If you've lived in the Middle East, or more specifically the Gulf, there is no doubt that you have heard the word “Wasta”, an Arabic word for “favoritism.” Simply put, using a “Wasta” is getting a person – paid or not – to do you a favor that you might not have been able to achieve yourself without the right connections.

In 2009, however, Hani Alireza and Yasmeen Alsudairy took a creative leap and made Wasta more than just a social pandemic; it is now also a fashion brand.

Hani and Yasmeen talk to us about what inspires them and what their future plans are for Wasta.

Tell us a bit about yourselves.. How did you become involved with design?

Hani Alireza: I am a graphic designer working in different formats: from print and fashion, to video and digital media. I studied design in university and have been working in the field since graduation in 2006. For me, Wasta is a space where I can experiment with different ideas.

Yasmeen Alsudairy: I studied Fine Art, then worked in fashion retailing since 2006, introducing independent labels from around the world into retail spaces in Jeddah and Riyadh. I was enthusiastic to join Hani in creating Wasta’s first collection. Wasta is considered a multi-facet design project with a distinctive voice, rather than merely a fashion label.

"Wasta" is a very catchy name for a brand, since it especially relates to the local culture. How was the brand name born?

We needed a name that was related to Arabic culture and Wasta had a nice ring to it. It was also very catchy and was easily pronounced in English. We also liked the name because it has an element of vagueness, especially because it is not related to design or fashion, which sort of gives the brand an attitude that had humor and ironic connotations. A degree of vagueness works well when it comes to fashion branding.

What is the concept behind Wasta's logo?

The logo is made up of two 'waws' (the Arabic initial in the word Wasta) arranged in a way to look like two crossing swords and a crown on top. There is something very Saudi about the way it looks and in a way it gives the impression of the Saudi coat of arms; the two crossing swords and the palm tree in the middle.

What inspired your selection of artwork for previous Wasta t-shirt collections?

There is no usual consistent theme in the collection, but the goal is to have a certain attitude and edge that people can relate to the brand. At the same time, we want our style and attitude to evolve with every collection.

The collection is divided into two types of designs. One type is the regular Wasta designs, which are primarily designed by me (Hani Alireza), which is in a way the in-house style. Secondly the 'Wasta Artist Series' designs, which are a collection of t-shirts designed by different artists from the region. The 'Wasta Artist Series' is a way to show the work of different artists who we are inspired by in the region.

What vision do you have for Wasta?

Wasta is a design brand that specializes in providing designer graphic t-shirts from the Middle East. In the future, we want to offer other exciting products and move to becoming more of a concept design brand. But at the moment we are focusing on expanding our reach and getting into more stores around the region and the world.

Are you open to local artists and designers submitting their work? If so, what is the best way to contact you?

Hani Alireza: Sure. Contact me or Yasmeen on Yasmeen@wastadesign.com or info@hanialireza.com

Is there any upcoming collection that we should be on the lookout for? What can we expect in 2011?

This is the second year we are putting out t-shirts under the brand Wasta, and we are currently working on our second set of designs. However we would like to be able to put out more collections and hopefully follow the fashion seasons.

We are currently printing 12 new amazing designs that should be out very soon. We will put the word out as soon as they are in stores!

You can find Wasta’s full collection in Life stores in Jeddah and Riyadh, and limited designs in The Number 4 in Kuwait, and S*uce in Dubai. You can also shop the collection online at www.aura-b.com/wasta

–    Soraya Darwish

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