“My life is super crazy,” said Dana Afrid from the confines of her own home in Cairo. The 22-year old aspiring fashion designer whose designs flaunt slogans like, “Pray for Prada” and “My Pussy is a Tiger,” barely leaves her house even though she assures me the region itself is stable. “People here don’t talk about fashion at all, it’s not something that’s common like if I was raised in New York or Paris or something, it’s not a part of our culture,” explained Dana over the phone on a bleak New York morning in October.
While her peers’ dreams remained shackled to the security of a normal life afforded by cut-and-dried careers, Dana has been quietly toying with the idea of a career in a creative industry. Floating in a sea of a homespun conventionality, photography had been her life raft. Whether it was a capture of the city streets at sundown, or a friend laughing during lunch, she began to garner an understanding for the the joys that creation and artistic expression could bring.
That understanding would ripen, its fruits falling far from the tree, when Dana simultaneously discovered Tumblr and the world of fashion at the age of 17. Her life changed dramatically in the aftermath. The friends in the photos faded to exist only as distant memories, her family shrugged their shoulders behind closed doors and Dana began to prepare for her new life as a college graduate and a fashion designer in a land far away, in a state of isolation. “Many of my friends don’t encourage me about what I’m doing and Egyptian parents don’t think the same way as Western parents do. The thing that I really want to prove is that my hard work will pay off. I don’t care about meeting up with old friends, making new ones, all I care about is to do the work that qualifies me to go to Paris and be on the same level as the people there,” she said without the slightest hint of a stutter. For Dana, going to Paris (or Milan, she has not decided where she will go yet) means more than baguettes and an Instagrammable moment, it means being amongst a community of people who share her need for creative expression. It is her chance at liberation and a life that she can be proud to live.
Ironically in the meantime, Dana does everything from the grounds of her childhood home where her parents still reside. She shoots the content for her Instagram page from which she retails her designs (t-shirts can be purchased for $95 shipping included) in her own garden amongst lemon trees, orange trees and ambrosial jasmine. Shooting on the street per se isn’t even an option, “I’m not that free you know,” said Dana, “it’s a closed community, I mean if there’s a photographer or a model, they better do their work indoors. If a girl were to do it outside she would be harassed.”
These are the details that her 31,200 followers on Instagram probably don’t know about Dana and yet, these are the same details that make her a remarkable force of inspiration. Through her sloganed t-shirts, she’s less concerned with picking up where @avanope left off and more keen on creating and joining a more global dialogue representative of her generation.“Fashion is full of art as an essential thing, but we need to add something really fun for teengaers and young people to enjoy. I design what I think is interesting and it doesn’t have to be adding Gucci or Dior to my work,” said Dana. Her work is her “signature” and we begin to make tangible connections as we see Dana more clearly. Envisioning her peering out into her garden from her studio, we recognize the floral motifs on her t-shirts have manifested new life just as Frank Ocean coos, “I see both sides like Chanel,” inspiring her to put the lyrics on another tee.
“Currently, I don’t have a life at all,” Dana said before letting out a candid laugh, “it’s not easy, but the hard thing is now.” And while it’s easy to feel bad for Dana, wondering if she too wishes she was born somewhere else, into some other kind of privileged life, she speaks with a wisdom beyond her years; “we wish things but destiny is something else.” She believes that once she finds success, wherever and whenever that might be, everything else will follow – love, money and fame. Valuing sacrifice and awareness over the pettiness of validation, Dana sires and is responsible for her own happiness, “fashion gives me happiness and if I imagine my life as a normal person, being a teacher or sitting at my desk all day, that was never going to make me happy. I want to do something different, that’s the most important thing the human being has to do to change the world. I don’t leave my house and my designs are being worn all over the world.”