October 15, 2020 04:25 PM | by Mai Atef
Scarabaeus Sacer: We Use Fashion to Raise Awareness & Promote Social Issues
Perhaps it is the first time that I have found a fashion brand this interested in raising awareness about societal issues and highlighting them in a distinctive way through their pieces. That’s why Scarabaeus Sacer stood out with their work for social advocacy and raising awareness for mental health, discriminatioin and empowering women. There’s also an eco-friendly sustainable brand where ‘ethics meets fashion’ and so I was really excited to talk to their founders about their work and cause.
1. Who are the founders of Scarabaeus Sacer? Did your studies influence the idea of establishing this brand?
Scarabaeus Sacer was founded in late 2018 by myself, May Kassem, and my husband and co-founder Ali El Nawawi. I am a Psychologist by training and I worked in the family business for a few years in the garment and textile industry. I always knew that I wanted to pursue a career in mental health due to my passion for understanding the human mind and helping people solve their problems. That’s why Scarabaeus Sacer is also a social advocacy brand, in addition to being eco-friendly and sustainable. I found that people of all ages, genders, nationalities, religions and so forth are a lot more similar than they are different. Throughout my 15+ years of experience working in schools, psychiatric hospitals and clinics, I came to realize that everyone wants to feel a sense of significance and belonging, and to find a way to contribute to the world around them. Yet, many struggle to do so. Which is why, along with my co-founder, we decided to use fashion as a tool to raise awareness and promote important social issues.
My co-founder Ali El Nawawi is a medical doctor by training who moved from medicine to sustainable development and worked in a variety of United Nations agencies all over the world. He also received his Master’s degree in Public Health from LSE in London. He also has a passion for social impact and human development, but found that the only way to do this was to start his own business and begin making a difference where he can. His interest has always been to focus on the marginalized people of society and give them a voice. Ali’s work with refugees, migrants, Bedouins in Sinai, trafficked workers, and the underprivileged gave him a unique perspective into the experience of human suffering and what can be done on the macro societal level.
2. How did the idea to establish an environmentally friendly and sustainable brand come about?
The idea of Scarabaeus Sacer has been in the making since 2005 when Ali found that there were no Egyptian fashion brands out there in the market that were of high quality and affordable. That dream was put on hold and finally began to happen again in 2018 when all the stars aligned for us. The idea for creating a streetwear fashion brand that’s ethical and sustainable came from the frustration we had when Ali and I wanted to find eco-friendly clothes to wear. There was nothing in the Egyptian market that was sustainable, fashionable, affordable, high quality and made in Egypt.
So we decided to start our own brand that can provide this for customers using one of the best fabrics in the world, Egyptian cotton. And to add to the sustainability of the brand we decided to use organic Egyptian cotton, which is not only better for the environment but also for the famers, workers and customers. Looking at what’s happened in the past few months because of COVID and the trends in the fashion industry, it is obvious that the only way forward is for brands to adopt more sustainable practices and offer consumers more eco-friendly options. In fact, many young shoppers globally are now DEMANDING this from brands and big fashion houses like D&G are moving into sustainability.
3. What types of clothing do Scarabaeus Sacer offer?
Scarabaeus Sacer is a streetwear fashion brand that produces garments out of 100% organic Egyptian cotton and all our materials (inks, dyes, fabrics, etc.) are GOTS certified. We use no single use plastic in our supply chain, our packaging is recycled and recyclable, and our manufacturing facility is certified as Fair Trade, Demeter, Oeko-Tex among others. Our pieces represent streetwear fashion and consist of graphic and basic t-shirts, polo t-shirts and dresses. They are so versatile and inter-changeable that they can be worn casually in the morning, dressed up for a hip work outfit or even spruced up for a night out.
4. Many social issues have been highlighted through the brand. Tell us about the issues that you present through the clothes?
As I mentioned before our brand is all about social advocacy, promoting the UN SDG’s and shedding light on important social and environmental issues. Our first collection ‘Mind, Body & Soul’ was raising awareness for mental health and well-being. Our second collection, due to come out in October, is called ‘Clandestino’ and this one is raising awareness for discrimination, social justice and inclusion.
