I first came across Sarah’s Bag back in Doha a couple years ago when my eye was instantly drawn to an acrylic clutch in the shape of an actual pill with the words, “chill pill” on it. It was odd, quirky, eclectic, and I had to have it. I went home that night to look up the brand, and turned out, through my research, a beautiful designer based in Beirut named Sarah Beydoun was behind it. Each piece of hers quirkiest than the next, it was only fitting we crown her the Queen of Quirk. I’ve gotten to know her, and now you can too. Here goes…
AB: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
SB: I was born and raised in Beirut. I am from the generation that grew up during the 17-year civil war. Beirut is one of my favourite cities in the world and a constant inspiration for me in my work. We have several Sarah’s Bags that pay homage to the creativity, dynamism and resilience of Beirut.
AB: What got you into designing handbags? Tell us a little bit about how your label came to be?
SB: Mine was a pretty unconventional route to becoming a handbag designer; my background is actually in sociology, not design! In 1999, part of my field research for my master’s thesis included a 6-month stint as a volunteer at an NGO called Dar Al Amal, which rehabilitates underprivileged women in Lebanon. This experience was a turning point for me; I heard stories of broken childhoods, abuse, and violence that affected me deeply. This kind of experience changes you; you can’t just go back to living your life in a bubble.
So after graduation, I wanted to start a business that would help the women I’d met make a better life for themselves. Initially the plan was to make hand-beaded jewelry but the results were mediocre. So, I decided try handcrafted handbags and to create a collection that would showcase the skills of female prisoners in Baabda Prison who were trained by Dar Al Amal in handwork techniques such as beading, embroidery, and crocheting. I used to go to the prison three times a week to work with the women on my handbag designs. I was pleased and encouraged by the first batch of results because I felt they were bags I would wear. We started small, launching a capsule of collection of 12 bags at an arts and crafts fair in Beirut where we sold the entire collection. We’ve been in business ever since!
AB: Do you think one’s creations should be a direct reflection of who they are as a person? What do your bags say about you?
SB: Creations are usually a reflection of the designer or artist’ passion, interest and of course there is always an element of who they are as a person that comes through. My bags reflect the two most important elements of Sarah’s Bag: big on style, big on substance. We are a fashion label first, as well as a social enterprise. The bags also showcase my idea of luxury, which is a beautifully handcrafted piece as opposed to a mass produced one. The Sarah’s Bag aesthetic is about being witty, modern and playful. And my bags definitely highlight my love affair with bold, striking colours!
AB: Tell us a little bit about your design process? How much fun do you have designing bags that have slowly become the life of a party?
SB: It starts with an idea and no idea is too out there! As I mentioned, we like to be playful with our design concepts and serious about the craftsmanship that goes into making the bags. Once we have a concept, I work with a small design team to develop it and to integrate handwork techniques into the designs: beading, embroidery, crocheting, sequinning, and fabric manipulation. My team and I wear our bags so we think practically and focus on how we can create a collection that compliments modern daytime chic and glamorous evening looks.
Our bags showcase the skills of the 200 artisans who work with us. In addition, one of our missions at Sarah’s Bag is to revamp traditional artisanal techniques and to reinterpret them through modern designs. I love working with Lebanese artisans and designers who are masters in these techniques and collaborate with them on special collections.
AB: Favorite pieces from your upcoming SS17 collection?
SB: Personally, I can’t seem to choose a favorite but I am quite enamoured with the David Bowie clutch, which features that famous lightening streak rendered in different metallic colours. I also love the Le Freak C’est Chic clutch, which has a very retro 70s look.
AB:What does Fashion Week mean to you? Is it all work, or do you find time for pleasure?
SB: Fashion Week for me is like running a marathon; it’s hard but it’s a wonderful experience because I am doing what I love. I also feel it’s a test that we need to pass every season. The challenge of putting out a collection that will appeal to an international audience of peers and clients brings out the best in us; we give it our all. Paris Fashion Week in particular is my favourite because we show our work alongside a group of designers who have become my friends, so we have a great time together.
AB: What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
SB: I check our Instagram account, and do a quick browse of all my favourite accounts of designers, artists, graphic artists for inspiration and visual pleasure.
AB: Last thing at night before you sleep?
SB: Say a prayer.
AB: In your opinion? What’s the best way to blow off steam?
SB: Go for a run on the seaside Corniche in Beirut or go out and dance it all off.
AB: Favorite color?
AB: Favorite lipstick?
SB: I don’t wear lipstick actually; I favour nude or rose tinted glosses.
AB: What’s your go-to outfit be it night or day?
SB: It is not about an outfit for me, it’s about having go-to accessories. The beauty of accessories is you can have wide variety and build an extensive collection that will give you versatility. You can utterly transform the most basic outfit or the simplest LBD with gorgeous, bold accessories. I am a strong believer that accessories can define your style; you can wear the same clothes but change the accessories and it will be a whole new look.
AB: Cats or dogs?
SB: I am fond of dogs but I live in an apartment and I don’t like keeping pets indoors; I think it’s cruel.
AB: Favorite vacation spot?
AB: Favorite food?
AB: Guilty pleasures? Vices?
SB: Accessories (I shop non-stop!) and dark chocolate brownies.
AB: Biggest pet peeve?
SB: I dislike perfectionists!
AB: Who is the Sarah’s Bag girl?
SB: Crazy, glamorous, funny, comfortable in her own skin, modern and socially conscious.
AB: Where do you see yourself 3 years from now? 10 yrs?
SB: We are slowly and steadily working on our international expansion plan. I see us growing in big markets like the US, and in the long term potentially opening a second Sarah’s Bag boutique in Dubai (our flagship boutique is in Beirut) and a third in Paris.
AB: Tell us a fun fact about you that no one knows.
SB: As a little girl, I was sure I was going to grow up to be a famous dancer. That didn’t exactly work out for me, but I still love to dance and will be the first to hit the floor given half the chance!
AB: Piece of advice to young women trying to break into this tough industry.
SB: You really have to love this business to be in it! I know it is my passion and sincere love for my work that fuels my commitment, keeps me inspired and helps me meet the challenges that come my way. I would also advise young women to consider the social enterprise model; fashion lends itself well to these kinds of businesses. The fact that at Sarah’s Bag we are empowering women to change their lives and become financially independent and valuable members of their community makes me determined to succeed. I honestly think social enterprises are the business model of the future. Having a purpose beyond profit gives a business a competitive edge in today’s world, as young consumers are socially aware and selective about where they spend their money, as research has shown time and again. Young people care about companies that have strong values and give back to society. They don’t only want a beautiful, unique piece to wear; they also what to know where it came from, who made it, and under what conditions. They want to feel like they are contributing to something beyond a trendy brand.
Thank you Sarah! Big kiss