With the increase in prices, especially of imported products, many shoppers have opted for local brand alternatives to save money while also supporting the Egyptian market. Over the past few years, many designers have successfully entered the fashion scene and launched their own original clothing lines, quickly becoming customers’ favorite choices.
CottonBall, co-founded by Zena Sallam and Ahmed Habib in 2013, is an Egyptian brand that features cotton basics; the perfect go-to if you are looking for comfy cuts yet high quality clothing. The brand’s debut store is tucked away in one of Zamalek’s quiet neighborhoods with an inviting window display.
Habib, the CEO of the brand, is responsible for managing the operation, business development and supply chain of the company, in addition to being an active member of the Cairo Angels that supports young startups and the entrepreneurial society in Egypt.
Before co-founding CottonBall, Sallam joined the Quintessentially team in 2010 to help develop their local franchise. She is the chief creative officer, and actively manages the brand, product lines and overall image of the company.
We talked to Sallam and Habib to get more insight on the brand.
What inspired you to come up with CottonBall?
We never enjoyed wearing overly branded clothes or t-shirts with excessive designs or logos, and noticed that our need for good quality plain apparel was not being met locally, even though we live in a country that is most renowned for its cotton. The options available were either to buy cheap apparel that did not last long or spend a fortune on high-end brands, with no middle ground, and that is when we thought of CottonBall.
We were also tired of apparel being manufactured in Egypt for international designers and wanted to build an Egyptian brand that would be sold worldwide. We believe that by focusing on high quality material, including but not limited to Egyptian cotton, good design and strong marketing, we have the potential for something really successful.
Why did you choose the name CottonBall?
We believe that the best company names are those that clearly state what service they provide. Egyptian cotton is synonymous with luxury all around the world, so it seemed natural to use the word “Cotton”. CottonBall came about because we wanted something playful and easy to remember.
How did CottonBall start and when did you open your store?
We officially launched late 2013 when we had produced our first few pieces and created an initial identity, then we began by selling t-shirts from suitcases at friends’ houses, open days and smaller sales events. It was a way of testing out our products first, making sure that we had something that people wanted and would be willing to purchase. We spent about a year and a half perfecting our products before we decided to finally open our first shop in Zamalek in August 2014.
What range of products are offered at your store?
We produce men and women’s t-shirts, sweatpants, shorts, dresses and dress shirts. We are working on extending our product line to include two more cuts for the dresses and polo shirts for both men and women. We had also looked into producing a line for children, but still have not begun the process because we feel like it would require a lot of aspects that might become overwhelming at the moment.
We also have a B2B division that handles custom orders from interested clients. We produce printed or embroidered t-shirts, uniforms, jeans polo shirts, and have prepared orders for New Giza, Cairokee, BRGR, B-Tech and many more.
Have you opened up in other locations?
We currently only have our Zamalek store, but we sell online, both on our website and on Facebook, and are currently mostly sell locally, but we provide over-seas shipping on our online sales platforms.
Who is the designer behind the brand and what is your production process?
It is a joint effort where we usually discuss the cuts we need before creating samples that are then reworked until they fit our standards. We have created staple t-shirt cuts that are always found in our store and named them after different Egyptian cities, like Giza, Fayoum, Matruh, Aswan and Nubia.
For production, we start off by purchasing or producing the fabric, and then we pick the seasonal color palette for the collection.
What do you consider as your greatest achievement?
Our greatest achievement has been following our dream through and actually seeing it come to fruition. We began at a very difficult time for the Egyptian market and we have been lucky enough to stay around even through the unstable times. We are proud of our products and even more so that they are 100% Egyptian.
What obstacles did you face while establishing your brand?
Our main challenge was starting a clothing brand with no background in fashion or textiles, and so we had to learn the ropes quickly. Founding CottonBall forced us to not only become familiar with the process involved in creating a well thought out and comprehensive collection, but it also pushed us to understand the Egyptian textile business. It was also difficult to ensure that we were strong enough to compete against other well-established brands that people already knew and trusted.
What would you want as a future for CottonBall?
We want CottonBall to be a strong local brand with multiple outlets that has a strong wholesale and B2B division to provide quality apparel and uniforms to companies and corporations locally and internationally. We would also love to see CottonBall products sold in international department stores and global retailers.
Address: 17 Ahmed Heshmat St., Zamalek, Cairo