Walking around the London Showrooms, one brand immediately jumps out and chatting with co-founder Ahmed Sabry makes clear why. He, and his partner Daki Marouf, the Egyptian duo behind luxury accessories brand, Sabry Marouf, are on a mission. “There’s a story we want to tell about ancient Egypt. The brand is all about our homeland!” says Sabry, passionately, standing among a selection of exquisite leather bags resembling iconic Egyptian scarab beetles, gleaming with lush gold hardware.
Full of steely determination, they started the brand in 2011, in the middle of the Egyptian revolution. Yet despite the riots and political upheaval, they somehow managed to carve out a business and secure a number of loyal and vital clients along the way. “We set up in 2011 amid the political struggles, putting all the emotion into our collections,” says Sabry. “We sold limited pieces at private events and in tight circles. We were trying the strategy of focusing on the client, and it worked.”
Yet despite their commercial success, they wanted a challenge. “We had it all in Egypt, the clients, the recognition and so on, but we’re complicated people who wanted to challenge ourselves,” Sabry continues. “We wanted to grow personally and expand our accessories, so we decided to do a masters. We moved here at our peak to start again, but maybe it’s the human condition? Where you feel comfortable and things are happening smoothly, you think: what’s next?”
What came next were two separate masters qualifications from the London College of Fashion (LCF), (MA Fashion Artifact and MA Fashion Entrepreneurship and Innovation) which allowed them to collaborate on their master project (a unique selling point for the university). Since their graduation, LCF has also supported visa applications for the partners who were also endorsed by the Government for the Graduate Entrepreneur scheme to scale up their business out of the UK.
Part of this expansion is securing wholesale clients: the brand have used UKFT Showrooms at Milan and Paris Fashion Week, and are stocked in London’s Wolf and Badger. However, for now their hearts lie in direct to consumer, with much of their focus going into their online store: “We think it’s the best as we already have these strong clients that we’ve kept since 2011 — some are in the US, Dubai, Cairo, and the Middle East — and we really try to cater to them, as it’s really important to keep a client nowadays.”
“The whole idea of Egyptology is about recovering things about from my past and my ancestors, yet we feel that ancient Egypt is quite universal.”
Part of retaining a client also falls to the story a brand creates, and Sabry Marouf combine their artisanal craft production with a strong sense of authentic identity. As Sabry shows off the timessless bags inspired by cultural motifs from his homeland he continues: “The whole idea of Egyptology is about recovering things about from my past and my ancestors, yet we feel that ancient Egypt is quite universal — everybody can relate to it, even if you don’t truly know it.”
The brand works with suppliers and manufacturers in Italy and Spain, and for details like handles they source woods such as olive, paddock and coconut in North Africa, as well as in Egypt. Yet in terms of production, it’s clear they are also trying to push boundaries: “We try to do some processes in Egypt because we want to move back there eventually. So much knowledge and machinery has been lost so we want to learn these things and take them back to our community— in 10 years maybe — to educate and give job opportunities over there, because in the end, our story is about Egypt.”
Ultimately though, in addition to their story-telling, what makes Sabry Marouf special in the luxury world is the sheer beauty of design with integrity. “We’re taking the luxury route and trying to create bags with really unique personalities - we’re not into creating things just to sell. We have a very unique story-telling and we’re also asking for a very specific price,” Sabry says referring to price points which include £580, £750, £1,100 (he points out that the latter plexi-resin piece is made in Italy and produced in runs of only five).
And for the future, they, like many brands, are looking for ways to keep their business sustainable. “We are now exploring how we can move out of leather,” he says surprisingly. “Even though our manufacturers are entirely sustainable and traceable, in time we want to step completely out of our plastic and leathers, and move more into natural materials like wood and stone. This can only add to our hope to connect people to the past, ancient Egypt is quite universal after all.”