SAQHOUTE: The Adventure of Slow Fashion
Saqhoute is a region in Nubia. Saqhoute is a type of date fruit. ‘saqhoute’ is also a leading fashion brand pioneering the concept of slow fashion in Egypt and the region.
Pronounced ‘saqoot,’ the name is derived from fashion designer Norhan El Sakkout’s last name, in part to thank her family for being her support system and inspiration, and in part to signify her “heritage, culture and original roots.” ‘saqhoute’ is also with a lowercase ‘S’ because it was important to Norhan to “draw the attention away from myself and actually give it a new meaning.”
From a young age, Norhan found herself drawn to the artistic side of fashion rather than to the industry itself, which was apparent through her collection of clothes she found in the closets of her mother and grandmother that were still in great condition. Her collection grew and came to encapsulate new clothing Norhan bought herself as well as clothing from the 80s which used to belong to her mom and ones from the 70s passed down by her grandmother.
The interest further sparked around the time Norhan turned 15 and designed a dress, her very first dress, for her school’s proms.
But the clear passion and devotion, Norhan felt, was still lacking a little bit of know-how.
“I had always felt that I have a missing piece of knowledge that would help me build the brand that would represent what I stand for, what inspires me and where I come from,” she said.
The solution: An MA in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship in Fashion at Goldsmiths, University of London, during which Norhan built the prototype of what is now saqhoute. It wasn’t only theoretical knowledge that Norhan gained in London though, as during her stay she got to work with a lot of London-based designers and interned for one of the most coveted fashion events in the world, London Fashion Week.
Wasting no time after returning to Cairo, Norhan launched saqhoute with an AW18 collection in September 2018.
“I always view Saqhoute as a manifestation of a self-discovery journey that draws inspiration from local culture and heritage, is dedicated to ambitious and modern women while being conscious of the issues of climate change and environmental degradation we currently face on a global level,” she described the brand.
Norhan’s environmental and cultural awareness became one of the standout aspects about saqhoute: Its effort to promote slow fashion.
“To me, clothes were never consumable,” Norhan said, “Some of our greatest rewards as a sustainable fashion brand is how people across our supply chain respond to what we do.”
However, calling for a slow fashion movement is not easy when the resources around the fashion industry do not necessarily understand the cause.
“I always knew it would be challenging to set up a slow fashion brand in Egypt and start convincing people to buy differently.”
Some of the struggles that saqhoute faced in persevering in the journey to slow fashion included finding 100% locally sourced sustainable material.
“Currently, we try and focus on locally sourced material that has the majority of its components made out of wool, cotton or linen),” Norhan said.
Materials aside, though, saqhoute has ensured that even if they cannot guarantee that the material is 100% sustainable, they “ensured that [they] created something sustainable and conscious regardless of the material available in the local market and with the commitment to continuously improve the fabric selection we are making.”
Existing in the world of e-commerce has an additional challenge to sustainability. “Couriering in Egypt still did not pick up wasteless approaches to delivering packages safely when it comes to online shopping,” Norhan said.
Instead, the brand tries to use their own reusable canvas totes to replace wasteful plastic or paper bags. However, with online shopping and shipping, they “end up using craft-paper envelopes to work around the issue of plastic-use in packaging.”
While saqhoute tries to address this by being transparent with their customer-base about their products and their life-cycle, there is still a gap in the market for a sustainable courier service that caters to sustainable brands.
Another challenge is also the fact that slow fashion is a new concept in Egypt.
“We have to bring awareness to our clients and stakeholders about what it means to be a sustainable fashion brand, why our items end up being more costly than mass-produced products,” Norhan said.
The brand tackles this by bring awareness to the concept of a ‘capsule wardrobe,’ which is the concept that “any person can live comfortably with a total of 30 items in their closet including shoes, bags and accessories,” which ends up saving money for the customer on the long-run.
“We set out to create timeless pieces that can last for generations and recreate the concept of clothes being high in quality, versatile and lasting in design to the extent that you can pass it on to younger generations, hence not having the clothes end up in landfills.”
saqhoute constantly tries to shed awareness on that by creating versatile and timeless pieces. This is evident in the Arabesque Skirt with an adjustable zipper for length, making the skirt work for several events.
“However, the fact that I have a customer base who roots for saqhoute constantly and recognizes the timelessness of our pieces is irreplaceable,” Norhan said.
“Another aspect I am very grateful for is the fact that I sparked the interest of people who didn’t really know what it meant to be a sustainable fashion brand and having members of our audience slide in our DMs on social media to ask the right questions is also priceless.”
Norhan insists on maintaining the slow fashion approach because she enjoys “being able to wake up every day and know that I am contributing to a cause that binds us all.”
Besides the struggles relating to sustainability, like any fashion brand, saqhoute faces some artistic challenges as well.
Norhan said that her Capsule 2.0 collection was the most difficult to create because she found it stressful to follow up her highly successful first collection, fearing that she may not be able to deliver the same standard and also having to integrate both the negative and positive feedback she received on her first collection.
“Imposter syndrome at its finest, I would say,” she said.
Capsule 3.0, however, was her favorite to create after developing a stronger vision and becoming more comfortable with the brand aesthetic and identity.
“I had an inkling at what would work best and solidify the image of the brand, yet bring something novel to what we are doing,” she said, “I was also very excited about the fabric selection we were able to make, be it from a quality side or the fact that we were able to incorporate more linen, cotton and wool in our collection.”
Next up is Capsule 4.0.
“For this collection we actually collaborated with a very creative architect and friend who lives, works and studied in Italy,” she said, “The value and experience she added to this collection is very exciting since architecture is our main source of inspiration. That’s all I will be saying for now but stay tuned for what’s to come”
Past Capsule 4.0, though, Norhan said she wants to continue improving the sustainability efforts and awareness of the brand, continue making collaborations, further grow their international presence and hopefully creating their own flagship store.