They say the key to innovation is keen observation. By observing how we and others around us interact with the world, opportunities arise. That is perhaps not more true than with the birth of Fyunka – meaning bow in Arabic- a line of highly addictive fashion accessories by Jeddah-native Alaa Balkhy.

The twenty-something illustrator, designer and blogger always knew she wanted to have her own line, “ I guess it’s a cliché, but I always wanted to create something with both fashion and graphic design. The whole process of Fyunka started from a thought after observing women and their love for things that they cannot easily attain. This would later form the basis for the design series “ ???? ???? ????? ” “ Dad, I want a Birkin”. It all started from a design I posted on my blog! After that, my design got published in two other blogs and from there it went viral. I thought of creating other designs, meanwhile everyone around me suggested I start printing my designs on T-shirts but I really wanted to print it on something that people would carry around everywhere.”

Balkhy’s gut instinct was right and the printed designs on totes became an instant hit. Since the debut of her brand, Alaa has expanded her collection from totes to other must have fashion accessories including notebooks. Creating her own line came with its own set of challenges; from making sure the colors came out just right, multiple visits to the printers, to the lack of professional factories. Alaa’s sheer determination and support from loving family and friends saw her overcome the obstacles to create one of Saudi Arabia’s favorite homegrown brands. Describing one of her favorite parts of creating a Fyunka item Balkhy recalls ecstatically, “Seeing the prints printed on canvas!! That is the most scary and exciting part! Every time I hope the colors are right and the size is perfect also. It makes my DAY when I see someone wearing a Fyunka!”

Alaa credits her graphic design background in helping her to create and launch her line, “ I was able to do everything from the logo to branding right down to the illustrations. Fyunka is a one-person project! … Graphic design really came to play a big role when it came to the totes but as I moved on to purses and clutches, it was more about the structure of the bags. My bags cater to college students the most or maybe you can call them the Blogger’s Bag!” She also credits her success to the creative atmosphere around her in the Hijaz province and in Jeddah in particular. With an influx and mix of many different cultures and art forms, Jeddah’s milieu is the perfect starting point for a career in the creative field. Alaa’s love for her homeland is infectious as she lights up describing her beloved city, “I love Jeddah; the culture is the most amazing thing, the people and the stories! The fact that you can wake up in the morning and go get breakfast and eat it by the sea. The fact that Makkah is 30 minutes away, people are so friendly and you can feel the spirit of Hejaz in the old balad. I love the fact that even thought sometimes a few things bother me I just adore this city!”

A culmination of Arabian culture and elements of pop, Fyunka’s designs have always been captivated by the fashion industry, as has the designer herself. Describing what gets her inspired, Alaa explains, “Fashion week! I mean at first it was the classics: the classic Chanel, the Birkin, the Constance and then whenever something was a hit or an “it” bag I created an illustration for it! I get inspired by the street photography outside fashion week whether it is Paris, London or Milan. For example the Miu Miu glitter heels and the Charlotte Olympia were limited editions because they would only be “it” pieces for 6 months.”

With a witty attitude noticeable within her designs, Alaa is quick to point out that her intent is not really about criticizing the surrounding culture but more about bringing a sense of humor and an edge. “Every girl wants to fit in and I don’t want to generalize but what you wear is important and some people have to have a Birkin or a Chanel bag and it comes to a point where you go to an event in Jeddah and you see everyone wearing the same classic Chanel bags and my designs are just a fun tweak on the classic bag; making it a bit more playful.”