Born and raised in Cairo, this Egyptian design duo found their muse in the form of history, artistry and passion for their city. “Egypt is, and always will be, our main inspiration,” Aya Abdelraouf said with a smile. Sisters Aya and Mounaz Abdelraouf created and launched Okhtein – which means ‘Two Sisters’ in Arabic – in 2013. Sensing a gap in the market, they set out to reintroduce the luxury of local craftsmanship to Egypt and draw international attention to true Egyptian craftsmanship. A breath of fresh air, Okthein’s first designs were inspired by the architectural greatness of Fatimid Cairo. Palmette flowers, Domes, and the Fortress are just some of the names given to their bags – all names stem from one architectural design element or another found in Old Cairo. That was their first collection – their second collection is an entirely different story. And since every woman owns at least one bag, Aya laughingly added, “We like to produce carry- able art.”
Okhtein’s Aya and Mounaz believe that bags can make an outfit – so, they decided to design their own to suit their unique artistic needs. Using nothing but the finest materials, Okhtein’s bags are absolutely stunning. From exotic leathers to PVC, and all the way to woven rope and embroidery – the sisters have an eye for what combinations work. To bring their designs to life, Aya and Mounaz regularly visited Khan El Khalili, and in particular, El Moez Street. From there, the inspiration for their Fatimid Dynasty theme flourished and was clearly visible in their first collection.
For their second collection, Okhtein have decided to introduce a little bit of summer into your carry-able wardrobe. Their latest collection pays homage to Egypt’s beautiful beaches and the culture around them. By naming the collection Weaving Waves, they brought the vibrant side of the beach to the totes and clutches. The #CandyLikeCairo campaign revealed the bag that stole the spotlight, the Mini Weave.
Taking a more philanthropic direction with their company, the ladies decided to utilize the local artisanal scene that Egypt is known for. In that spirit, every bag produced by an artisan supported by local NGOs gives each design a story and a deep-rooted cultural ethos. “Before launching our brand, we thought of producing our bags abroad,” Aya explained, “but after visiting several [local] workshops and witnessing their superb talents, we wanted to encourage Egyptian workmanship.” Entirely produced in Egypt, by Egyptians – Aya and Mounaz didn’t lose hope in their country. “Egypt is full of potential,” Mounaz stated. With many women in Egypt facing hardships due to their unnoticed talent, local NGOs provide Okhtein with talented artists. With the help of an NGO in the area of Stable Antar, Okhtein is provided with beautiful embroideries while a small village in the province of Fayoum provides the ladies with woven straw. They also work with an NGO in Cairo’s Mokkatam area called Romana to help promote anything handmade locally. Okhtein is definitely a brand to watch, and a bag to covet!
Does fashion ‘make’ the person or does the person ‘make’ fashion?
Mounaz: It’s one of those questions that you can’t really give one right answer to. It’s a “which came first, the egg or the chicken” kind of question – so we believe that a person ‘makes’ fashion just like fashion can ‘make’ or inspire a person.
Why are bags considered statement pieces?
Mounaz: We believe that because bags are always carried around at all times, everywhere and anywhere – the more unique and original it is, the more they become statement pieces, or carry-able art so to speak.
How would you describe your style and what inspires it?
Both our styles have a classy yet edgy twist to them.
How do you get inspiration for your designs?
Aya: We’re both visual artists so anything that stimulates us visually whether colors, trending patterns, cuts, cultures always end up inspiring our bags. I think the main inspiration behind our designs are our personality traits and how different yet similar our tastes are.
Who from the fashion world would you love to collaborate with?
Mounaz: Dolce and Gabbana, Versace and Fendi are all great designers we would love to one day collaborate with.
What is the one bag that every fashion lover should own? Why?
Aya: The Chanel bag 2.55, it’s a classic.
What does it take to become a style innovator?
Aya: Uniqueness and originality are both qualities that set trends.
What’s exciting right now in fashion?
Mounaz: Patterns, especially when using them in the most unexpected way.
Who or what has been your greatest fashion influence?
Aya: Olivia Palermo, Alexa Chung and Chiara Ferragni are all great to follow as they have influenced us greatly in terms of style and fashion.
Who are your favorite emerging designers, and what is it that you love about them?
Aya: Nathalie Trad and All things Mochi are two of our favorite emerging designers from the Middle East. We believe they have great taste as well as innovative designs.
Every fashionality has as a style obsession, what’s yours?
Mounaz: We both have different style obsessions, I obsess over bohemian chic garments and styles while my sister, Aya, obsesses over minimal cuts and designs.
Do you follow any fashion influencers (Instagram/Blogs etc)? If so, who are they and which would you recommend?
Aya: The bloggers and stylists we follow on Instagram have contributed to our inspiration big time. Bloggers like Negin Mirsalehi and Chiara Ferragni are great to follow.
What item of clothing or accessory (if any) do you wish that people wore more often?
Mounaz: We think headpieces are great! They’re fun, elegant, and when worn properly can be very stylish yet a lot of girls aren’t audacious enough to wear them while going out. We’d like to see girls go out with statement headpieces.
To be stylish is to be fashionable. True or False and why?
Mounaz: False, a person can be “stylish” or have a unique sense of style that does not necessarily fall into the category of being updated in fashion, aka fashionable. Sometimes we see people wearing “fashionable” items yet not know how to style them properly.
For the latest on Okhtein’s whereabouts and their glorious collections follow them on Instagram @okhtein. You can also follow them on Facebook: Okhtein or check out their website www.okhtein.com. If you have a question, email them on [email protected] and if you’re in Egypt, give them a call at (+2) 0120 0027 319. If not, shop them online on www.coterique.com. Okhtein is also available exclusively at Melocoton Boutique (Instagram @melocotonq8) in Kuwait. You can also find them at Creme in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and soon at Blush Boutique in Bahrain.