Sarah’s Bag When Fashion is socially responsible
Diala Aschkar, Art Director at Orient Palms, Paris, France

Sarah’s Bag

When Fashion is socially responsible

Sarah Beydoun is a Lebanese social entrepreneur. She is the Founder and Creative Director of “Sarah’s Bag”, a worldwide reknown brand of handmade bags and accessories. Fashionistas of all ages crave for her designs.

Perhaps the reasons for this success involve the following:

First, the fact that each bag design is unique, telling a story inspired by Sarah’s Lebanese and Arab culture like poetry, food, architectural elements, etc. Pop culture like Arab pop stars, divas as well as cinema legends is very much present as well. The bags also speak of Sarah’s travels or simply Sarah’s moods and passions.

Second, the originality of the design which combines modernity with ancestral techniques as in traditional knitting, beading, embroidery, hand stitching and crocheting. Each bag requires a week or two of meticulous and patient work.The outcome is a fresh, colorful and glamorous style with a Middle-eastern touch that is often retro chic as well. Eclecticism is at its most beautiful form with folkloric motifs, Arabic calligraphy, punk-rock, graffiti, photo prints… 

But perhaps the most important reason for this success is the noble cause and social purpose carried by the brand: all the bags are handcrafted by jailed women and ex-convicts coming from underprivileged social and economic backgrounds.

The idea of the brand started during Sarah’s masters studies at Université Saint Joseph. Her thesis was about starting a rehabilitation program for women in prison in collaboration with Dar Al Amal NGO. Sarah was training these women to acquire skills in handcrafts. In the year 2000, she thought of branding her idea to sell their handmade artwork allowing them to earn an income while serving their sentence, and helping them later find a job. This was crucial since most of these women felt humiliated and low in the eyes of their community. In desperate need of a job and a way to reintegrate society, this brand was a trigger for their being financially independent. Not only did these women found jobs or continued to work with her, but they found jobs for other women in their community and thus became strong active elements within their society. In return, they would participate in the preservation of centuries’ old traditions of artisanry in the Middle East.

Today, Sarah’s bags employs over 150 female artisans with thirty points of sale all over the world, in addition to the online store. Her creations expanded to include beach totes, evening bags, clutches, and satchels, along with shoes, scarves, sashes, belts, bangles, and beaded necklaces.

Sarah’s Bag was present in many exhibitions around the Arab world including Dubai, Kuwait, Jeddah and Riyadh. In 2008, Sarah was chosen by the British Council to represent Lebanon in the “International Young Fashion Entrepreneur” competition. In the same year, “L’Institut du Monde Arabe” in Paris invited Sarah along with a group of artists to participate in an exhibition in memory of Oum Kalthoum. In February 2009, under the framework of Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World, Sarah’s Bag exhibited in the “Kennedy Center International Festival” in Washington.

Sarah was this year’s candidate chosen by the American Embassy to participate in the ‘Vital Voices Global Partnership program’ in the U.S. The program states as its mission “to identify, invest in and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities”. The program selects women leaders from across the globe as mentees, and partners them with mentors from Fortune 500 companies for a three week program in the US. Beydoun said, “Participating in the Vital Voices Global Partnership program was an incredibly enriching experience for which I have to thank the American Embassy in Beirut. One of the central tenets of the program is to “pay it forward” and to give back to the community. This is why we are starting our own mentorship program here at Sarah’s Bag for exceptional young women. We are also going to give the female prisoners and exp-prisoners who work with us certificates of completion so they can present them to prospective employers as proper work credentials”.

Sarah at the ‘Vital Voices Global Partnership program’ in Washington

This Fall, Sarah’s Bag is busy participating in Fashion weeks all over the world with its first season at New York Fashion Week, followed by its fourth year at Tranoï Women Show at Paris Fashion week. It will be participating in October in ‘Fashion Forward’ in Dubai.

Over these last 13 years, Sarah has succeeded in turning her love for fashion into an effective rehabilitation program empowering jailed women, and by doing so has written one of the most beautiful stories of social entrepreneurship.