Egypt’s Ramla brings architectural inspiration to artisanal footwear

Ramla is an ethical brand of effortlessly chic leather mules, convertible loafers, sandals and slippers. (Badriyah Al-Mudhaf)
Updated 09 August 2018
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Egypt’s Ramla brings architectural inspiration to artisanal footwear

  • The 27-year-old designer had spent the years leading up to founding Ramla in Florence, Italy
  • Ramla is an ethical brand of effortlessly chic leather mules, convertible loafers, sandals and slippers

CAIRO: Ramla is a colloquial Egyptian word for sand. It is also the name of a new artisanal shoe brand taking Cairo by storm.

“The word ‘Ramla’ has an Egyptian essence. It invokes memories of the beach,” the brand’s founder, Reem Alaa Hamed — an architect and interior designer — told Arab News. “From an architectural perspective, sand is an important construction material that goes into the making of almost everything.”

Founded by Hamed in June 2017, Ramla is an ethical brand of effortlessly chic leather mules, convertible loafers, sandals and slippers. Hamed prides herself on offering entirely Egyptian-made products, sporting handmade silk tassels, sarma embroidery and/or fine fabrics, to mention just a few product highlights. The online store is proving increasingly popular in Cairo, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Italy.

The 27-year-old designer had spent the years leading up to founding Ramla in Florence, Italy, getting hands-on experience at a workshop specializing in customizable handmade artisanal men’s shoes, while simultaneously pursuing an MA in Luxury Business, before returning to Egypt.

Hamed’s introduction to the leather industry took place even earlier, after completing her BA in Interior and Architecture Design, also in Florence, where she spent some time working as a product developer for a number of retail luxury brands.

Back in Egypt, and working full-time as an architect, Hamed considered drawing on her expertise to create a new shoe brand. She mulled it over for a bit and settled on designing “comfortable, simple and fun women’s shoes.”

“I always went to after-work gatherings feeling I was a bit too formal for this more laid-back part of my day,” she said. “I wanted to create something elegant and borderline casual. Shoes I could easily slip into, anytime and anywhere.”

Ramla’s debut collection came out in June 2017. It was created from materials she had picked herself, handcrafted by Egyptian artisans under Hamed’s instruction. The collection consisted of a “Timeless” line of black mules and a “Tropical” line of more vivid ones, all paired with colorful tassels.

“I had two types of women in mind while conceptualizing these designs; the formal woman with a classic style versus the more casual and arts-y one,” she explained.

Ramla quickly began creating an online buzz, and Hamed was invited to exhibit some of her work at the Dubai Fashion Forum in October 2017.

For her winter collection, Hamed brought in her passion for architecture, creating items inspired by what she described as the architectural notions of “subtracting, adding and moving.” It included unusual V-shaped slip-ons with lines inspired by architecture, as well as a selection of low and high heels.

“I still had the same vision of creating comfy and simple designs, nothing extravagant. Except that the mule changed into a slip-on and was more of an evening thing now.”

Eager to further expand and experiment, Hamed went on to incorporate serma, a hand embroidery technique practiced in Upper Egypt, into the winter collection.

The buzz only grew louder and Hamed was soon invited to collaborate with Maya, a Kuwaiti eco-friendly brand, on a seasonal home collection; the outcome of which was a successful pop-up event held last April in Kuwait.

Hamed’s fascination with — and interest in reviving — the art of serma inspired her most recent SS’18 palazzo serma collection; which is also inspired by architecture. Eager to keep the summer spirit alive, Hamed introduced vegetable-dyed leather slippers and sandals to give the customer “a new kind of fun shoe.”

The young designer is currently working on her next winter collection, again inspired by “pure architecture, with a ‘belonging’ theme and exhibiting a mix of materials — all the while maintaining Ramla’s identity.”

Which is?

“It’s comfy, it’s classic, it’s everyday,” Hamed said.


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.”