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.
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.”
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.
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.