How slow can you go?
Saqhoute is the passion project of Norhan El-Sakkout; one that brings together her vehemence on promoting ethical consumption, her well-studied fascination with Egyptian heritage and her constantly growing inspiration from the women around her.
“Saqhoute is my family name, which is one of the biggest support systems I have and many of the members of my family are big sources of inspiration for me," she tells CairoScene. "It also signifies our heritage and cultural roots; it's a Nubian region and also a type of date."
Saqhoute’s first collection launched in September 2018, after around 9 months of preparation and years of blooming in El-Sakkout’s head. Hyper aware of the histories of things, she attributes the project to her mother, who recognised and supported her talents from a young age. She drew her first sketches at the age of 12 and at the age of 15, she had made her own prom dress with the family seamstress. She then went on to study business and fine-arts, complementing that with a master’s in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship in Fashion at London's Goldsmiths College and added the final touches to her brand working in the English capital during London Fashion Week. Things truly came to form with her graduation project on the modularity of clothes, and they haven't stopped since.
Sakkout makes her clothes with local artisans, promoting slow-fashion, which she explained as the slow production and consumption of garments, and the extension of the life cycle of each piece she makes while maintaining a zero-waste approach. It all happens at the hands of the four artisans she’s working with. She refuses to work with a factory, and explains that the only way her business can grow is slowly, whether by recruiting more artisans or creating more workshops. “I have four amazing, skilled people that I work with, three of them are women. Some of them are housewives, who do the embroidery work at home and send it back to me,” she adds.
“We are not only empowering women through our clothes," she's quick to point out. "We also aim to empower women by providing them with work and income opportunities that can work for their lifestyle and that take their family responsibilities into account. It is definitely a main motivation and driver for me to keep going. It is a brand for women by women!”
Not only so, but she puts a great deal of care into the well-being of the artisans she’s working with. “We produce in a workshop where we have more control over the conditions of our artisans. We ensure that they are paid above average market rates and we control the waste we produce,” she reveals. With a clear role as the designer, she says that she only intervenes at early stages with the more complex pieces and to help guide her team in innovating their production approach. Otherwise, her production manager, “one of the most ambitious women I [she] has ever seen,” oversees production and ensures quality.
Moreover, the zero-waste approach is always on their mind. “We also don't throw any textile scraps away and any remaining fabric is donated to one of our embroiderers who uses it in creating patchwork products that are then sold to fund charitable causes.” As a brand, Saqhoute, is against the mass-production and consumption of fashion character of our contemporary world. Under slow-fashion, they produce “piece by piece.” Taken a step further, they encourage customers to return with any pieces requiring alteration or fixing. while also encouraging customers to send old an unwanted clothes back, so they can make sure they’re reused, be it donated to charity or scrapped and used for patchwork in their workshops.
“I am empowering women who have busy lives and are balancing their careers and families by offering them unique pieces that are highly versatile in styling,” El-Sakkout explains of wanting her customers to be able to move swiftly through their days with the least outfit changes. “Through the versatility of my clothes, I am giving her an aspect of practicality, where she can buy fewer, more unique garments that she can combine with basic things in her wardrobe without thinking much about it.” Noting that she grew up around many strong women in her family, ones who supported and inspired her to start Saqhoute, she realised a gap in Egypt’s clothing and garment industry. “It [the market] doesn't necessarily cater to their busy days and so I wanted to create something for them and every woman like them who is balancing herself, her family and/or career.”
When designing, El-Sakkout explains that she accounts for the “cultural nuances” and different preferences of different women. “I try to make my clothes inclusive to all of the different preferences we see in our markets here in Egypt and globally.” Catching up with a trend of modest-fashion, her pieces are all about versatility as well. The style she presents can be worn by anyone, and make space for women who like to dress modestly to join the party as well.
Stylistically, Saqhoute finds influence in Egyptian culture, heritage, crafts and architecture. “During my studies in London, I realised that a lot of it is known to the rest of the world and that a lot of our crafts are disappearing because there is no demand or appreciation for them.” She wanted to commemorate our culture through her fabrics, patterns, and forms. “Our product range includes business/smart-casual dresses, vests, blazers, skirts/ensembles offered as a capsule collection, with each piece being an investment piece unique to be worn on its own or combined in a number of versatile ways.”
The Lotus Dress and Lotus Ensemble, for example, find their line-work In Old Cairo’s Khayameya (tentmakers), and their name and inspiration in the Lotus flower, which has long stood as a symbol of Egypt and the Nile. The flower, which symbolises rebirth and regeneration, tells the story of the brand itself: the concept of revival and preservation, as well as the storytelling of Egypt’s heritage and culture. “My favourtie pieces are the Sayeda Blazer, inspired by Siwan embroidery.” Embroidered by hand, each Sayeda blazer took three days to make. It, and the Lotus Dress in Crème, to her are exactly the type of piece you can wear in any setting. “For the blazer, you can wear it with a shirt and slacks for work, change into jeans and it is casual, or wear it with a jumpsuit on a night out. Same goes for the dress. Wear a blouse or a shirt under it for work, or go with flats and a denim jacket for a more laid-back look, or accessorize it for an evening occasion.”
What makes her pieces so malleable is how simple the designs and color choices are, as well as how comfortable every piece is. She explains that, through their timelessness, they’re intended to fit on a hot Downtown Cairo day or a strut down New York’s 5th Avenue. She aims to create classic pieces only: ones that will always be relevant, and it’s up to you to style them.
Saqhoute is is still very much in its infancy still and its first appearance have come via social media, while a website is set to launch before the end of the year. The intention, as things stand, is landing in a flagship showroom, and have the pieces sold abroad. As a big advocate of sustainability, the brand goes beyond the clothes for El-Sakkout. She believes sustainability is our future, and that every business, as well as every person, should pursue it. “Consume better and less! I encourage my clients to do so; buy fewer clothes, enquire about them, ask us the right questions, and buy better clothes,” she concludes.
Photo credits: Colab Creative Studios, Model: Nourhan Moaz