Exclusive: Okhtein designers talk philanthropy, collaboration and why the best is still yet to come
"Go big or go home"
Since launching in 2013, Okhtein has experienced incredible success. The label was started by sisters Aya and Mounaz Abdelraouf who sought to set new trends whilst promoting Egyptian artistry to the world through their designs. The pair's pieces have been carried by the likes of Gigi Hadid and Beyoncé and the brand's trajectory shows no sign of slowing any time soon.
To commemorate the A/W17 collection, Aya and Mounaz collaborated with Maison Mehry to create a conceptual shoot that celebrated not only the new season pieces but influences and inspirations for the design process, too. Here, they share the images with us and talk us through what to expect this season and beyond...
What was the inspiration behind the A/W17 collection?
Egypt is a very interesting country as it holds different histories and different cultures. For A/W17, we were inspired by the Nubian area which is located in the South of Egypt. We wanted to merge two very important historical and cultural aspects of Egypt: old Cairo and the Nubian culture. We named each bag after a common Nubian name which reflects the importance of beauty within a woman as well as her strength. Each bag holds a certain character or aspect of a Nubian/Egyptian woman which then could be applied generically to other women around the world. For instance, the Akim Backpack is derived from a female Nubian name. According to an Ibibio of Nigerian Nubian folktale, Akim was a gorgeous curvy, young woman made of oil who melted in the sun while doing farm labour. This backpack represents the woman who works hard and lets nothing come in her way. She's curvy (just like the aesthetic of the backpack) and doesn't mind being independent. The Aziza Minaudiere, this collection's best seller means "my dearest" in Arabic/Nubian language. It accessorises the woman who seeks to effortlessly show her inner and outer beauty. We have also used the traditional Nubian nose rings and integrated them in the bags to look like our signature Okhtein rods.
We named each bag after a common Nubian name which reflects the importance of beauty within a woman as well as her strength.
What materials were used this season that are new to the brand?
We introduced plastic for the first time in our bags. For the Aziza, we engraved our signature Palmette Flower design on PVC (plastic) and mixed it with brass and leather. It's the first time we've released such a combination and we have been very happy with the results. We also wanted to play with our signature Okhtein rod and change it to look like the traditional Nubian nose rings.
The shoot concept is very cool. What can you tell us about the inspirations behind it?
We wanted to style our bags with another emerging RTW Egyptian designer Anne Marie because we believed that both collections work together nicely. Both designers have a strong historical background which gave Maison Mehany its inspiration. The aesthetic behind the shoot was to combine ideas, textures and elements and bring them together in a contemporary pile of visuals. The abstraction behind the shoot is the arrangement of the set design which was bringing the indoors to the outdoors. The main idea of this shoot was to archive the historical background of Okhtein's mixture of Nubian and old Cairo with Anne Marie's usage of Tally, which is made in Northern Egypt by women.
You've experienced great success since launching - was the reaction something you expected? Why/why not?
We have always envisioned and planned everything that Okhtein has went through. We believe that you make your own luck. People have called us lucky, but we like to believe that luck has nothing to do with success. We have always aimed high and wanted to create a brand and an identity which will last for a long time. The success since launching is just a step closer to reaching our vision and with that we have been very blessed with all the continuous support of press, clients, friends and major players in the fashion industry. We always say, "Go big or go home" and "always dream big."
How has the brand evolved since you first launched it?
In terms of quality, we keep learning everyday on how to improve it. It's a learning experience for us and we always like to share this with our clients. The more we grow, the more responsibility we have for improving quality and perfecting the bags in order to meet standards. In terms of design, of course it has evolved so much after the brand launched, as we are now set on our identity. We now know what is good to sell and what is not, what is good to continue in terms of design and what is not. We believe that reputation is key for any successful business, and the better we maintain or improve our reputation, the more loyal customers we get!
Why is it important for you to fuse your Egyptian roots into your designs?
Part of our brand identity is to always stick to our roots. That doesn't mean that we will always be inspired by Egypt because Egypt and its history is already embedded in our identity. We like to "spice things up" as they say. We always look for new inspirations from different cultures and histories to mix and match with ours. This, we believe, always gives an edge to our designs.
We always look for new inspirations from different cultures and histories to mix and match with ours. This, we believe, always gives an edge to our designs.
Your work with NGOs to create the pieces is great — why was this important to you?
We believe that the best charity is to teach someone. Our motto is: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." The women we work with are excellent at what they do, especially that they are in charge of taking care of their households. Working with them and teaching them our techniques guarantees a long and sustainable partnership. It's always right to give back to your community and it's also very right to always support local artisans.
Looking forward to next year, what have you got planned that you can tell us about?
We are collaborating with really cool artists to create our new line of scarves which will be released in March! We are also releasing our very first belt collection which will then shape our S/S19 and following collections — expect big changes from Okhtein and new designs! We are also releasing an unexpected product which we believe will give our clients a better understanding of who we are.
Now, discover why Arabic is a huge inspiration to fashion calligrapher Nicolas Ouchenir.