As a stylist and fashion writer for more than 15 years, working across Europe, in the US and the UAE — with some of the world’s top titles including Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, Rouge, Velvet and Gulf News tabloid! — it’s easy to assume fashion designing would be a natural move for the Dubai-based designer Dina Yassin.
But it took the 40-year-old three years to introduce Efro & Co, her funky, edgy and strongly rooted unisex label that launches online on October 22. Born in The Sudan to Eritrean parents and raised in the UAE, Efro & Co is as colourful as Yassin’s personality and world experience, yet bears a strong African identity.
Yassin spoke exclusively to Gulf News tabloid! about the touching story behind the label, her struggles to get it off the ground and where she wants to take it from here:
Take us to the beginning of Efro & Co.
Efro & Co began as an idea in March of 2015. I started going through some vintage archives of photographs that belonged to my late father and found some beautiful images that I thought would look cool on T-shirts. I then reached out to a good friend of mine in New York who is a graphics designer and together we started working on some uniquely cool designs. I then slowly wanted to implement some East African flavour to the concept, and finally, it all came together. Our logo, the East African Crowned Crane, also a national bird to many countries of the region, was the perfect fit, and he was birthed in Brooklyn and goes by the name of “Harshoy”, which is also my father’s nickname.
How difficult has the road been from idea to execution?
Honestly, it’s been quite a long and tedious journey... almost three years now! I took my sweet time with it because of many personal and business reasons. I did not want to have a brand for the sake of just having a brand, I wanted to do a thorough research of what I was getting myself into, really trying to understand the e-commerce world, the UAE market, the global climate towards new brands, especially African brands, and of course, giving myself that creative freedom to get inspired and discover more about what it is that I wanted to share with everyone.
What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt so far?
Besides the usual patience and virtue theories, that the concept of creating comes from a deep rooted love.....In my case it was for my late father. The power of immortality can exist through design, art and the latter, and I feel that I’ve done that through Efro & Co. It has become such an important part of my life that it’s brought all those who matter closer to me, from my mother and siblings to friends, who have practically become my family, as well as distant relatives. I put my soul into it, and it’s a critical ingredient that adds so much to the outcome of everything.
Tell us more about the identity?
The identity of Efro & Co stems out of the roots of East Africa. There’s a strong history behind it, one which entails cross-migration and cultural exchanges with other parts of the world. We use fabrics sourced and processed in East Africa and the rest of the continent; we acknowledge the talent and innovation of local skilled craftspersons and designers. A key component of our vision is to provide artisan clothes-makers a platform to participate in a more global market.
You’ve been in the fashion industry for many years. Did you have icons and people you looked up to in the fashion industry?
Definitely, that goes without saying. I love the photography works of the late Bill Cunningham, Richard Avedon, Patrick Demarcheliér, Jamel Shabazz, Malick Sidibé, Seydou Keita, and Steven Meisel. Designers I look up to include Dapper Dan, Kenzo, Prada and Stella Jean among many others.
What makes the UAE a good place to start your brand?
The UAE has been home for me since 1978. I was raised here, my siblings were born here, my parents built a life for us here. It’s also the perfect place to set up my HQ at because there are many people from all over the world that live here. It’s also perfectly situated to be able to travel back and forth to the continent.
The UAE is already very competitive when it comes to fashion, aren’t you scared to fail?
Indeed it is a very competitive and growing market. I’ve also had the opportunity to live in cities like London and New York for a very long time where it’s highly saturated, and I’ve been able to grow a thick skin from my various experiences in the industry. To me, I look at failure as an opportunity to learn from, so I’m not scared at all.
The African identity is very strong with your label. Why is that so important to you?
For starters, I am African......Eritrean to be exact. I was born in The Sudan, my parents met and were married in Ethiopia.....My story can go on forever with how much impact my continent has had on my life. Why not share such a rich, happy and colourful culture here where I was raised, and with the world? I think many people will appreciate that. More importantly, I’m very proud of where I’m from.
Where do you source your materials and where are the clothes made?
Most of my fabrics I get from my trips around Africa. I also have friends and suppliers who travel back and forth and source some unique pieces for me. My clothes are made here in the UAE, and some in Eritrea and Ethiopia.
What’s the business plan?
Well, now that we’re starting off with our e-commerce shop, I’m looking to create a good online presence within the Middle East region, and then hoping to tap into small boutiques in Europe, the USA and of course Africa.
What’s your vision for Efro & Co?
I want Efro & Co to be an ethically creative lifestyle brand where it’s ontology is easily identified by many. It is not just a fashion brand, it is a celebration of life through art, clothing and style. With properly made pieces using sustainable methods, I hope to bring awareness to the customer about the global carbon footprint by not mass producing our designs as everything is made upon order and nothing is put to waste.
The Efro &Co collection will be available to purchase from October 22 on efroandco.com.