It’s an ethical fashion line that teaches bag-making to women who have been incarcerated. Now, they are crocheting nano-sized bags for the French fashion house Chloe.
Beirut-based brand Sarah’s Bag has been at the forefront of the conscious fashion movement in the Middle East region ever since it launched in 2000. Sarah Beydoun, the founder, started the brand as a by-product of her further studies.
“Twenty years ago, while conducting field research for my Master’s degree in Sociology, I contacted a local NGO, Dar Al Amal, which provides skills to women at risk, that would allow them to earn an income and improve their lives. Their work inspired me, and I decided to create a brand that would support and empower disenfranchised women and female prisoners in rebuilding their lives,” says Beydoun.
Beydoun realized her love for fashion with Sarah’s Bag and made a difference simultaneously. At Sarah’s, all the bags are crafted by women prisoners or former detainees. Now, over 200 women work for the brand, and it has come to be known as a global benchmark for social sustainability in fashion.
The brand’s handcrafted products are available at boutiques throughout the region and on their website. Known for their artisanal products that offer a sense of whimsy, their bags have served as arm candies for Queen Rania and Beyonce, among others.
BRINGING THE CRAFT OF CROCHET TO THE GLOBAL FRONTLINE
Yet again, Sarah’s Bag made fashion headlines with the announcement of its collaboration with international fashion brand Chloé — a brand that has been setting the agenda for sustainability in fashion for some years. This marriage, which sounds like it was made in heaven, almost did not happen.
Chloé had gotten in touch with Beydoun a couple of years ago during Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s time as creative director. The two were interested in working on a crochet bag for a ready-to-wear project. While crochet’s roots are Mediterranean, the craft form has a long tradition in the Levant region.
“Many of us have distinct and loving memories of our grandmothers and aunties personally working on crochet pieces in the village, which they then gifted to us on special occasions such as weddings and new homes.” And it’s a technique Sarah’s Bag has been using since its first collection.
In December 2020, when it looked like the designs were ready to be produced, Ramsay-Levi exited the brand, bringing the collaboration to an abort. But to Beydoun’s surprise, just a few months after Gabriella Hearst was appointed creative director, she reached but this time to work on a bag project. “It was a perfect fit,” says Beydoun.
THE PRODUCT’S DESIRE
Sarah’s Bag was asked to reimagine Chloé’s “it bag” — The Woody Nano Tote — in crochet. Forty women from Sarah’s Bag are now working on this project. The bag’s fabrication requires 26 to 28 hours of crochet work, followed by three hours of assembly time. Even though the brands announced the collaboration not long ago, half of the 200 bags made have already been sold.
The good news is that this is not just a one-off collaboration; it is an ongoing project. “The Nano Edith, the second design made, was an even more complicated process, which took more than 41 hours of work and required the assembly by a master craftsman of 23 individual pieces of crochet. Of this design, 90 pieces were made,” says Beydoun.
Sarah’s Bag has already received additional orders for both Fall/Winter 22-23 and Spring/Summer 2023 from the French heritage brand. With Lebanon going through a period of instability and the pandemic, it was a challenge for Beydoun to ensure this collaboration went smoothly.
“It is very hard to manage a brand in times of crisis. Apart from infrastructure issues like fuel shortage, hourly power outages, and currency fluctuations, there is also the emotional aspect of the artisans and employees to consider. It is definitely worth it, though, and I think it’s in these times that social enterprises are needed more than ever.”
She believes that while the cause is at the core of what she does, it is her product that ultimately made Sarah’s Bag the success it is. If you ask her what her mantra is, she quotes Hearst and says, “I don’t think anyone’s going to buy us for our good intentions. They’re going to buy us because the product speaks to them as desirable.”
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