Lebanese designer Sarah Beydoun launches her SS/19 'Afrodisiac' collection that boasts an African urban theme. BAZAAR speaks to the creative outside her shop in Beirut, on the evening of the collection’s launch. “It was a mix of many different directions," says Beydoun. "I’ve always been very inspired by African prints. I also love everything centred around athletics so we had to mix them together.”
The brand combines colour, sophistication, aesthetic, luxury, and careful craftsmanship all in one, with hand beading, embroidery, sequinning, crocheting and fabric manipulation. For Sarah, she sees the brand as a lifestyle. “Our store is a concept store where everything boils down to the handwork and empowering women, with a lot of style and aesthetic refinement.”
There’s something about Lebanese fashion designers, with their post-war years behind them and their current economic and political challenges that bring out the most riveting designs. Out of the ashes after 15 years of war, there’s a fashion gene that the Lebanese seem to have. They desire to look and dress well. So, Sarah drew on the design talent of the outcast women of Lebanon to design handbags and accessories, and, together with her partner, the brand has garnered the attention of women around the world, from Amal Clooney to Beyoncé, and Queen Rania of Jordan.. “It feels very good to see celebrities and royalty carrying my bags, through social media they propel us. But since the beginning of the company all our clients are our ambassadors. They are proud to be carrying a bag made by an underprivileged woman.”
Designing an “it” bag or clutch that reaches a viral status is no mean feat in the days of social media, but Sarah’s Bag has done just this - several times.
Beyonce wearing Sarah's Bag
Sarah’s social project was always meant to empower the women who make the bags, and now, they empower the women who carry them. A Beirut native, Sarah didn’t start her career in fashion. It was her master’s degree in sociology that led her to launch the company. The designer employed female prisoners, ex-prisoners and underprivileged women in Lebanon. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is that when women earn their own money they have a say in the home and pour money into their families. An independent woman is the master of her own destiny,” said Sarah. Today, 19 years after its conception, Sarah has over 200 artisans, who have been outcast by society, making her handbags and accessories, her designs now sell out within a matter of hours. The brand is on a mission to keep traditional techniques alive and fresh by using them to interpret modern designs.
Over 250 women work with us on creating the meticulous handwork presented on our bags, 50 of which are in prison. Many of these women have formed miniature ateliers in their villages, where they gather women in need and employ them so they maintain a steady source of income. While executing the designs, they often keep each other company as they work. We were told that many of them say little prayers while embroidering the design, in hopes that the pieces they’ve embroidered will sell and that they will have a constant supply of work. We thank all these women and hope their prayers are always answered. #sarahsbag #empowermentwednesday #handwork #womenempowerment #socialenterprise #fashionhouse #prayer
Courtesy of Sarah's Bag
“My business isn’t just a business about fashion and profitability, it empowers women. This is very fulfilling to me and my whole team. Everyone who works in my atelier is always thinking about the hand-workers and women in prison that we work with, to help them.” The brand has a global reach and has been featured in Paris at Tranoi Feeme, and currently sells in stores throughout the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and North America- and of course online as well. When asked if she has the plan to expand beyond handbags into clothing, Sarah is open to it, but for her, it’s about keeping the hand-workers working. “If I end up doing clothing, it would be with the purpose to keep the girls working.”
Courtesy of Sarah's Bag
When asked what makes her brand unique and what she brings to the table of Lebanese designers, Sarah said, “We bring a lot of handwork and a message of empowering women. We also bring aesthetics, which is a link to our cultural heritage. But, I bring to the table a successful social enterprise that empowers women, training them on the handwork technique, and giving them an opportunity to reintegrate into society, to have self-esteem and to be productive and to be independent. At the same time, I’m dressing up women to be stylish, so for me is a win-win. I’m fulfilling a calling and a passion at the same time.”
All prices approximate. The Afrodisiac Collection is available at Sarah’s shop in Beirut’s Achrafieh, and her other bags and accessories can be found online