The relief of buying a product with a clear conscience doesn’t come that often. Places like Thaat, are making it easier. They focus on teaching women from different parts of Egypt crafts, and using this craft to create environmentally and socially conscious products. Their new project Studio Embabah has produced a fashion line that is hippie-chic, beautifully authentic and all-Egyptian.
We sat down with the founders, Peri Abouzeid and Nada Bahgat, to talk about their success, “we launched this three years ago. We wanted to move to different parts of Egypt, live with the community, listen to their problems and design a solution”, Peri says. The solution comes from the people themselves, “we use design thinking which is a visual approach where you basically draw the problem and start finding solutions with the women”, Peri tells, “we worked in Sinai, Helwan, Gamaleya and Imbaba”.
They have a school of crafts where 90 students are taught, phase 2 will have 100 students. The students are taught, examined and then graduate to the production phase.
Their new brand Studio Embabah is their latest project, “it’s a hip brand with very good quality”, Peri says, “it is mostly handmade. So it’s exquisite and authentic. It’s inspired by the community we’re living in”.
Thaat’s work is not done haphazardly, “we research everything, do interactive mapping with the community, ask them questions and find out what they need. This is how we solve problems”, Peri explains. An example of this is their campaign called “Nadarty”, where people were encouraged to donate their old glasses. It was done in collaboration with Sudanese refugees. Products were created to fund the lenses for the glasses.
Getting to know the women in the community partially inspires the products as well, “we collaborate. I design everything mostly, but working in a team enriches it”, Peri tells, “so we always ask for their opinion”.
Their main focus was to bring back the concept of artisans, “we want to have the kind of artisans we had years ago. An ‘Osta’ is someone who’s a maker. He’s a decision maker as well”, Peri elaborates, “so this is our aim as well”.
An ethical brand that produces wearable, beautiful products must be difficult to manage, but it’s worth it, “it helps women and at the same time also helps us to know more about the country and empower it. It empowers us all equally”, Peri says.
Their work is focused on women, but they’ve also worked with men, “our target is women because many of them, even if they’re married, are single moms at the end of the day”, Peri tells, “she’s responsible for everything. She’s the backbone of the community here”.
Peri and Nada knew what they wanted to do from the very beginning, “we wanted this from the start. We wanted to revamp existing brands like Bashayer for instance”, Peri recalls. Her work in development isn’t all about the brands, though, “I graduated from an Art School, and I’ve always been interested in development and volunteer work”, Peri tells. She researched design for social change, and did a research Masters in marginalized communities and one in social entrepreneurship, as well as working in development with a big entity in Upper Egypt.
As a woman working in development, Peri tells us she is not facing problems, “on the contrary, people are supportive and believe in our mission”, she concludes.
We spoke to the artisans who worked on the fashion line produced by Studio Embabah in order to get to know the project, and how it has changed their lives.
Most of the women who worked on the latest collection found out about the place through Hawaa Co-op. Seham, Sabreen and Ghada all joined Thaat and ended up cooperating to make the clothing line by Embabah Studio. Even though they had a basic talent, they couldn’t do much with it before, “us seamstresses were in a closed circle in our homes, we wanted to venture outside as individuals, but couldn’t”, Seham says, “I love sewing and coincidentally, they chose me to do that. I moved to making patterns, and I liked it a lot. I like creating something nice”. Some of them even had their own workshops, but this experience was valuable to them, “I actually have my own sewing workshop and I sew and coming here gave me more information and taught me better techniques”, Sabreen tells.
Ghadir, seemingly the youngest of the group, started out as a volunteer in Hawaa, “when I knew about the project, I filled in a form for my mother to join, and when they needed more people in Khayameyya I decided to join as well”, she tells, “my mother is in embroidery so when she would learn a new stitch she would come and teach me, so now I know both Khayameyya and embroidery”. Ghadir has a business bachelor’s degree, but couldn’t find a job. So now she has taken this as her own profession.
Even those who had a talent tell us this has helped them, “they’ve trained us and taught us what the desirable products are and how to create them”, she says, “the quality is much higher than what we made on our own”, Sabreen tells. Ghadir agrees, “I used to do embroidery work from my house but the revenue was as little as 1 to 1.5LE so it wasn’t helpful”, she recalls, “here I was taught to do things for my own, and how to create products to be sold properly”.
These talented women’s lives have changed due to this project, “our spirits at home are uplifted, which makes it easier for us to solve problems around us”, Seham explains, “I saw new people who taught me new things and now I apply them to myself and my kids”. They are not just being trained to create products for Studio Embabah, they’re also trained for their own business ventures, “Miss Peri told us she will give us a marketing course on the internet to help up market our own products”, Ghadir says.
It was inspiring to hear about how their families have supported them when they decided to venture into this new project. Sabreen’s family even helps out, “my husband participates with me with the marketing, and the kids know how to use the sewing machines for finishing touches”, she tells, “we share the good and the bad. My husband always encourages me”.