An initiative in Lebanon is harnessing the talent of disadvantaged women to produce high fashion handbags.
The idea of “Sarah’s Bag” was born while Sarah Beydoun was pursuing her Bachelor’s degree, conducting research inside women’s prisons and learning about the hardships these ladies faced, both in jail and during their reintegration in society.
The Lebanese entrepreneur thought of a way to help disadvantaged women by transforming traditional crafts into modern looks for a fair wage.
“The only way the women can come out of any misery, be it prostitution, prison or abuse, is through work,” Beydoun told Euronews, “So, I realised that the easiest way to teach them was through handwork.”
Nineteen years later, the initiative originally created in downtown Beirut is now based in Mount Lebanon, where women in Aley fill their workdays with intricate embroidery.
Velvet strings, sequins, and colourful materials are sewn together for up to 25 hours per piece in order to become fashionable, modern handbags.
“It’s really like a rehabilitation programme - and what’s nice about it is that when you empower one woman, they go back and empower ten other women, [thus] we have a positive ripple effect on the community we work with,” Beydoun explains. “One woman once told me the needle she worked with was a sword she was able to face the world with.”
Aida Abdel Khalek is one of the women taking part in the project.
She began her sewing career to help her disabled husband and improve their financial situation. She has now been running workshops for more than a decade, having brought her craft skills from Beirut to her home village, to training local women.
“Finally, I reached financial stability and I felt really comfortable and free,” says Khalek. “I wanted to help other women to have the same [financial stability] and then I started to bring some work to rural villages here and give that work to those women who are in need.”
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Nora from Lebanon bought a Sarah’s Bag to support the brand’s initiative to empower women.