High quality leather bags made only from local resources are the new talk of town, thanks to Nadia Zurkani, whose Maadi workshop has revived the production of and the demand for the trendy made-in-Egypt brand, Nuniz.
Zurkani – known to friends and family as Nuniz – wants to fill a gap in the Egyptian leather goods market, a market which once competed with the Italian leather and leather goods industry.
To this day, some of the world’s top brand labels outsource work to Egyptian factories and workshops, wanting to make use of the country’s well-developed tannery industry and talented craftsmanship.
In addition to developments in the field, Zurkani wants to address the lack of interest in local goods, explaining how consumers are left dissatisfied with what is available on the market.
Chinese pleather, which is “expensive and not real leather , is about to reach local markets. Meanwhile, the downtown shops selling real leather bags are very few.
Even foreign designer bags don’t always meet Zurkani’s high expectations of quality and craftsmanship.
“[Those who can make high end purchase] can afford to buy the most expensive bags; now people want to buy what is different. There are a lot of designers in Europe and the States that are making unique bags.
Zurkani points out the trap that people are buying into: the expensive designer bag that is often churned out in large numbers, selling fast and expensively for nothing but large emblazoned logos.
This is where she steps in.
“I want to provide something that is well done which is of good quality. And if anything is wrong with the bag, you can bring it back, she says.
“What I’m doing I know is going to take a while [to catch on] and is not going to happen overnight. But, it’s something that I really enjoy.
She adds, “It’s also about the idea of having people come in and purchase a unique bag because I don’t have the capacity to churn out large numbers of bags . That’s the experience I want to provide for consumers.
“I’m getting great feedback on my bags. But I think the idea of coming in and making your own bag from beginning to end is really new to people; I don’t think they’ve really grasped that.
Her customers get very excited about what they could custom make when they see the variety of colored leathers that hang on a rack in her workshop. Zurkani advises them to think it over and come to her with a picture so that there is something tangible that the men in the workshop can work with.
With a variety of leathers available to work with, including snake and crocodile skin that comes from Sudan and can be dyed according to one’s desires, there is much to play around with and one’s creativity is no longer constrained by lack of resources.
Zurkani’s wide range of designs address Egyptian women’s love of bags and their tendency to have several ones for each season and occasion: day bags, evening clutches, wallets and even diaper bags.
A morning bag is different an evening bag, she stresses.
Her designs are basic but stir away from being mere reproductions of other designer bags.
Zurkani focuses on creating bags that are practical but at the same time satisfies women’s preference of classically-styled bags.
Her bags are not flamboyant but tastefully creative. Being Egyptian-Danish, Zurkani has a European sensibility about design and color choices.
A laptop bag she made incorporated black and red leather in a design that was both beautiful and functional. “My ideas are not something too unpractical.
“Eventually I want bags that come in different sizes. I’m also learning that some women want bags that I don’t necessarily like the concept of.
Sometimes, she is asked to make bags she “isn’t too crazy about but those who order them find them “fabulous.
“I’m learning it’s not always about what I want to make.
However, this is not the only lesson she has learnt. Since last December, when she set up her workshop, she has encountered obstacles in production which she has with good humor overcome.
Zurkani sources focal Egyptian leather from Cairo’s tannery market located in Old Cairo. There, men had a hard time accepting her as a partner or a boss. At first, they wouldn’t talk to her. Gradually, they become curious about her background. Eventually they were willing to work with her.
“They can dye any leather for you, you just have to guide them. For them, leather is black, brown or navy blue. It’s just not any vibrant color.
“The guys here in the workshop have the know-how, and I collaborate with them on the whole design process. I want them to feel that this is also their project because we (as Egyptians) have a lot of talented craftsmanship and I’m afraid very soon that this talent is going to die out.
She explains that one of the workers would have become a taxi driver if he hadn’t worked at her workshop.
“It’s a work-in-progress.
The workers, she continues, are surprised with the treatment they receive at her workshop.
“They’re mostly used to working in places where they’re not always being treated very well. They consider themselves as artists, and they have a craft and they know that, and so they don’t want to be treated as factory machinery.
“They’re very proud of their talents and skills and I’m training them now that nothing will leave the workshop unless it’s in the best possible [form].