Sarah’s Bag may be a social enterprise, providing jobs for inmates and other underprivileged women in Lebanon, but from the start, its founder, Sarah Beydoun, insisted that she wanted “no purchase of money. pity “.
“From day one, I insisted that aesthetics be the main draw,” she says. “I wanted people to buy the bags because they liked them and if they knew the cause that was a plus. I never wanted anyone to think the social business part of Sarah’s Bag was a marketing tool.
The brand was conceptualized in 2000 as a social project by Beydoun, who studied sociology and was looking for a way to provide employment and income for women in Lebanese prisons. Bags have become a way for inmates to learn traditional crafts and develop transferable skills.
For her first exhibition, Beydoun created 120 bags and they immediately sold out. “People were very intrigued,” she says. “Everyone was so curious about what I was doing. “
The project quickly turned into a business and then into a globally recognized and socially responsible brand, long before the term became fashionable. It’s worth noting that when Sarah’s Bag first launched, her designs were often copied, but no one was interested in trying to replicate the social enterprise element of the business. Things have changed since.
“The first 10 years I worked, a lot of people copied the bags themselves, but no one was inspired by the concept. Now people are inspired by the concept. The customer demands it. They want to consciously consume and invest their money in brands they believe in.
Over the past two decades, Beydoun has supported hundreds of women, many of whom still work for her. “I still have 10% of my original team since the first day I entered prisons – over 20 years later. “
She uses Randa, a woman she worked with in her early days, as an example of how the brand was able to drive real change. “Randa was very shy and had never worked with his hands. But she turned out to be very skillful. She worked with us for three years and put all the money aside. Eventually, she was able to hire a lawyer and overturn her judgment. She was charged with the murder of her husband, but she was able to prove that it was not murder.
Once they leave the prison and return home, the woman may find employment in other workshops or, in some cases, continue to work for Sarah’s Bag. Because access to prisons has been restricted over the past 18 months due to the pandemic, Beydoun is increasingly dependent on women who have been released and who in turn are employing other women in their villages to help them.
“When these women employ other women, they become like entrepreneurs in their villages. And they are very popular, ”says Beydoun. “Instead of being criticized or stigmatized for being in prison, they start working and employing other women, who see them as providers in the village.
While the aesthetic of Sarah’s Bag is firmly anchored in the Middle East, it is by no means limited to regional motifs. “Every year we come up with new collections and they don’t need to be inspired by the Middle East, but they should always showcase the craftsmanship we work with,” Beydoun said.
There are collections such as Beirut which pays homage to the city with nostalgic and vintage imagery and typography, or Oriental, which features colorful Moroccan-inspired designs, geometric designs and Arabic calligraphy. But there are also lines like Afrodisiac, which draws inspiration from the distinct colourways and tribal motifs of Africa, or the unabashedly Camp Discotheque collection.
Retail Therapy includes new designs with the phrase “Vaccinated and ready to mix” on pouches that look like small pill boxes, and also includes bags with the phrases “Xanaks and the Living Is Easy” and “Prozak Feels Like Heaven Every Day ‘logo on the front. These have proven to be both popular and controversial. “We didn’t care about the system and how it became so easy to access all of these things. We had a lot of negative reactions, but I was personally shocked at the quality of the collection. “
The bags breathe new life into centuries-old craft techniques that might otherwise fade into obscurity. They are adorned with pearls, wood marquetry or specific embroidery from the Levant. They also feature smocking, a sewing technique that is no longer commonly used, or crochet, although Beydoun is quick to point out that “it’s not the old-fashioned crochet that you see on tablecloths. We use different yarns and different colors. We are trying to present all these techniques in a new way.
Today, the brand produces 8,000 to 10,000 bags per year. Beydoun’s most recent project is a collaboration with Mastercard, which includes a collection of bags that will launch in late November and sold exclusively at Expo 2020 Dubai. Some are existing models in new Mastercard-inspired colourways, while others are entirely new, including limited edition pieces made from mother-of-pearl. This is a long-term partnership that is part of Mastercard’s commitment to supporting women-owned small and medium-sized businesses.
“The Priceless collection arrived after the Beirut explosion, at a time when we really needed it. We needed help and it was a way for me to think, “OK, I’m going to go back to work and I’m going to produce and everything will be fine.” “It’s only when you start working that you start to heal and move on,” Beydoun explains.
“Mastercard wanted everyone who works with me to be part of the collaboration. So we selected bags that different handbag manufacturers could create. And we chose techniques used by different women.
As part of the campaign, each bag comes with a card with a unique QR code printed on it. When this code is scanned, a video will appear, featuring the women Sarah’s Bag works with, talking about their experiences and how their lives have changed as a result of the social enterprise. This is yet another opportunity for these women to share their stories – women who, without Beydoun, could have been left speechless.
Updated: November 21, 2021, 12:11 PM