5. How do you turn fashion into an art form, to be a source of inspiration and empowerment for women in society?
Our designs are carefully and lovingly chosen from our amazingly talented designers. We have a group of independent Egyptian artists that we partner with, that are all over the world. Some of their art is inspired by struggles that they have personally gone through, and others are representative of the thematic collections we put out there. We choose them when we feel something because we want each piece in our collections to be a conversation starter. We want people to buy our clothes because it speaks to something they feel inside but sometimes struggle to express. Our aim is for our brand to instigate discussion around these important social issues and thereby raise awareness for topics that we tend to be too shy or scared to talk about. At Scarabaeus Sacer we always say that we’re creating a movement, and we want each customer to not just buy a t-shirt but to also be part of that movement.
6. The collection ‘Mind, Body & Soul’ focused on mental health, can you tell us more about it?
The Mind, Body & Soul collection is all about raising awareness for mental health and well-being. We believe that mental health is essential to every person’s existence. If you are not able to work through your suffering and understand yourself to become a contributing member of society, then the whole planet will lose. And who of us hasn’t faced some kind of mental health issue? The designs in this collection are colorful, edgy and vibrant. We tackle depression, anxiety, eating disorders, women’s empowerment, and so much more and we deliver messages of hope through the designs.
7. You raise awareness on the importance of mental health. How do you do this based on your studies and with establishing Scarabaeus Sacer?
Raising awareness about mental health is one of my personal life missions and I am lucky enough to be able to pursue it through having a brand like Scarabaeus Sacer. Besides the collections that we put out we also try to promote this topic through our social media pages as well as through awareness campaigns. Recently we launched ‘Difficult Dialogues’ where we hosted real people with real struggles ranging from gender discrimination, physical disability, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, blindness, bullying and self-confidence. We had some amazing guests on our show and were lucky enough to have celebrity Tara Emad come share her story with us as well. We intend on having the second edition of these dialogues with the launch of our upcoming ‘Clandestino’ collection.
8. Bringing awareness to the environmental issues the world is facing is extremely important, in order to show people how harmful plastic use is. Tell us about the materials used for Scarabaeus Sacer?
With our brand we do our best to be as eco-friendly as possible, from our product to our packaging to our manufacturing processes. We also try to raise awareness for the importance of sustainability in fashion as well as in our daily lives. There is very little knowledge, especially in Egypt, about the harms of using plastic or materials like polyester on our environment. Many people don’t even know that the fashion industry is the 2nd biggest polluter on the planet! Mass production and consumption has resulted in landfills of waste that is not biodegradable and ends up causing a huge amount of pollution. Plastic gets thrown into the oceans where it kills sea life and contaminates the water. Production facilities that use materials that are not eco-friendly end up using an excessive amount of water for farming and manufacturing and don’t even have any water recycling systems in place. Each one of these polluters is slowly eating away at our planet and will impact each and every one of us.
Many people aren’t aware that using sustainable materials like organic cotton is actually better for your skin and respiration because there are no chemicals or pesticides used in the making of these fabrics. In addition, it’s also safer for the farmers and factory workers that are exposed to these fabrics. So there is a lot of awareness that needs to happen because really the only way that big brands, or what we call ‘fast fashion’, is going to get better is by consumers DEMANDING better practices and more eco-friendly products. We actually just launched another awareness campaign, ‘The Green Room’, where we’re hosting sustainable bloggers, brands and industry experts to talk about the importance of sustainable fashion and how it can be achieved.
9.You talked about a lot of societal issues on Instagram, with people who have gone through these problems. Share with us your experience in providing assistance to the community and empowering women?
It has been so rewarding talking to so many inspirational people through our awareness campaigns and I feel honored and privileged that they have shared with us their stories. We were keen on having ‘real’ people in our sessions because we wanted the listeners to be able to relate, to realize that perhaps some of the struggles that they go through on a daily basis are more common than they think. We wanted to highlight authentic and inspirational stories that might not necessarily have a happy ending but that simply bring awareness to the importance of our mental health and well-being. I am honestly thrilled that we are able to expand our function as a fashion brand and also operate as a platform for advocacy and awareness. If it were up to me I would have those ‘Difficult Dialogues’ every day!
10.The Scarabaeus Sacer brand makes donations to charities from their financial revenue. Could you tell us a bit more about that side of the brand?
As part of our social responsibility and Ali and I’s desire to maximize the social impact we can have as a brand, we also give back. We partnered with Very Nile, an organization that does amazing work in raising awareness for the environment and having many clean ups of the Nile and other areas around Egypt. Our aim is to partner with relevant organizations/entities that work on the themes of our collections so that collectively we can be stronger in supporting these important issues.
Main Image Credits: Instagram @scarabaeusacer
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