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

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.

TheFace: Dr. Lama S. Taher, the successful fashion designer whose one dream was not enough

Dr. Lama S. Taher (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 20 April 2018

TheFace: Dr. Lama S. Taher, the successful fashion designer whose one dream was not enough

  • Lacking in financial assistance but armed with grit, perseverance and passion, a young Saudi woman fashion designer launches her own brand while pursuing further studies, and succeed in both

I was born and raised in Riyadh and moved to London in 2004 to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree, followed by a Master’s degree in Mental Health.

Eight years ago, when I started on my Ph.D. in Psychology, I felt compelled to go into fashion design. Armed with grit, perseverance and passion, I took the plunge and launched my own brand, LUM, in May 2010.

I had no financial assistance and no fancy business plans — but I believed in it. No one else did, except my older sister who stood by me.

In spite of its humble beginning, the brand was well-received in the Kingdom and the Gulf region. But my father, a physician, was not convinced. I placed a bet with him, vowing to make substantial sales and revenue within one month. On July 1, 2013, I won that bet, making him my number one supporter.  In 2016, I achieved my academic dream, obtaining a Ph.D. in psychology at City University London.  

But it was not easy. Enduring sleepless nights and homesickness, I persevered to meet high academic demands. Meanwhile, the LUM business continued to flourish.

People asked why a successful fashion designer would pursue a doctorate in psychology. I was constantly asked to pick one — but my heart was in one and my mind was in another. 

Few believed I could achieve both. At times, I too doubted myself.

Today, I am an assistant professor at Dar Al Hekma University in Jeddah, supervising award-winning researchers. I am also a Saudi designer and manager of a successful fashion brand sold in the GCC, New York and Los Angeles.  I share my story to empower women to pursue their dreams, to believe in themselves, to fight for what they want.

People still ask: “Why both?” 

I reply, smiling: “Because one dream was not enough.”