Sunday June 16th, 2024
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Rebel With a Cause: The 22-Year Old Taking On Egypt’s Streetwear Scene

The young mind behind two of Cairo’s hottest fashion destinations, ‘Sight’ and ‘Drop The Shop’, this is how Hussein Shahbender did it.

Ziyad El-Helbawy

Rebel With a Cause: The 22-Year Old Taking On Egypt’s Streetwear Scene

For 22-year old Egyptian entrepreneur Hussein Shahbender, the young mind behind two of Cairo’s hottest fashion destinations, ‘Sight’ and ‘Drop The Shop’, the traditional path to success was not one he felt inclined to follow. Where others his age found comfort in conformity, Shahbender’s spirit sought challenge. Even from a young age, he had an independent streak, preferring adventurous pursuits like wakeboarding, fishing, hunting, and other off-the-beaten-path hobbies over the mainstream activities adopted by his peers. This same rebellious spirit shaped his unconventional approach to business.

At 17, Shahbender began teaching himself the ins and outs of the luxury watch market; one that “kick-started [his] career and shaped [his] business inclinations.” The hands-on experience later led him to notice a lack of Egyptian fashion brands catering to local youth culture.

Determined to fill this gap, Shahbender launched streetwear label Sight in 2020 after months of hands-on fashion and market research. Success bred more ambition for the now-22-year-old. Co-founding concept store ‘Drop The Shop’ the following year with his best friend Khaled Abou Taleb provided a local showcase as well as pulling in international names. The risk paid off as demand for domestic labels grew.

As both ventures saw success, Shahbender sought a killer team of Egypt’s foremost industry pioneers with whom he felt his story resonated, whose own stories aim to inspire a new generation of aspiring entrepreneurs. Through a series of intimate video interviews, Sight’s newest campaign highlighted myriad success stories who shared one vision, one sight. The Campaign’s quickfire impact, which led to immense exposure for the brand, brought upon Sight’s biggest philanthropic gesture yet, in which 25% of Sight’s revenue throughout the month of Ramadan was donated to the Ahl Masr Foundation.

In a virtual sit-down with SceneStyled, Shahbender dove into the story of how his upbringing instilled within him an entrepreneurial spirit, how Sight - and later Drop The Shop - came to be, and how he went about recruiting a killer ‘Sight Team’ for a greater purpose.

Looking back at your formative years, what would you say brought about your entrepreneurial inclinations?

I tried to veer away from the ‘norm’ with what I did and how I went about doing it. I just wanted to be out there, I wanted to see the world, and that sort of upbringing definitely had its impact on my business philosophy. 

Mind you I don’t come from a business-oriented family, so I was carving my own path. It’s the confidence that my family instilled in me, their belief that I'd be able to do what I put my mind into, that really propelled me. Parents usually try to keep you on the traditional path, mine didn’t do that.

Could you walk me through how you started out?

At 17 I started trading luxury watches, and that was what kick-started my career and shaped my business inclinations. It taught me how to navigate the market on a very basic level, and that’s what I needed. I started networking and getting to know people. That built up my personality, plus it made me money, it was incredibly rewarding.

While that must’ve been pretty exciting, it definitely had to have its risks, how did you navigate those?

I’d always ask myself, ‘what would happen if my business failed?’, and the answer was almost always that it wouldn’t be the end of the world, and that in and of itself is motivating.  

To invest thousands of dollars into luxury watches was a difficult decision and a huge risk, but it paid off. I started off on my own and then my father introduced me to his dear friend Alaa El Soury, who took me under his wings. It was the first time I had the support of someone who wasn’t family, someone who supported me because they saw something in me.

Going from luxury watches to streetwear is quite the leap, how did that happen?

After working with watches for a while, I started noticing a lack of Egyptian brands in the market - this was many years back, before local brands really started taking off. I kept asking myself, ‘why don’t I see many Egyptian brands? Why aren’t we representing ourselves?’ and that’s how I decided to go for it.

I began by teaching myself everything about the market; I did my research on manufacturing, e-commerce, and everything that had anything to do with fabrics. That is what gave me the foresight to launch Sight in 2020.

What was your initial vision for ‘Sight’, and would you say that has evolved over the years?

My vision with Sight grew, I wanted to see people all over Egypt strutting in a Sight hoodie, and now that that has thankfully been accomplished, I have my sight focused on taking the international spotlight.

One time I was in Paris walking the Champs-Elysees, and I saw a young woman wearing a Sight hoodie, I immediately ran up to her thinking she’s Egyptian, she wasn’t and I ended up freaking her out, but all’s well - I told her the story, and we laughed it out. That made me hopeful that one day my dreams of having Sight make an international statement would come true.

It was right after you started Sight that you took on another entrepreneurial endeavor, Drop The Shop, what made you pursue that so quickly after Sight?

Khaled Abou Taleb - my best friend and Drop’s co-founder - approached me about opening a local brand showroom. Like I said back then there weren’t that many, and so the idea of giving the little existing brands the spotlight was very appealing, we felt the need to provide the platform. The main concern back then was that there wasn’t much traffic for local brands, so numbers-wise it was worrisome.

How did you counteract that limited market?

We took the decision to integrate foreign brands to pull in the traffic. Slowly as things progressed, both the international and local brands started kicking off, and we realized that this was proving itself to be sustainable.

What would you say are your criteria for curating the limited drops for the store?

Relevance. When I look at things to curate, I seek out pieces that I know are about to be ‘trendy’. Sometimes we curate things that people initially just trash-talk, then before you know it, everyone’s wearing them. 

It’s about having fashion foresight. If you try to follow trends, you’re already too late. It’s risky trying to predict what people will like, but the bigger the risk, the bigger the pay-off.

What would you say is your aesthetic?

My aesthetic isn’t focused on one specific area, whenever I see something I like looking at, something I know I’ll have a blast creating something of and shooting, that’s what I go for.

Sight is quite famous for the ‘Evil Sight’ collection, which features the evil eye that’s present across so many different cultures. I try to keep things as culturally relevant as they need to be, but I don’t want to force things, I like to go about things in a subtle manner.

Over the past few months, you’ve taken social media by storm, could you tell me more about your ‘Sight Team’ campaign?

I was so thankful for my success, and I wanted to give back to Charity, and I felt the need to enlist the aid of people who shared my philosophy; people who were their own success stories and pioneers in their respective fields to represent the Sight vision - Dina Ghabbour, Waleed Mowafi, Ayman Abbas, Heba Elsewedy, to name a few. 

I wanted to do something that allowed me to help a charity, and I wanted to promote the ideology behind sight - and I thought, I wanted to look at people who would actually wear sight - these are people sight wants to be affiliated with, what more can you do than have a sit down with them as they wear sight and share their stories.

Being able to help out burn victims with the Ahl Masr Foundation because of that campaign was an incredible experience, and I genuinely hope this encourages more people to use their platforms for a greater cause.

What piece of advice would you say is crucial for someone about to tread the same path you walked years ago?

There are so many pieces of advice that so many people would give, but what I truly believe matters is this: maintain your drive every single day. Push, no matter what. It’s very easy to give up before you establish yourself. It’s vital to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.

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