Intrigued by the fact that two young ladies were capable of creating, developing, designing and booming a successful brand, especially at the start of their career path, eniGma’s Laila Rostom sat down with the creative minds behind OKHTEIN, Mounaz and Aya to know the depth of their path to their success and to show the younger generation that nothing is impossible.
While the sisters are somewhat distinctive from one another, the difference in their talent helped their ideas flow hand in hand. Mounaz, the older sister, developed a creative mindset at an early age. Being the aspiring artist that she is, her interest in the art world, filmmaking, advertising and painting became a part of her true identity. Aya the younger sister, known as the brains of their empire, had a different vision in mind. With a degree in Communication and Design as well as a growing love for fashion, Aya knew from the start, that once she graduated she’d somehow work in the fashion industry with no one other than her ingenious sister.
Their brand scheme came straight away, when they decided on designing something they would love to wear rather than be tempted to buy something they were not so crazy about. After many brainstorming sessions, their inspiration hit when the idea of the need for any women to carry a bag came to realization. Although their passion was stirring, and their key idea was caught in a fish net, their lack of business development skills was still a main issue; their first step was to study and research.
“Our first enthusiastic step was to create a brand. To do that, we had to do lots and lots of research. It took us a year to grasp every aspect that had to do with starting your own brand, from the manufacturing process to gathering resources, to understanding how any marketing strategy works,” tell the sisters. “It was business 101 with fashion 101 because we didn’t study either fashion or business. We asked ourselves all the questions that would lead us to definite answers; where will we manufacture? Will we start our own workshop or will we go to a factory? What’s our design process, inspirations? Who are the artisans we will work with, and what type of materials will we use?” According to Mounaz, “The hardest part was finding the right artisan because artisans in Egypt are used to a very specific way of manufacturing bags. We were two girls with no idea on how to produce a bag teaching old school artisan’s new ways of production.” Aya adds, “Every resource and every contact we found we researched for ourselves and that was the whole point of learning. Nothing was handed down to us, it was a challenge that we worked through.”
For OKHTEIN to have an idea was one thing, but to actually develop a successful business was another. However, their will to succeed didn’t end with their vision of their brand. Aya was determined to put all her effort into learning the business side of it all. At the time OKHTEIN’s founders’ youngest brother Mohamed was just starting his college years studying business, which came in handy for his sisters. Aya began reading her brothers books and presentations, grabbing any useful information they could use and expanding her know-how. OKHTEIN wouldn’t settle for failure, they wanted to do it right and they wanted to do it big, so they studied even more.“We didn’t just want to create bags with an expiration date in the market; we wanted a real company that was developed on the right basis. We learned that growing your own business doesn’t only mean focusing on one thing and leaving the rest for others to handle, it is a whole experience where you also have to develop your knowledge of so many other things like, taxes, production, law, prices, and everything else.”
OKHTEIN definitely played it smart and reading textbooks wasn’t enough. To understand the market efficiently, the sisters had to become part of it and to break through every obstacle they met. From getting guidance from several trusted mentors, to learning how to deal with banks, and setting up their own website, the Abdel Raoufs definitely didn’t let any challenge stand in their way.
Once the sisters got a hold of their research, it was time to launch their brand, starting with their first-ever product: The Dome bag. After four trial-and-errors, The Dome’s founding structure was built. They started out with seven pieces in stock, one of each colour as samples, since they didn’t have the financials to buy more leather.
“The minimum amount of leather you have to buy for each colour is ten to twenty pieces of leather, which took a budget of 100k pounds. We didn’t have that budget; we started with 10 to 15 thousand pounds producing one sample bag of every colour. When we realized how much of a hit The Dome was, we didn’t have enough products for clients. But this also worked in our favour because, with the income we made from the first The Dome, we launched 8 more colors, two bags of each and played on the whole exclusivity of The Dome, which made people appreciate it and want it more,” the sisters recall.
The dome was sold out and hence OKHTEIN was truly born. In the summer of July 2014 when OKHTEIN was properly introduced to the world, the sisters were ready to illustrate their true identity. Not only were they ready with unique gold and silver beach clutches, they had a message behind their brand, and it called upon “Women Empowerment.” Recognizing themselves as “pro-women empowerment, all the way,” the brand was inspired by that theme in the Middle East. To showcase their implication, OKHTEIN printed on their clutches collage art work designed by Mounaz, including photographs of Arab women, using new, raw material from the roots of Egypt. After the sisters had established their brand identity, they knew it was time to take a wider step and to grow their company in a larger scope. Although other challenges were faced, the sisters never gave up hope; they knew by heart that when the time came to go big they would be ready for it.
According to Mounaz, “Two years ago, we tried to approach certain people, and tried to go big, when that didn’t happen we weren’t discouraged. Aya and I knew that, for whatever reason we didn’t get our big break. It must have been because we weren’t ready for it.”This setback did not deter them. They approached bloggers from different countries around the world, spreading news of their brand. Then international boutiques began contacting them, from Dubai to London and K.S.A. An agency began to represent them and mentioned them in international press releases as well as several media outlets, especially after the launch of their ‘Weaving Waves’ collection. The collection focused on assisting NGO’s provide work for women in villages such as in Al-Fayoum, Sabla Antar and Romana.
After their much-valued work with different NGO’s, OKHTEIN was mentioned in an article called “8 TOP Ethical Brands.” It was one typical morning when the girls found on social media, the actress Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame) praising them for their honourable work. To extend their appreciation, OKHTEIN gifted Emma Watson as well as her stylist with two of their Palmalett bags. For six months, Emma Watson was seen on the streets of Hollywood with the OKHTEIN Palmalett bag on her back. Say the sisters, “We found on Google that the paparazzi were taking her photos wearing the bag. I think this made Egypt and the Middle East respect our brand because they saw [a top celebrity] wearing OKHTEIN.” While opportunities came flowing in next from Spain and Turkey wanting to produce their bags in top-notch quality, OKHTEIN’s loyalty to their Egyptian heritage was a primary aspect of their identity. “OKHTEIN is an Egyptian name, we’re both Egyptian and as cliché as it sounds, we’re trying to make something that’s seriously Egyptian and to break the boundaries.” Today OKHTEIN has distributers in Spain; they sell their products in a London store in Mayfair, as well as in Beirut; however, OKHTEIN believe they still need to emerge their brand and to work on reaching more international band recognition.
There’s no doubt, that when it comes to OKHTEIN showcasing their products, thinking out of the box is a main drive that keeps them in the game. Staying on trend and researching what the market needs has definitely helped them reach where they are today. Part of their moral reputation lies within their attention to detail, such as their creative logo, impeccable social media marketing as well as brilliant quality of packaging. Yet one of the biggest things OKHTEIN mentioned was their budget calculations. “Every 6 months we do a budget calculation to know how much we spent so we can know what to cut in the next budget. One of the biggest things we spent money on is marketing and advertising. We gained popularity through our unique campaigns on a local and international standard.” With Mounaz’s love for advertising and expertise, they developed a unique way to publicize their brand on a recognizable high note.
OKHTEIN’s journey has been one inspiring roller coaster ride. Their dedication to their dream has proven that nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself and truly exert an unlimited amount of effort to put you out there. OKHTEIN has definitely proven that true success lies within those who believe in themselves. They have become true models for a leading generation and a real example of the saying “Hard work pays off.” To them this doesn’t only apply to their brand and company but also on a much personal level. Individually, they have grown to develop stronger qualities that blossomed through their journey.
Says Mounaz, “Things can’t easily break me; we work as hard as we can for the women in our family. I don’t want to grow my company for me; I want it to grow for my family, to secure a legacy.”