Arkansas-based luxury streetwear brand Souq is standing out in the ever-changing fashion landscape. Steeped in Middle Eastern culture and history, the brand is designed by Jenanne Filat and Naseem Hankir, a mother-son duo with high-end taste.
Filat is also the owner of Barakat Bespoke, a popular custom clothing showroom set in the River Market. As a fifth-generation tailor, Filat is equally talented as she is passionate, and it comes through in her creations.
Hankir, who prefers the moniker Neemo, is the co-creative director for Souq. Neemo grew up watching his family members sew by hand, which sparked his passion for fashion and design later in life.
The two officially launched Souq in 2018 and have spent every chance perfecting the fit and style of each piece. Although there have been hurdles along the way, both realize their journey is especially unique and stitched in their family’s Lebanese and Palestinian heritage.
Here, Filat and Neemo open up to Soirée about their challenges in starting a multi-cultural brand, how they stay true to themselves and their vision for the label.
Where have you traveled for inspiration, and what has been your favorite part?
Souq: Over the past few years, we’ve traveled all over the Middle East. We’ve been fortunate enough to sit down with people from all walks of life. The Middle East is a place where family is sacred, food is a blessing and the stories are epic. Generosity and hospitality are part of the cultural DNA where no matter what’s going on, you’ll be greeted with open arms.
Because of this hospitality, we were able to sit down and learn about so many different people from every walk of life, and each one of them had their own unique story. Our designs are inspired by each one of their stories, and each garment we make has a story to tell.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced navigating a global pandemic and trying to get the brand off the ground?
Souq: We first started experimenting with basic garments and were going to keep it small and simple, but when the pandemic hit, we started making designer masks by hand from home, and that began to evolve into custom garment pieces. Traveling was difficult at the beginning with all of the restrictions, but it’s also what made the creative process manifest into what it is today.
What separates Souq from other luxury brands on the market?
Souq: Souq doesn’t design collections based on trends and market forecasts. We design based on our personal experiences and the inspiration we get from the different countries we travel to. A lot of luxury brands tend to put out the same type of garment, just slightly different. Every collection we create has a story, and every person that wears Souq adds to that story.
In regards to Barakat Bespoke, you've noted in the past that shoppers focused solely on price may not find what they're looking for in your pieces. Is this true for Souq as well?
Souq: Most consumers have gotten accustomed to buying “disposable” clothing. We call this “clearance culture.” Purchases are made blindly online through companies that violate human rights and use materials that are harmful to the earth. The modern consumer has lost the experience involved in creating a sustainable wardrobe — one that has value in it, one that you want to hold on to, one that has a story to tell.
The fashion industry is becoming more aware, but the consumer plays a very big role in the progress of ethical and sustainable fashion. The consumer must demand better from brands. My direction in the creative process always starts with ethical sourcing and with forefront of anything we create.
Tell us about the luxurious fabrics you use.
Souq: Souq fabrics are sourced from our travels around the world. We also design fabrics that are then produced in small-batch quantities for each collection. We utilize deadstock fabrics when available for sustainability and antique fabrics for our one-off pieces.
Tell us more about the role of sustainability in Souq.
Souq: We always make sure to source products that are ethical, humane and environmentally friendly, and are promising to continue with even more sustainability by creating less waste by using recycled materials, special washes that use very little water and natural dyes.
What is your favorite piece from the collection?
Filat: My favorite piece from the collection is the soof camel jacket. It has a lot of meaning and memories behind it. It’s also a very exclusive piece that very few will be able to get their hands on.
Neemo: My favorite piece from the collection are the dahabe fringed trousers because of the colors and intricate design details in the fabric.
What advice do you have for those trying to enter the industry?
Souq: Stay true to your creative process and authentic self. There is a tendency to glamorize the lack of emotions in the fashion industry, but your gut is your No. 1 guide, and if it feels wrong, then it’s wrong. Don’t let profits or what others think dictate the path you take, and remember there is no one formula that works. You have to find your own through trial and error. The beginning formulas are the hardest to create, but eventually they are perfected. Just don’t give up.
What’s next for Souq?
Souq: We’re excited to be working on upcoming fashion weeks and brand collaborations.
Tell us about your background.
Filat: I am a fifth generation Palestinian custom clothier and luxury menswear designer. [I am the] creative director of Barakat Bespoke and founder and creative director of Souq. I have no formal design training and am completely self-taught, however, I have extensive experience in menswear tailoring, which allows me to create concepts and bring them to life without ever taking a pencil to a sketchbook.
Neemo: I grew up around fashion from a young age, more specifically suitings. Although I didn’t take a liking to it until I was older, I used to spend my summers in my grandfather's store watching him and his tailors work on suits by hand. All that time I spent sitting and watching I was able to gain knowledge I didn’t know would be valuable until later in my life.
I started fashion school in 2019 and was able to apply my knowledge from all the summers spent with my grandfather and learning about the fashion industry from my mom. Where a lot of people struggled I excelled, specifically in sewing. When COVID hit in 2020, my time at school was cut short and everyone was sent home. It was then when I decided I was going to drop out and focus on starting a clothing brand. A lot of my experience comes from making [one-of-a-kind] pieces for clients and experimenting with different sewing techniques and using fabrics a lot of people would think aren’t meant to be used for clothing.
You were both surrounded by fashion at an early age. Did you always want to be in this industry or was there a moment that you decided to join?
Filat: I’ve always loved clothing, accessories and fragrances. My parents tried to keep me away from the industry, but I remember repurposing my dad's men's dress shirts at the age of 8 and redesigning perfume bottles.
Neemo: I never thought about going into fashion at a young age. I never cared for it and would brush off anything fashion-related as it wasn’t a big deal for me. I grew fond of the streetwear scene around the time I was 16, and that’s when I started keeping up with the latest fashion trends. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I decided I really wanted to pursue a career in the fashion industry.
How does the business dynamic work between you two?
Filat: We are very strong as a design team and each of us brings our own dynamic, me with my tailoring background, and Neemo with his experimental techniques in fabrics. We also have a very strong CEO that takes care of our business dealings so we are more free to do what we do best, design and create.
What is your creative process like?
Souq: Both of us design separately but merge many of our ideas together after discussing the inspiration for upcoming collections and seasons.
What is it like trying to balance two businesses at the same time?
Filat: It’s like having twins that are opposites living in two different households, but I still have to give them equal time and care. It’s very challenging, but I love doing both and am thankful I’m able to do both.
What is it like being a multicultural brand and working with different people from all over the world? How does this change or affect the business?
Filat: Souq, in itself, is an expression, and it does create a dialog that leads to conversations about the background of the brand, which we love to share, especially bringing awareness to the Palestinian Diaspora and how my family started in the industry.
Working with people from other countries and different backgrounds brings new perspectives and new ideas, but it can also be a challenge because of language barriers and cultural differences, but all in all it’s a great experience.
What or who is your biggest inspiration?
Filat: My father, Nafez Filat. He was a fearless creative and was relentless in his endeavors. Dapper Dan is also a huge inspiration, as well as Ye.
Neemo: Louis Vuitton era Marc Jacobs, Walter Van Beirendonck, Virgil Abloh, Tekashi Murakami, Kerby Jean-Raymond, Banksy and Nigo
Who would you like to see wearing Souq? What store/showroom would you like to see carry Souq?
Souq: We would love to see our creations on those who appreciate the quality and history behind each piece. We would love to see Souq in Maxfields and smaller luxury stores that cater to smaller brands and that work very closely with their clients.
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