A mere year ago Jordanian designer and entrepreneur Fares El Masri was crunching numbers as an investment banker. Now he’s banking on his contribution to innovating the way we consume fashion with the launch of his new streetwear brand ‘759’.
El Masri is also a keen gamer, but when he’s not working on his scores, he is musing over the brand’s discernible elephant logo, aka ‘Felix’, and on which new design it will appear next – and we couldn’t be more intrigued.
What drew you into the fashion world?
It was not planned, that’s for sure. So far it’s been a truly explorational journey. However, I was always imagining and picturing certain lyrics printed on a T-shirt in some creative way. They were always usually the low-key/underrated sentences and messages in a song that would get most of my attention. One example is from Pound Cake by Drake ft. Jay-Z, where J says, “Says a lot about you if you not feeling us”. It’s phrases like these that resonate with me and really stick. I would usually end up forgetting the song and the artist but would remember just that one line because of how I’d imagine it looking on T-shirts or hoodies.
I then started looking into what it takes to make a few prints and I went deep into researching the fashion world in terms of design, production, marketing; the whole deal. I think at some point in the future I will add a lyrical line or maybe even a whole collection related to this as an homage to the original thought that got the ball rolling.
Describe your process when designing.
I wouldn’t say I design as much as I assemble and experiment. Generally, a ‘design’ starts with an idea, which is usually drawn up on the same day and then discussed with some of the team’s advisors who are dotted around the world in Amsterdam, Valencia, and Dubai – so usually on a Zoom call. Actual production feasibility is assessed first such as availability of needed fabric, metals, strings, and in the near future precious metals. The inverted 759 logos on some of the T-Shirts are hand pressed and so no print is exactly like another one. We keep saying, “like the wearer, no piece is the same.”
We were able to give this process a go, given the limited quantities we currently work with, so it was possible from a production perspective to achieve this level of really what is pure artisan quality streetwear. In short, designing is quite a fluid process depending on the item in question: some are drawn up and some actually start with cutting the fabric first to see what we end up with.
What do you mean by ‘zero-compromise’ streetwear?
It was not exactly a term that we thought would catch on. We were describing our ways of going about things. At 759 we certainly do not cut corners on anything. Whenever we are given a choice of fabric, a marketing plan, or a logistical method we tend to opt for the best no matter what. This might sound a bit cliché but it is a bit more than that.
The reason I opted for such an approach is to be able to isolate and identify success factors. I shudder to think, but if things do go south one day and this all fails then I can confidently say it was not due to something that I was personally in control of on the brand side, i.e. the quality or the production. This elimination process then directs us to try to influence things we are not necessarily in control of to the best extent possible. All energies are then directed in that path as opposed to re-doing things that should have been done with a ‘zero-compromise’ approach in the first place.
Tell us about the Rewiring Fashion movement.
Rewiring Fashion (RF) is primarily an on-going fight and struggle to re-calibrate (i.e. rewire) outdated ways of doing things in the industry. The primary element that needs to be tested and reassessed is the current fashion calendar. We cannot really put the blame on anyone in the world to have all these different fashion seasons, this is historical, but we do see that improvements can be made regarding key dates, which are not exactly sustainable and create unnecessary entry barriers to new creative brands who are not able to keep up with the current pace of production and investment. RF’s message is to consolidate key dates and shorten the time between fashion shows and their respective deliveries. What would ideally happen is that this “fashion supply chain” slows down considerably and eliminates this frequent need to release new collections way too early ahead of the relevant season.
To be honest, fashion executives, designers, and other stakeholders can have as many discussions as they want and form endless initiatives to make a positive dent in the industry. The real impact however is in the hands of the end customer, which I’ll go into a bit more later when we address the word ‘sustainable’.
Debuting your collection in the throes of a pandemic is admirably bold. What is motivating you to get your line out there in these testing times?
To be honest, it was going to happen either way. Ideally, 759 would have launched around February but a lot of unforeseen forces kept pushing us back. Interestingly, the e-boutique actually launched the exact same week Dubai announced a full lockdown and we went into an 8pm curfew.
We obviously couldn’t go for a proper launch and just decided to pretend like we always existed. Yes, online sales in the fashion retail world were doing well during the lockdown period, but introducing a new brand online has its drawbacks. People do not get the proper look and feel of the items we worked so hard on and it’s impossible to show this exceptional quality online.
It’s difficult to say whether the Covid-19 situation did any harm to the launch or not as I don’t have a pandemic-free launch that I can compare it to. It’s easy to blame things on external forces no matter how obvious and well justified it might be, but really we just need to keep going and make the most of the pandemic silver linings, whatever and wherever they might be.
What can we learn from the lessons of 2020 and how can we apply them towards smarter and more creative ways of working in the future?
Mainly what 2020 taught us is that we do not necessarily need to wait for the next pandemic to facilitate important life improvements and change, we just need to push ourselves and create a sense of urgency on an on-going basis. Near future developments could potentially bring more IoT into our lives. We are also definitely more than capable of adapting quickly to our environment, as we were called upon to become more tech-savvy and work efficiently from home, which we all rose to almost immediately.