From Egypt with love: Find out why handbag brand Okhtein is flying off the shelves

The popular brand is known for its quirky, cute and ultra-feminine bags and scarves. (Photos supplied)
Updated 31 October 2017
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From Egypt with love: Find out why handbag brand Okhtein is flying off the shelves

BEIRUT: Founded by two sisters, Egyptian brand Okhtein is one of the country’s hottest exports and for good reason.
The popular brand — which is sold in such high-end outlets as Bloomingdales in Dubai and Harvey Nichols in Saudi Arabia — is known for its quirky, cute and ultra-feminine bags and scarves.
The brand, which means “two sisters,” was launched in 2013 by Aya and Mounaz Abdelraouf and has since gone on to reach astronomical heights in its success around the Middle East.
“We used to work on several projects together when we were kids and both of us had good work chemistry and shared an artistic vision,” the pair told Arab News. “We felt like we both completed each other and we should pursue our dream and start a brand together. We love fashion and both of us love accessories. Growing up, we had a fascination with luxury handbags. We always wanted to wear unique bags that weren’t available in the market, so we both ended up designing our own.”
What is less known is the decisive influence exerted by the duo’s grandmother on their taste and ideas about fashion. According to the sisters, their grandmother kept her clothes from the 1960s and 1970s and allowed the pair to rummage through her closed in search of inspiration.
The sisters believe that the secret behind their success is their story and the fact that they produce their line of bags and other accessories in Egypt.
“We sell our bags to big players in the market who usually have ‘Made in Italy’ stamped on the inside (of their other products). Our ‘Made in Egypt’ (concept) is new and it changes the expectations of people,” the pair said.
To manufacture their products, the sisters take a philanthropic approach to their work based on their desire to incorporate more handmade embroidery and straw into their leatherwork. The pair set up a collaboration with several local NGOs that provide assistance to skilled female workers from economically unstable backgrounds in the country.

And another one! ##GoodNightVibes #okhtein #repoinEgypt #beyonce #theseries

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The duo is proud that the brand is exporting the values of Egyptian craftsmanship and giving back to those in need — all through the power of fashion.
Harnessing the creativity of Egypt is clearly important to the sisters who were born and raised in Cairo. Aya studied communication and media arts along with digital arts and design at the American University of Cairo while Mounaz studied marketing and art at the same university and also went on to become a painter who has exhibited in galleries in Paris and Egypt.
It is no wonder then that the brand is known for its creativity and its ability to capture certain moods and moments in time.
This is especially visible in the brand’s flagship models, the “Palmette Minaudiere” and “Palmette Backpack.”

Thursday mood, weekend vibes with our Dome Plate in gold. #styledby @maisonmehany #ootd #okhtein

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The minaudiere, also known as the box clutch, comes in a variety of colors as is based on the invention of the box clutch in 1934 by French jewelry, watch, and perfume company, Van Cleef and Arpels. Charles Arpels was inspired by watching Florence Gould, the third wife of famed casino owner Franck Jay Gould, toss her personal belongings in a tin box. The small, handle-free clutch bag quickly became the ultimate chic statement and the sisters have put their own, decidedly unique, spin on it.
Recently, the designers chose a brand ambassador to help bridge the gap between the brand and their consumers.
“We’ve chosen Karen Wazen from Lebanon, who lives in Dubai… We love her style, her personality and everything about her. She feels connected to our brand because she’s a twin and has twin daughters, so the bond of sisterhood is very special to her. In addition, we have Egyptian actress, Amina Khalil as our local brand ambassador. She’s strong and charismatic and fits very well with our identity,” the pair said.

Styling two dresses in one with our all time favorite Mini Studded Red Gold. #styledby @maisonmehany

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Avid fashionistas should keep their eyes peeled as the designers are currently working on creating a luxury line of travel bags and suitcases and also plan to incorporate crystals, silk and artificial fur in their future collections.


Startup of the Week: Coco Sabon’s natural skincare

Coco Sabon. (Supplied)
Updated 21 May 2019
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Startup of the Week: Coco Sabon’s natural skincare

  • Coco Sabon’s customers are mostly Arab women aged between 20 and 40, “though we have many loyal fans that span different age groups and come from all over the world”

RIYADH: The healing and relaxing powers of nature are at the heart of Coco Sabon’s philosophy.
Launched by Dr. Cynthia Mosher — an American living in Riyadh — the skincare firm is committed to sourcing high-quality, natural oriental ingredients that provide the skin with gentle care and nourishment.
“I launched Coco Sabon in November 2015 at Alfaisal University’s first bazaar,” she said.
Mosher, who completed a bachelor of science in natural health sciences, said she hoped to do something more than simply diagnose illnesses and prescribe treatments. She also wanted to have time for other important things and people, so now she is working as an educator, training a new generation of medical students.
She encourages people to make healthy choices when it comes to ingredients they use on their bodies.
“I fell in love with formulating and creating beautiful, natural skincare products. I continued my creative journey while pursuing my medical degree, which deepened my commitment to develop ‘do no harm’ skincare based on natural ingredients,” she said.
“Layered with my admiration of Arabian culture, the rich regional ingredients, and my passion for integrative medicine, I developed a deep sense of holistic self-care that guides my formulations. My love for the fragrances, natural remedies and skincare routines of the Middle East are the heart and soul of Coco Sabon.”
There is a growing demand for Coco Sabon products. “After years of requests from family and friends to make and sell my products, I tested the waters, so to speak. We sold out of everything that day.”
She added: “About six weeks later we were invited to participate at the Gathering in Al-Bujairi in January 2016. We had a crowd of customers nonstop for three days and again sold out of everything. It was a decisive weekend. Coco Sabon was born and we have not looked back since.”
Mosher’s family and friends offered encouragement, but one of her strongest supporters was her best friend, Audrey Wilkinson. She said: “Audrey was my supporter, helper and adviser. She now works with me, formulating and producing our candles, cremes and face care line.”
Coco Sabon’s customers are mostly Arab women aged between 20 and 40, “though we have many loyal fans that span different age groups and come from all over the world.”
The brand offers a wide range of products, including soap, bath bombs, scrubs, cremes, face and body oils, perfumes and candles.
“Everything is produced by hand in small batches here in Riyadh using natural, safe and organic ingredients, sourced locally wherever possible,” Mosher said.
Coco Sabon believes in supporting local businesses and in sourcing the best ingredients possible. The store also designs its packaging and hand packages, labels and wraps each item, selling through an online store (cocosabon.com), Instagram, WhatsApp, and local popup shop events.
Mosher has also started offering workshops on making her products.
“Some might think that to be unwise because I could very well teach a future competitor,” she said. “Well, that’s true for the medical students I teach now. Should I withhold my knowledge for fear of them becoming better doctors and doing better? Of course not. The more knowledge we put out there, the better our society will be. The workshops also help build community.
“I connect with people who are curious, who want to learn how to create and how to make good choices for their health. I welcome workshop students young and older (my youngest so far was just 6 years old), and I encourage them to take what they learn and use it to improve their lives and that of others around them. If they make a business out of doing so, then good for them. We all have something to offer the world,” she said.
Mosher is happy that she created a job she loves. “Sometimes I miss practicing clinical medicine, but I remind myself that I am helping people make healthier choices for their bodies, their minds, their souls and the planet,” she said.
“That’s a special kind of medicine that I believe can help heal the world.”