As the trending key word globally, it’s rare for us to find stand-out sustainable brands. However, recently we were pleasantly surprised to discover Egyptian brand Saqhoute. Bringing to the forefront a combination of aesthetics and sustainability, Saqhoute is now our ‘go-to’ regional ready-to-wear brand. Intrigued by the brand’s journey, we sat down with designer Norhan to discover all things fashion and her insider tips for aspiring designers.
The Journey Thus Far
Norhan: I come from a background of fine arts and business (my Bachelors degree was done at AUC). And since a very young age, I have been extremely drawn to fashion. However, I was more drawn to the artistic side of fashion rather than how the industry was operating. To me clothes were never consumables that I viewed as objects that would be thrown away in a mere 4-6 months. In addition, my mother and grandmother always passed on clothing pieces that were 20-40 years old but were still in stellar condition. And so until today, my own personal wardrobe includes a mix of pieces that I have owned for 10+ years, my mother’s clothes from the 80s and my grandmother’s pieces from as far back as the 70s even. I went on to design my first dress at 15 years of age for one of our school proms.
However, I had always felt that I have a missing piece of knowledge that would help me build the brand that would represent what I stand for, what inspires me and where I come from. And so to fill the missing gap of not knowing how to put all of these pieces together, I decided to dedicate my masters degree in researching how the brand would look like. I completed an MA in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship in Fashion at Goldsmiths, University of London where I focused on sustainable fashion and built my business plan and product prototype as part of my degree submission.
Being in London was integral to what Saqhoute came to be, during my stay I got to work with London-based designers and was able to train first-hand with them backstage at London Fashion Week. Upon my return to Cairo, it took me some time to organize myself and I eventually launched the brand with an AW18 collection in September 2018. I always view Saqhoute as a manifestation of a self-discovery journey that draws inspiration from local culture and heritage, is dedicated to ambitious and modern women while being conscious of the issues of climate change and environmental degradation we currently face on a global level.
The Many Sources of Inspiration
Norhan: I am inspired by three main aspects, ambitious Egyptian and Arab women who defied stereotypes and have stellar careers and are building loving warm homes for their families simultaneously. Who didn’t have to choose one or the other because they were somehow told they won’t be able to succeed in both. The other source of inspiration is our local and regional culture, heritage and aesthetic we see in all aspects of our lives be it architecture, handicrafts, art etc. My third source of inspiration is having a conscious impactful brand.
We aim to create pieces that are universally wearable and versatile regardless of where you are and what you do in line with our sustainable capsule collection and slowness approach to fashion. This is where my biggest driver and philosophy for sustainability kicks in: At saqhoute we use concepts of capsule wardrobes, slow fashion, circular economy, artisinary and zero-waste as the sustainable pillars on which we built our brand. We have re-examined the entire fashion supply chain and realized that ultimately being more sustainable in terms of consuming fashion is actually reducing consumption altogether and minimizing waste. And so we set out to create timeless pieces that can last for generations and recreate the concept of clothes being high in quality, versatile and lasting in design to the extent that you can pass it on to younger generations, hence not having the clothes end up in landfills.
In addition, we ensure that we include social sustainability & cultural preservation as well, which means that we employ skills that are either diminishing due to the slowness of their process (such as handwork and embroidery) or due to the fact that the pay would be too expensive. We ensure that we pay our technical team adequate day rates and think beyond minimum wage. As for eco-friendliness, in addition to addressing the issue head on by creating clothes that last beyond seasons, we make sure to collect all of our fabric waste to donate it to relevant NGOs, startups and design studios that need fabric scraps for their work, thereby creating a closed loop cycle to avoid having fabric or garment waste ending up in landfills or burned. Finally, we rely mostly on sourcing fabric locally to help support local job creation and/or encourage textile manufacturing facilities by supporting their business, yet we keep an eye out on more eco-friendly material and incorporate it in our products (such as wool, cotton and linen).
A Usual Day in Norhan’s Life
Norhan: The routine has been the same minus the meetings and working out with people in studios, currently I am trying to focus on walking in the evenings. I also found myself working on things for Saqhoute that I wasn’t able to fulfill prior to the slow pace the pandemic forced us into (this is definitely a positive silver-lining to what we are currently living through). I definitely took it as a chance to do some de-cluttering in all aspects of my life.
The Insider Tip for Aspiring Designers
Norhan: Some of my insider tips for designers are as follows:
1) Do your research before launching and stay away from imitating or copying other successful brands (they are successful for a reason that is unique to them).
2) Listen to your customers! They are the best guiding compass;
3) Focus on both building your audience but also building sturdy sales (I say this because I realized that a lot of young brands tend to focus too much on social media followers and too little on having the right economics);
4) Stay true to yourself, transparent and unique, your audience is very smart in recognizing this and this is what makes them stick to you!
5) Create your safe haven of mentors, consultants and people you trust.
The Brand 5 Years From Now
Norhan: I see Saqhoute as a leading slow fashion & sustainable brand with huge impact regionally and globally.
I am hoping to diversify my product offering beyond clothing to include more fashion items as well, that carry the same values (i.e. footwear, bags, accessories, swimwear, maybe even menswear as well).
We have recently launched our SAQCause philanthropic arm and are hoping to grow the ways we are giving back to our community by growing this initiative as well.
Follow Saqhoute: @saqhoute