When Elias El Haddad moved back to Lebanon from France in early 2015, the young entrepreneur had already decided that he was going to bring the tarboosh back to the country and the region.
The tarboosh, a traditional tasseled hat, was famous in Lebanon and in countries across the Middle East and North Africa before the 60s. Previously worn by kings, politicians and other high profile figures, it slowly faded away after changes shook up the region in the post colonial era.
The traditional hat never really made a comeback, until 2016, the year El Haddad decided to launch Boshies, a neo-oriental fashion label that aims to modernize and reinvent the traditional tarboosh. Joined by his partner and co-founder, ESMOD graduate designer Diane Ferjane, El Haddad is slowly bringing the iconic hat back into the cultural scene of the region.
Speaking to StepFeed, he tells us more about the vision behind Boshies, and the brand's aim to send a message of innovation and emancipation to young Arabs across the region.
On research and early beginnings
El Haddad told us that prior to launching Boshies, he spent months researching the evolution of the tarboosh.
Driven by his passion for everything related to culture, heritage and fashion, he went on a journey exploring the fascinating story behind the traditional tarboosh.
"Studying how the tarboosh evolved and most importantly why it slowly ceased to become part of our daily life was an extremely important aspect of Boshies' pre-launch phase" El Haddad says, adding that months of research allowed him to "explore the way the headdress had spread across the region during the Ottoman era, after it had been popular in Greece and Turkey."
El Haddad also discovered that the headdress was called a Fez in Turkey and many Western countries. It is only known as a tarboosh in the Arab world.
The young entrepreneur's research also eventually led him to understand that "due to numerous political and sociocultural changes that took place in the region in the 60s, the tarboosh, an essential icon of Oriental culture, was slowly phased out of people's lives."
"Our aim is to reintroduce it back, through a pop friendly, affordable fashion line completely inspired by it," El Haddad adds.
On reinventing culture and heritage
On the inspiration behind his decision to reinvent such an iconic part of Middle Eastern culture and heritage, El Haddad says:
"We wait for Disney or Marvel to tell our stories, we wait for the West to tell our stories, but the truth is: No one can truly tell them better than we can. The overwhelming misinterpretations of our rich culture will only change when we focus on telling the incredible stories behind it ourselves. Only then will we be able to make it an integral part of our lives again."
"This is what we're trying to do through Boshies," he adds, explaining that the aim behind the brand is not only "to retell the story of the tarboosh, but to also transform its cultural legacy into a pop friendly, mass product that can go global and help us tell our own stories."
To El Haddad and his partner, this transformation is one that is built on two pillars. One is innovation, the other, emancipation.
"As we researched, we not only decided to reinvent the material, fabric and shape of the tarboosh, but we also wanted to send a message of emancipation through creating a unisex version of the traditionally male-only headdress," he says.
On the manufacturing and design process
The brand launched its first collection in 2016 and its second is now in pre launch phase.
Speaking of the manufacturing process that the Boshies team have adopted to create their products, El Haddad says: "We manufactured the first collection in Lebanon, but for the second, we had to move the entire process to Italy because the machines required to produce our latest design are currently unavailable here."
El Haddad adds that his next aim is to localize the production process by transporting the machines required for it to Lebanon in upcoming months.
On overcoming obstacles
When asked what obstacles young entrepreneurs in Lebanon face, El Haddad explains that it's a country where "an entrepreneur is like someone holding on to a rod in the middle of a storm."
"The most basic things essential to entrepreneurs are still nonexistent in Lebanon," he says, adding that young people who want to launch small businesses in the country will come to realize that it's still isolated from the world when it comes to trade.
El Haddad also notes that the extremely high tax imposed on small business owners makes it almost impossible to manufacture goods locally.
However, and while he does acknowledge the many obstacles and problems that exist in the country, he also believes that there is a brighter side to the situation.
"Of course there are issues in Lebanon, but I believe that the obstacles we face on a daily basis also present us with endless opportunities and room for growth, as we figure out ways to overcome and move forward," he says.
When asked what his message to the state in Lebanon today would be, he says, "the government must support local entrepreneurs and officials must understand that by complicating the work of innovators and people who want to make a difference, the country will not get anywhere."
On inspiring young Arab entrepreneurs
Today, El Haddad's message to young Arab entrepreneurs is one of hope.
He tells us that nothing is impossible in the digital age, especially in a region that desperately needs its new generation and their ideas.
"Because there are difficulties in our region, there are also so many opportunities, there is so much space for change. Don't let anyone deter you, there are a lot of positive things to do in our Arab world and our countries need us today more than ever," he says, adding that young entrepreneurs must believe in their ideas, have solid business plans, and a will to invest in their countries.
"There will be difficulties in funding, there will be many other issues that will face you, but with perseverance, a good idea and determination to get somewhere, you will succeed," he adds.
On future plans
Previous Boshie collections have already made waves in Lebanon and other countries with celebrities including Mika, Rabih Kayrouz, Stephane Rolland and Ingrid Bawab donning the reinvented tarboosh.
Today, the brand continues to expand in Lebanon and the region. Other than offering their products worldwide through online platforms, El Haddad and Ferjane will also be making them available in malls across Lebanon.
Speaking on behalf of his team, El Haddad also reveals that in July, the company will be launching a huge crowdfunding campaign to help localize their manufacturing process.
When asked why localization is important, he explains: "We are often flooded by foreign, Western brands and while there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, I strongly believe that it's time for us to compete with them through brands that are one hundred percent local. Ones that not only help support our economy but that also pay homage to our ancestry and heritage."