Fashion is arguably one of the world’s oldest means of self-expression. It is also one of the many unspoken languages that can tell a story with a single piece, such as with a pair of sunglasses, a couture dress, or a hand-crafted purse.
Despite their ability to inspire the masses, few designers and fashion houses have made history by contributing to the local economies of many nations around the globe. Sarah’s Bag, however, is changing the fashion landscape.
This socially responsible fashion label not only gives a voice to the marginalised, it also attempts to economically and intellectually empowers women in need. Lebanese designer Sarah Beydoun started her company in 2000, while she was a student in college. Today, the brand benefits hundreds of women in Lebanon, while continuing to target thousands more throughout the world.
Beydoun creates hand-crafted bags that are wearable pieces of art. Each design is carefully thought through and manufactured by hundreds of local artisans and incarcerated women in Lebanon. Each bag provides these women with the opportunity to alter their realities, explore their artistic talents and write a new chapter in their stories.
Daily News Egypt spoke with the designer to find out more about the brand, its creative and manufacturing processes and its role in empowering communities.
Can you tell us about the role Sarah’s Bag plays in the lives of unprivileged women and how your studies in sociology have impacted your decisions?
It was research for my graduate degree that led me to start Sarah’s Bag. Our work with underprivileged women has had a positive ripple effect, not only on the women themselves, but also on their families and their communities.
When I first launched Sarah’s Bag, I was working with a core team of female prisoners, whom I would visit in prison three times a week and work with on designs and techniques. For the prisoners, working with us meant they were learning new skills and earning an income. Some of them used this money to hire lawyers and overturn wrongful convictions.
As time went by, when some of the prisoners completed their sentences, I encouraged them to continue to work with Sarah’s Bag from their homes. I also encouraged them to teach the techniques they learned to other women in their communities.
In this way, the ex-prisoner not only became economically independent–which meant she had a much easier time reintegrating into society– but she also became a respected member in her community because she was providing much-needed jobs.
What is your criteria for the ladies that join your project?
We work with underprivileged women who have had minimum training in the basic techniques we use to handcraft our bags. But, we also have training programmes to teach women who want to work with us and have no background in handwork.
How do you control quality?
We have a strict and comprehensive quality control policy. Every item we produce is passed on to three of our expert artisans, who check each and every detail before the bag makes it to our boutique floor or is shipped via our website.
That being said, we do not mass-produce our merchandise in a factory so our bags are not identical, as they are handcrafted and not made by a machine. There are very slight discrepancies between each product and this is what makes them unique.
With approximately 200 artisans involved, how do your creative and production processes work and how long does it take to create the products?
From a creative and design perspective, it is seasonal. I work with a design team and we launch two collections a year and one resort collection every year. The actual production process starts with our artisans.
They first receive the canvases they will bead or embroider from our atelier. Depending on how much handwork the bag requires, it can take an artisan 25 to 30 hours to finish a single bag.
Once the handcrafted element is complete, the canvas is sent to the master artisans we work with, who add the finishing elements to create the body of the bag, which can take up to a week.
How would you describe your clientele; do they buy the design or the story?
I think it is the design that ultimately makes our clients buy the bag; however, they come to appreciate the story a lot. The woman who wears Sarah’s Bag appreciates both the fashion and the cause, and she is creative and expressive.
She also finds a sense of purpose and empowerment when she buys our bags because she knows she is contributing positively to the lives of underprivileged women.
Your bags are stocked in many regions around the world; which one represents your highest sales?
We have expanded internationally slowly, but surely and today Sarah’s Bag can be found at 35 retailers in more than 22 countries, mainly in Europe. And, of course, we also sell a lot of our bags online through our website.
Where would you love to expand next?
We currently have our eyes on the US market.