The last few years saw a boom in international recognition for the Egyptian fashion industry.
Celebrities all over the world were seen donning outfits by Egyptian names like Farida Temraza, Norine Farah and others.
Okhtein was a name that stood out. It made its debut almost three ago as two sisters, Aya and Munaz Abdel Raouf, highlighted the beauty of Egyptian craftsmanship and drew inspiration from Old Cairo.
The duo spent as much time ensuring top-notch quality as they did on design, and have since graced red carpets and been seen with many celebrities like Emma Watson, Kris Jenner, Emma Roberts and others.
Ahram Online talked with the one of the founders, Aya, as they celebrate the opening of their flagship store in Cairo's district of Zamalek.
This is your first flagship store in Egypt. What took you so long to open a store in your homeland?
We wanted to master the online store first, which was a big challenge as online shopping was still vague and had its share of problems in Egypt. We waited for the right time and the right funds to open a store in the best form possible.
Your very first collections were inspired by Old Cairo. Do you still draw an inspiration from cultural aspects in our history?
Absolutely. This collection was labeled "Revival of the Dome." The dome bag is tribute to the 1,000-year-old domes that cover the city of Old Cairo, and it was our very first inspiration.
This collection, SS17, has been released in March but only online, and it is the first time to be seen in Cairo. We recreated our famous dome shape but now we combine fine leather with exquisite copper work. We still find a tremendous amount of inspiration from the rich heritage of Egypt.
It's been only three years since you began. Did you see this success coming?
We acknowledge that we are very lucky, but we were certain that we will succeed; we even could envision our trademark metal bag handler as the knob of our shops a long time before we planned an opening. Since the beginning, three years ago, everything was part of a vision and part of a plan.
A duo of two sisters, how do you divide responsibilities?
Whenever we are asked who is in charge of design and who is in charge of business matters, we never have a definite answer. We do everything together; we complement each other. But of course, sometimes we have our differences and we argue a lot. But we know how to compromise and eventually we inspire each other.
Your previous collections were a tool to highlight the craftsmanship of Egyptian women and to back causes like autism, showing some serious responsibility in contributing to society. How do you regard this role, and what are your further plans in this regard?
We have always been very conscious of our social responsibility. In addition to previous contributions to autism societies in Egypt and the Humanity Burn Free initiative and hospital by Heba El-Swedy, we dedicate part of the proceeds to a cause very close to our hearts: women empowerment initiatives. We cooperate with several local NGOs that work to provide assistance to skilled female workers who have faced considerable financial hardship. These women help us a lot, especially in packaging.
Okhtein SS17 .Photos by : AhramOnline
How do you describe your recent presence in London and Paris fashion week?
It was a great experience in terms of media exposure for all Egyptian designers who were present at London Fashion Week, but the sales were the significant aspect when we featured on Paris Fashion Week, which is normal as it’s the capital of fashion and everybody just flies in to buy. It is always a pleasure and honor to represent Egyptian talents on these renowned platforms where people exhibit and compete from all over the world.
You started your business at a very challenging time in regards to economic circumstances. What challenges loomed?
Indeed, we were told it was a difficult time, but we took the challenge. We are responsible for bringing all materials to the factory. Many materials are from Egypt, but many others, like the magnet clasps and chains, have to be form abroad. We still have production difficulties in terms of punctuality of deliveries. We still suffer in terms of quality consistency from our suppliers.
Are you still adamant about involving Egyptian workmanship?
Yes, it is a big part of Okhtein. But I have to say that in terms of expansion of exports, we might not solely depend on local workmanship, as we struggle with time limits – which are very tight – and quality requirements, which are very high abroad.
We want to penetrate more markets. We are already present in some European and US markets, Kuwait as well and the Middle East, but we want to master, not only penetrate.
In terms of products, we want to venture into a wider range: shoes and belts and wallets are already in the pipeline. We had scarves last year, but unfortunately it was halted due to difficulty in obtaining high quality ink from abroad, but we hope to revive that production again next winter