Small wooden bags with intricate cross-stitching details that bring life and colour to an unconventional material for a bag. These are the signatures of designer Karen Gaballah’s first collection under her brand, BOADK.
Born in Milan, Italy then moving to Egypt with her family at the age of 5, Karen graduated from a French school in Cairo before pursuing a degree in Architecture and Urban Planning from the University of Geneva.
“Since my study-abroad experience, I have been transfixed by the natural beauty that surrounded me all around Switzerland,” she said.
Despite no prior fashion experience, Karen translated her experience and passion for architecture to BOADK, with her roots showing in her choice of material.
“Having always been drawn to the beautiful versatility of the wooden medium, I roped together my love for wood and my passion for creating with my knowledge on how to best make use of material elements,” Karen explained.
“I usually find inspiration in nature; that explains why wood is the base of my brand, I even watch Planet Earth videos to experience the beauty of the forests and jungles.”
BOADK is ultimately the result of cultivating several interests and passions.
“I had started my creative journey in architecture, only to have specialized my interests even further as time passed,” she said, elaborating that her interest in architecture slowly turned into an interest in interior design, “which ultimately turned into product design - one thing led to another, knots seemed to unravel, and finally BOADḰ rose to the surface.”
With an admitted obsession with bags, creating a handbag line seemed like the natural step for Karen.
“I am one of those women who are obsessed with bags and I believe that a bag is a unique outer statement of a women’s status,” she said.
“And I believe too that bags are less likely to go out of style; some designs could truly be timeless. A handbag is an instant outfit boost, it can make a simple outfit chic or a chic outfit more casual. Bags are the biggest statement-makers of an outfit.”
Having fallen in love with the “Materials & Construction” course she took, Karen knew exactly what material she wanted to use for her bags: the “astonishing material that was connecting me to the natural world.”
“I love wood because it can be crafted into functional and beautiful homes, pieces of furniture, décor and more,” she said, “That’s why I had the idea to introduce such an interesting material to fashion.”
“What I love too is that wood varies so much, no two pieces are identical when made of the same wood species which makes every piece unique.”
“What makes the bag more unique is the improvisation created by the ladies cross-stitching the bag regarding the colour scheme match,” she said.
“No one is like the other!”
The cross stitching of the birds on the wood would not have been an easy thought or task for anyone, but drawing on a childhood passion to add on to her travel experience and architecture knowledge, Karen knew that it’s an added detail that will enhance the bags.
“I remember when I was a kid when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was tailoress,” she said, “That’s why I wanted to mix this type of old embroidery with this hard-timeless material to give traditionally nostalgic elements a refreshing modern twist.
The process of marrying two materials that you don’t usually associate with one another is not easy.
“It is a very long, tiring, full of challenges process,” she said.
Karen outlined the main steps, “So, we usually start by choosing the wood, cut it as per our design shapes, treat it so it could be more sustainable, sand it down, stain it and finish it. We send it to be laser cut with our cross-stitch designs and then all bags are sent to housewives and young ladies that takes around 2 to 3 days to finish one single bag.”
“Not to mention the leather work of the bag lining and the gold-plate process of all hardware.”
With such a long process, however, it might often be difficult to stay inspired and motivated throughout.
“To stay inspired is not easy at all, so what I do is, I read a lot of fashion autobiographies like “The Vogue Factor”, “Vivienne Westwood” and “#GIRLBOSS”, I keep watching inspirational speeches and I immerse myself in learning something new that can be an add-on to BOADK,” Karen said.
As a brand inspired and created by the natural world, it should come as no surprise that BOADK gives the natural world the respect and love it deserves by being sustainable and promoting sustainability and slow fashion.
“Slow fashion is important as it focuses on both the social and environmental impact of fashion, it does support the fair labour practices, it reduces the waste, it reduces the pollution, it focuses on quality not quantity, it support the domestic brands, it is eco-friendly,” she said, “This is exactly what I am looking forward for Egypt’s fashion industry future.”
With one collection in the books, the second collection is in the works. Originally planned to launch on the 1st of April 2020, it has been pushed back in order to cope with the worldwide situation we are all experiencing at this time.
Currently, Karen is focusing on creating brand awareness as she believes “this will increase my brand entity.”
“I look forward for interesting collaborations and be part of engaging marketing campaigns.”