Though it might sound cliche, Nas Trends’ chosen motto has been a driving force and a lucky charm for the Egyptian lifestyle brand.
By Eman Hussein
Back in 2009 Ahmed Reda was an engineering student with a minor in business at the American University in Cairo. Anas Tolba was a business major at the same university, and both had dreams and talents that had nothing to do with their studies. In their senior year, they toyed with the idea of starting a small business, and after briefly considering opening a cafe, they decided on something that needed a more reasonable capital but which would be just as popular with youth. Realizing that youth were always looking for something to relate to: music that tells their stories, heroes they can really look up to or art that moves them, Reda and Tolba came up with the idea of giving youth inspiring, feel-good slogans on custom designed t-shirts.
After partnering with three of their friends, Mohamed Salem, Karim Morad and Ahmed Ashraf, also university students, and thinking the venture out thoroughly, the team immediately registered a company in their names, and called it NAS (People). “Registering a company right away makes things more serious and actually easier,” Reda says. “We predicted a good starting capital would be around LE 50,000. We were five, so it was pretty simple to divide among us, and not too risky for each of us.”
The five, who were all in their early 20s at the time, thought it best to start operating right away. Tolba, who was a self-taught graphic designer, made a few designs to be printed on t-shirts, while Reda posted a shout-out on Facebook for someone who knew of a clothing factory. A friend of theirs replied that his family owned one, and just like that, they had their first collection ready.
“Facebook wasn’t yet the craze that it is now, [still] we created an event and sent some BBMs to invite everyone we knew to Tolba’s roof where we displayed our t-shirts. A hundred people showed up, which was a big number then,” Reda says. He pauses, remembering something, and recounts a funny story, one that almost cost them their business. “We got the collection from the factory on a Tuesday, and a few days before the event I had an idea to wash one of the t-shirts and told the guys to do so as well. We were shocked to find that the colors in the design had ruined the t-shirt itself! I couldn’t imagine if we had sold them like this … it’s not the best scenario to have your first collection all sent back to you,” he says with a laugh. “Thankfully the problem was simple. The t-shirts were taken back to be dried in the factory and made it back in time.”
Their first collection sold very well and things started picking up fast. NAS depended mainly on Facebook for marketing — and still do. Some time after, they partnered with Souq.com for sales, with free delivery service for one year, saving them a lot of logistics money and allowing them to sell their t-shirts at a set price. They were also offered a space in an outlet in Heliopolis, where they sold their products for a while.
But the idea was not just to sell clothes. Reda talks about the essence of NAS, saying it is a brand made “by the people” and “for the people.” The “for the people” was easy. They branded their t-shirts with short positive messages and feel-good phrases; figures and words that put a smile on people’s faces. Then came the “by the people” part, which in time turned out to be the company’s edge. “After our first collection, we started online competitions and [reaching] out to people to submit designs. The first ten winners got their designs printed and sold. We still do that to this day, and it’s what makes people relate more to us,” Reda says.
Unlike many other start-ups that suffered or went under after the 2011 Revolution, NAS actually boomed. Egyptians were hungry for things to wear, hold or carry around that shouted patriotism, revolution and youth empowerment, freedom, hope and change. “We had designs along the same lines way before the revolution started,” Reda says proudly. “We had t-shirts that said ‘Justice’ or had Malcom X’s quote, ‘Truth is on the side of the oppressed.’ Ironically, we even had the word ‘Revolution.’ After the revolution we rented a booth in CityStars. We called our latest collection ‘Fi Hobb Masr’ (For the Love of Egypt), and proudly told people that many of our patriotic designs were actually made pre-Revolution.”
By that time, NAS had added a sweatshirt line that proved to be equally successful, and were gaining a massive buzz on Facebook as well as a great amount of sales and profit. Things were going smoothly for them, investments were growing, and they were facing the usual daily challenges any retail company would face. Until June 30 came along.
“It was all okay until they closed CityStars almost all day for weeks,” Reda says. “And what made it worse was that we were still paying the rent. Online sales were slowing down too, no one was really in the mood for shopping.” According to Reda, NAS could have gone bankrupt then if it wasn’t for Tamkeen Capital. Tamkeen is a venture capital that works on investing in and empowering small and medium companies in Egypt to encourage their growth and sustainability. It was their investment that got NAS back on their feet, and is part of the reason they are a few days away from opening their first full-fledged store in CityStars.
Over the last four years NAS has diversified its product lines to include bags, pins, notebooks and car stickers in addition to its wide range of signature t-shirts and sweatshirts. They’re also working on different prototypes for young women’s fashion as well as kids’ wear. “We aim for NAS to be a ‘lifestyle brand,’” says Reda. “We want to be there on everything a young Egyptian uses; from the mug he drinks his coffee in in the morning to the notebook he takes notes in all day, to the beanbag he [lounges on] in the evening, and everything in between.”
Looking forward, Reda says, “Our shop is going to be the first step of a new level of business. We want to start franchising after that, and once we do that, I can really say we have succeeded.” The team is currently considering the idea of going to Dubai, whether with a shop, a franchise, or the headquarters themselves. They are aware of the risks involved in such a move, especially in a city like Dubai — known for its brand clutter and expensive retail industry. But as always Nas Trends has strong faith — indeed the word “Faith” was right there on one of their earliest designs.
For more about Nas Trends and their products, visit nastrends.com