Put a bow on it

This article is part of a series we are running ahead of the Mada Marketplace event to feature the participating vendors.

The only thing worse than not giving someone a gift is giving them an overly generic one that doesn’t speak to who they are. Off-the-shelf gifts are increasingly becoming a faux paus, especially with the advent of brands that allow for more customized, thoughtful and quirky presents.

Whether you’re shopping for a comic book lover, a pampered girly-girl, an expecting mom or newlyweds, here are some brands that work at making their products unique.

Established in 2006, Zafir T-shirts is a pioneer in its own right. The small, upper-level store in Zamalek was the first to carry local designs that play into Egyptian humor and cultural references.

Nada Abdel Salam, a co-founder with her husband Ahmed Kamel and friend Noha Zayed, says the inspiration for the project came from their own love for t-shirts. The group realized that they had begun wearing only plain t-shirts since they could not relate to any of the phrases written on garments sold at retail stores.

“We wanted to represent modern Egyptian society, and not stereotypical Egypt-themed shirts with pharaonic drawings or Sharm el-Sheikh’s shark shirts,” says Abdel Salam. “It was not a statement about the Arabic language, more about having something that expresses our culture.”

Their first collection launched in September 2006, employing a host of local designers the co-founders strongly encouraged to create work using iconic cultural references not usually incorporated into the products and t-shirts they made.

The designs were hugely successful despite the team’s lack of marketing ploys, proving that the market was in dire need of a modern take on Egyptian pop culture. Using iconic logos, Egyptian slang, famous quotes or proverbs, works of calligraphy and truck signage, they hoped that these t-shirts would become a medium of expression as well as a form of social commentary.

Although today the local market is saturated with this trend of displaying cultural references with a modern twist, Zafir T-shirt’s newest collection still stands out with their now well-known humorous tone combined with beautiful calligraphy designs.

According to Abdel Salam, the collection is also reflective of the country’s current situation, with a little bit of cynicism mixed with weariness.

Answering the call of comic book nerds across the nation, Bazinga Toys and collectables is another pioneer in the market selling action figures, toys, comic books and figurines.

With a growing culture of comics enthusiasts in Egypt, Bazinga offers an endless range of collectibles from distributors such as Diamond Select, DC Collectibles, Neca, McFarlane, Play Arts Kai and much more that make for the perfect, personalized gift.

For friends who love bath products and aromatherapy, Bubblzz is the place to order from. As more people try to wean themselves off chemical beauty products, Bubblzz uses all-natural, wholesome ingredients to create bath and body care products.

Bubblzz produces an array of beauty essentials such as soap, lip balm, deodorant, face and body scrubs, lip scrubs, moisturizers and hair cream using only organic oils, essential oils and aromatic fragrances while steering clear of preservatives and harsh chemicals.

Their products are hand-crafted from scratch, so each piece is literally one of a kind: soap in the shape of a cupcake, anyone?

With their use of natural ingredients, some seasonal highlights for the summer include soap with the refreshing scent of ripe pomegranate or the floral fragrance of Arabian jasmine, which also serves as a calming agent. Their strawberry lip balm uses olive oil, coconut oil and beeswax for the perfect hydrating effect.

For newlyweds, Nillens has the perfect gifts that are unique to each home. From bedding, home décor and loungewear, Nillens uses natural fibers that ensure the best quality and comfort.

Nillens combines local fabrics with cool designs to create bed sheets, duvet covers, bath towels, pajamas, cushions, throws, various home accessories and even bedding especially made for children. Their brand combines both comfort and luxury in a unique way, in addition to being socially conscious by working with local non-profits.

Focused only on the comfort of little ones, the playful Pookie & Lou Lou offers loungewear and sleepwear for children from newborns to toddlers.

Pookie & Lou Lou uses 100 percent Egyptian cotton to create their products for comfort and quality. They also source their material locally, while their design and production team is made up of purely Egyptian talent.

Their online store offers onesies and pajamas for boys and girls with unique designs that play on the old-school look of sleepwear, while other designs are playful with bows and tutus.

Read more about why Mada Masr is organizing a marketplace event here

Passant Rabie 

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