Demanding responsibility and consciousness, consumers are increasingly on the lookout for brands and designers they can trust. Engy Mahdy is the powerhouse behind One and Four Studio, a brand that provides fashion with a guilt-free tag.
As a local, youthful brand focusing on ethical and sustainable design, One and Four Studio designs are priced on the higher end of the scale, but fairly if you’re demanding a list that checks the boxes of conscious consumption.
“The clothing across all collections is developed from a continuous study of the human form, with sympathy to the movements of the body,” states the brand’s website.
Engy began her career with a focus on menswear methodology but carved out her own way of designing clothing that is gender fluid. With layers, bold colors, and patterning, she designs each piece thoughtfully and functionally.
Raised between New Zealand and Cairo for most of her life, she eventually followed her siblings to the UAE, integrating into the way of life in Dubai and deciding to launch her brand here.
“You don’t get culture shock in Dubai. It’s a mix of so many people that you can find what you want in it,” Engy says.
Skilled as a pattern-maker – someone who handles the technical aspects of intricate designs on garments – Engy started out by emailing designers across the city and offering them her services.
“There were rarely any pattern-makers offering their services for more intricate patterns and that picked up because it was a gap in the market.”
Alongside her job, in 2017, she decided to launch One and Four Studio. The name is an ode to herself and her five siblings, who she says are her anchors. “One and four in its essence is yourself and the four corners that hold up your life. So, what’s your house? What’s your building? What’s your shelter?”
At first, balancing both work and the launch of a new brand proved difficult, and she had to take a step back from her job to give the brand the time and attention that it needed to thrive. With the help of her sister, who picked up the phone and marketed the brand, they got the ball rolling in 2019.
But as all ethical and sustainable brands are often forced to reassess the reality of capitalism and how it affects their livelihoods, Engy’s process of creating niche, made-to-order items for the sake of not creating waste was leading her to an unprofitable business.
“I want this to be a running business, but at the same time, I’m buying all these different types of fabrics and producing in small quantities, so I end up not producing everything and having fabric leftover. It was a tricky situation.”
Over COVID-19 quarantine, she sat with herself and reassessed what sustainability meant to her, in her clothing and in her life. “I’m a minimal person. You’ll see me wearing the same clothes, mixing and matching them. In my eyes, the way to be sustainable is to not consume so much.”
Not wanting to put pressure on her brand or the customer every time she released a new collection, and not wanting to give up her ethical goals either, she decided to create pieces that cater to a wide variety of people.
“I started doing market research and I realized we don’t have sustainable basics. We do in the sense of a plain t-shirt but I don’t know if it’s branded as sustainable.”
In December 2020, One and Four Studio will be launching a new range of essential knitwear pieces. Rooted in her sustainable design ethos, the pieces are made from recycled cotton yarn – spun from factory cut-offs, leftover cotton threads, fabric, and other unusable forms of cotton.
The yarn is dyed and knitted using computer-generated machine knitting technology to create unique staple pieces. “It’s sophisticated, and I’m letting the brand grow in age as much as I am. It needs to grow with my thought process as well.”
Working with the factory in China, she has requested everything from audit reports to certifications for the recycled cotton which will be readily available on her website for customers who wish to see it.
As they create, they are also giving back, partnering with the Red Crescent UAE to donate a small amount per item purchased. “We also partnered with One Tree Planted. We will calculate how much carbon dioxide our production emits and then we will offset that by planting trees.”
Engy hopes to build One and Four Studio into a multidimensional brand that provides not only clothing but jewelry and product design, driven by thoughtful and responsible consumption. “An accessible price point, with high-quality products and ideally a reliable place for you to go get essentials. I just needed to not be stubborn about how I run my business and this is the direction I needed to go in.”