Lebanon’s Sarah’s Bag has achieved what precious few designer labels have; to fuse fashion with a social conscience.
From humble beginnings, Sarah’s Bag has grown into a fashion phenomenon whose unique, hand-made handbags grace first ladies, royalty and film stars in the Middle East as well as internationally.
Having written her thesis paper on women in prison in Lebanon, founder Sarah Beydoun, realised she could combine her interest in bettering underprivileged women’s lives with her love of fashion.
“Interacting with the women in prison, and witnessing how every day would go by without them achieving something that makes them feel useful, inspired me to start up “Sarah’s Bag” and to give them a thread of hope and contribute in making their lives productive."
Every couple of weeks, Sarah and her assistants bag up cloth, beads and cotton thread, along with a photo of how they want it sewn together, and post them to some 40 women held in Lebanon’s two main women’s prisons in the mountainous central city of Baabda and the northern port town of Tripoli.
The women are all paid for their work and many who have since left prison, continue sewing at home, teaching friends and relatives their newfound skills. All in all, around 150 women now work for Sarah’s Bag.
Focusing on the idea is not only to give them meaning but to make them independent.
Many of the vulnerable women both inside prison and outside who are working for Sarah’s Bag come from the lower socio economic strata of society and have faced hardships.
Fatima, one of Sarah’s workers, said both her father and her fiancée had abused her. “I was engaged to a man who raped me. I could not bear what he had done to me. One night, when he came to hurt me again, I shot him,” she says. “It is something I do not regret doing.”
Today Fatima supervises a team of seamstresses in her village and her job has helped her get back on her feet.
“These women proved to themselves and to their families and society that they are worth being given a second chance,” said Beydoun.
As for the women who wear Sarah’s Bag, Beydoun simply said: “I believe that they wear it as a statement: That they are women of the world who believe in the woman of today.”