In a country, where art and heritage decorate the old alleys while museums stand tall at each corner, flaunting a Fatimah-hand metal bag comes as a natural morning decision.
In a small workshop hidden in Cairo, a mother and daughter work hand in hand to turn the country’s most iconic memoirs into carry-able tokens of fashion. Sometimes they put their effort into modernizing a popular local motif, while at other times they resort to reviving forgotten techniques.
Mervat Refai and Mai Ezzat are a mother and daughter duo that have always enjoyed art. After experimenting with various media, luckily for Egyptian women, bags came in as a new medium two seasons ago.
“We have always had an interest in both art & fashion. We even took several classes together since I was in college. We have both always went back to art at each and every important phase in our lives; meanwhile, we have studied art at many different points. We love the notion of creating something from scratch together,” said Ezzat.
While one of them might spend a day or two to master a new moulding technique, the other would more often take charge of the intricate filigree occupying centre stage of their best-selling bag.
“Originally, I started this because I simply wanted to paint and start my own business, when my mother joined in to help she discovered how much she really enjoyed this.” Ezzat added “At the time, my mother already had many paintings along with her custom-made chairs and tables, which she hand paints and draws on.”
Few months before their first collection came to the day light, Ezzat’s plan was to merely experiment. Driven by the fact that she wanted to have the utmost freedom to explore and take more risks, the duo ventured away from common concepts and techniques.
“Bags were not the first thing on my mind when I started; it was more of a coincidence. I never thought this is what I would be doing.” Ezzat elaborated “At first, I just wanted to paint on different materials and leather was one of them. Then, before I knew it, I started taking an interest in leather goods.”
In almost a year and with two catchy collections, the ladies behind Suki Handbags managed to convince fashion-savvy customers to give up their high-end logo leather bags for a number of colourful handmade alternatives. The Egyptian brand depends on hand-painted genuine leather accessorized with a rainbow of patterned fabrics.
With that said, the brand’s true head-turner is the new metal line. The limited edition designs borrow inspiration from the country’s rich culture, while the “Kaf” metal hand comes in the shape of a Fatima hand, “Zamzameya” turns traditional flasks into a fashion statement. Furthermore, the “Shifteshy” bag is a true advocate of an old technique, which represents an essential cornerstone in Egyptian craftsmanship.
“It has always intrigued me that our culture is absolutely affluent with a diversity of cultural and artistic references. Nonetheless, when I started researching I was further amazed with the number of concepts that could be adapted from local heritage.” Ezzat added “our brand aesthetic depends on the essential link between modern casual that goes hand in hand with an ethnic flair.”
The founders’ artistic background is highly evident in each of the brand’s designs. Whether it is the versatility seen in their foldable bags or in the selection of colourful stones rooted in the Shifteshy bag, Ezzat and Refai are always keen to offer collector pieces.
Even though the golden age of metal and leather craftsmanship in Egypt is fairly gone, the couple insist on sourcing their materials and manufacturing their bags locally as they both believe that the designs have a unique identity that will only further shine when kept authentic.
“In terms of production, any design with brass is often much more tricky. Unfortunately, craftsmanship is a family business that used to be passed from one generation to the next. However, recently many have abandoned their ancestors’ craft to go and work in other fields,” said Ezzat.
Aside from depending on brass, their metal line embraces few catchy; yet, difficult details. While the “Kaf” is embellished with dainty tassels, the “Shifteshy” bag reinterprets the old method to create detailed see-through ornament.
After becoming a regular at every summer party in coastal destinations as well as breakfast outings in the capital, Suki designs is clearly becoming a new local favourite. Meanwhile, the founders remain to surround themselves with their passion for art as well as a group of trusted craftsmen in preparation for a new collection and a much anticipated international outreach.