the shoe and that experience still needs to be there but at this point, the collection needs to be about the identity,” she said. “And the further I get into that, I will forge a better collection. I have more confidence and I have a direction, despite everything.”
Unlike many designers, Wazen is focused on only created two season per year. She was recently tempted to possibly produce pre-collections, but given the impacts of the coronavirus, she will stick with only fall and spring.
“People are waking up,” Wazen continued. “We are all struggling. We’ve come much closer as a community of designers, supporting in any way we can. And slow fashion [is key]. I think fashion is going to change. Consumers want a sense of value in their products as well as integrity.”