Sarah Beydoun is not a designer, yet she has managed to make Sarah’s Bag a hip and coveted fashion label by following one simple rule: to create quality products that people want to own irrespective of how compelling the product’s story is. But make no mistake, this is one moving story.
These trendy handcrafted bags are made by female war prisoners in Lebanon whose lives have been changed by owner and creative director Beydoun, who started Sarah’s Bag as a sociology project. Sarah’s Bag has helped rehabilitate prostitutes and provide livelihoods to 150 Middle-Eastern women, each who intricately creates these one-of-a-kind bags with crochet, beads and embellishments, allowing women all over the world to give back while making a strong fashion statement.
Popularity at Paris’ revered trade show Tranoi Femme helped Beydoun transform her eponymous line from a social initiative to a profitable business and international sales have more than tripled since 2010, with Sarah’s Bag products now sold by renowned e-commerce portals like Moda Operandi and Matches Fashion.
With only one Sarah’s Bag shop in Beirut there are plans to open several more but in the meantime Beydoun uses Instagram to combat the consumer disconnect that sometimes arises from wholesaling by interacting with fans and clients on Instagram. With over 11,000 followers could there be a more fashionable way to use social for social good?
Read the Business of Fashion article to find out how Beydoun went from sociologist to entrepreneur, how she created a successful business model and why it’s always fashion first and story second.
Beydoun’s background is in sociology, not design. Her unorthodox journey to the atelier began in 1998, when she completed a master’s thesis on prostitution and began volunteering with former prostitutes and ex-convicts. Beydoun’s sheltered background fell away. “I couldn’t continue doing what I used to do,” she recalls. “When things like this cross your path, you can’t just walk away. I had to do something about it.”
Natalie Kingham, buying director at Matches Fashion, which stocks the bags, has a similar take on why the brand resonates with women. “I was immediately attracted to Sarah’s use of colour and print, which felt witty and modern and really stood out. The bags have been selling well internationally and clients respond incredibly well as soon as they see them, I think because they feel original, fun and good value for the amount of craftsmanship.”
Flexing her [Beydoun’s] business model through identity crises and national crises has allowed Beydoun to stay true to her vision. And despite the challenges of balancing product and story, Beydoun believes having a social component to her company is definite competitive edge that can incline customers towards a brand. The trick Sarah’s Bag pulled off was evolving from cause to legitimate fashion brand, and that was only ultimately possible by putting the story second and the fashion first.