In the heart of Cairo, at the end of a long alley paved with cobblestones, two young women arch their backs over an orange belt bag centred on the table. They exchange thoughts and contemplate the bag from all angles. After a look of mutual agreement and a subtle exchange of nods, they announce the bag ready to see the light of day.
Little did they know that only few weeks later, the same exact bag would nod back at them while positioned on the waist of Queen Bey!
Aya and Mounaz Abdelraouf are two Egyptian designers that have taken their bags and the local craftsmanship invested in each of them to the international frontline. Okhtein, which could be translated to sisters, is a locally-made brand that currently has an international fan base.
After winning the Vouge Fashion Prize and gaining a permanent location at many renowned department stores around the world, the girls achieved another breakthrough earlier this month, when Beyonce chose to post a series of images on her personal Instagram account while wearing their belt bag.
In a matter of minutes, the queen’s post garnered a couple of million likes and thousands of comments. While many Arab media entities and fans of the brand rushed to congratulate the girls, many international followers started double tapping the brand’s previous posts.
The highly celebrated performer is known for documenting her fashion finds on Instagram through weekly posts of her outfits. In the recent couple of months, Beyonce has picked several regional brands, which, reported by media sources, have sold out the same model seen on Queen B in less than few days. Nonetheless, Okhtein is the first Egyptian brand to make an appearance on the celebrity’s account.
Daily News Egypt talked with the Abdelraouf sisters to discuss the undeniable global Queen Bey obsession, celebrity endorsement and the right ways to take local brands to far-away continents.
How did you manage to add Beyonce to your list of fans?
We emailed her stylist a few months ago showing her our Palmette Flower Brass Minaudière. She loved it; however, that was where the communication stopped at the time.
Two months later, we were completely surprised by her Instagram post; flaunting our belt bag. Turns out, the stylist bought it from Shop Curve, a boutique in LA, without any interference from our side! Despite our previous communication, this was pure luck.
We later emailed her stylist and thanked her for purchasing our bag, her reply was “You are welcome, THANK YOU!”
We still have a feeling that she might request a special, limited edition for Beyonce.
What makes Beyonce the perfect selection for a local brand?
She is Queen B; she is the perfect selection for anything and everything. We have always been obsessed with her force, even when we used to listen to Destiny’s Child as kids.
She is literally one of the strongest women out there. It is a dream come true to have her wear our bag and not only wear it; but, also post an entire series about it!
Few international publications have previously claimed that brands seen on Beyonce’s IG often sell out within hours from the post, to what extent can you confirm this as a fact?
The belt bag was already out of stock by the time she posted; just our mere luck once again. Nonetheless, we did get a lot of requests and reposts, which was great!
Being an Egyptian brand is a helping factor or an obstacle when addressing international celebrities?
It is the way you present being an Egyptian brand that determines if this could be a supporting factor or the other way around. When we write to these stylists, we always try to make Egypt sound and look interesting.
For example, we label ourselves as “North-African Based Brand”; meanwhile, we describe our design aesthetic as “Old Cairo Gone Modern”; furthermore, we also address our bags as “A Little Bit of Egyptian History through Carry-able art” and so on and so forth.
Regional celebrities versus international renowned names, which is more effective in terms of awareness and sales? How does each reflect on the brand?
Regional celebrities always help out with a big jump in terms of followers on Instagram; meanwhile, they also bring more brand awareness in the MENA region. They highly reflect on online sales.
International renowned names are always great for our PR as well as strengthening our brand identity. It is very efficient in terms of sales; however, they often lead to wholesale deals with big retailers; such as Bloomingdales, Selfridges, etc.
They further appeal to international markets, which naturally leads to opening up great opportunities off shores.
Bloggers are a new international craze. Can a blogger placement substitute another from a celebrity?
They are completely different and have different followings. We reach out to bloggers when we are trying to have one of our bags worn by a stylish blogger, which usually have a very unique sense of style.
We do it in order for people to see how to style Okhtein differently. Celebrities, usually have a different following. Their fan base is far more commercial; given the nature of their job, be it a singer, an icon or a famous model. So we always try to target both.
Your brand has already celebrated many renowned celebrity endorsements in a relatively short period of time, how far has this helped position the brand where it is today?
It has certainly helped out a lot! It made us the hottest up and coming brand in the MENA region. It has also helped out in terms of having our brand name reach big stores, investors, bloggers and clients worldwide.
Would you attribute a part of the brand’s success to celebrity endorsements?
Every single factor, every single endorsement, every single employee is an attribution to the brand’s success. It is a cycle you see?
You cannot give credits to the celebrity wearing the bag without actually giving more credit to all the hard work and hard-working people, who created this bag.
Out of all the celebrities, which one had the biggest impact on the brand?
All celebrities and bloggers have had a big impact on the brand and we are super thankful for that. Of course, Beyonce’s post created a major buzz; but, we like to give equal credit to everyone who has helped Okhtein reach where it is today.
Can a brand depend on celebrities solely without any regards to costumer word of mouth, media coverage, on ground showcase, etc?
Not true. Any given brand has to depend on solid ground before reaching out to celebrities. Strong brands require integrity, good quality, and excellent customer service; all before contemplating celebrity endorsement. With that said, supportive clients are what makes a brand.
Where would you like to see your bags next?
We are always keen on surprising people!