Sara was born in Cairo, Egypt, and then travelled to study in Germany, Japan, and the UK. She was always passionate about fashion and developed her style by finding unique pieces during her travels. Her demand for unique vintage-inspired pieces was not met when she returned to Egypt, so she decided she would take matters into her own hands, quit her consulting job, and launch Zakeia.
Zakeai has multiple meanings in the spoken street style of Arabic; it means Smart and as a smart woman.
In properly written Arabic it translates as something good. It is an ancient female Arabic name that is no longer used, but the brand is named after my grandma, who had an impeccable sense of style.
What was the inspiration behind creating the brand, Zakeia?
I was always passionate about fashion, finding high-quality products and vintage products in hidden allies during my travels and living abroad. During Covid, I was back in Cairo, and I missed seeing unique feminine products that fit my style. All that was available were the huge fast-fashion retailers that have a significant impact on the environment and strip away any unique voice or sense of style you might have. I am personally an introvert, and I feel that the way I dress speaks for my personality.
Pollution and waste, especially plastic waste, are considerable problems in Egypt that you notice daily.
So, I wanted to create a brand that celebrates uniqueness and individuality, but at the same time, the brand is environmentally conscious, especially about the waste issue.
I felt that using luxury deadstock fabric to create unique limited edition pieces balances both issues.
Can you explain to us what makes Zakeia so unique?
Well, we have many unique one-of-a-kind items, and we source fantastic fabric that is truly unique. Zakeia has a feminine vintage sense of style. However, you can dress and style the pieces in so many ways. They are pieces that you can wear every day and that you will get so much wear of. When I purchase or make myself something from Zakeia I enjoy knowing that only maybe three other people in this world will have the same item and some items. I am the only person who has it.
What does “high quality, slow fashion” look like and mean to you as a founder and brand?
We produce about 50 pieces a month or sometimes less; this means that we focus on the fit and quality of stitching. We also receive deadstock fabric from high-quality Parisian fabric sellers, and a lot of this fabric is from luxury Parisian couture houses.
As a founder, I want my clients to wear the items for years and then pass them on to their daughters/sons. So design timeless pieces that are not trend-driven and ensure that quality will allow the items to last this long.
Did you experience any difficulties or roadblocks in creating Zakeia? How did you overcome them?
Of course, where to start? I did not study fashion design. In the beginning, I worked with many pattern makers that ruined beautiful fabric. Still, I am a very determined person, and I was sure that I would be able to find the right pattern maker, and when I did, we used this beautiful fabric that was essentially ruined pants and created jackets with stitching in them.
Waste is something we do not tolerate at Zakeia, so even if we mess things up, we make sure to turn it around.
Another roadblock is making people, especially in Egypt, understand the issue with fast fashion and how much waste they are producing. People buy crazy amounts of clothes that last for about a season, and then they throw them away; educating people about those wasteful habits is still a work in progress.
Lastly, as a small sustainable brand, being financially viable is still a work in progress. We produce very small amounts and have a lot of fixed costs, so going around and finding innovative, new ways to expand our product range but keeping fixed costs intact is also a work in progress.
How do you see your brand fitting within the fashion market?
I feel that the fashion market in Europe has evolved. A lot of people have an appreciation for sustainable brands, and they search for them. However, it is still developing in Egypt. The goal for Zakeia is not to produce thousands of garments but to produce a wider variety of items, meaning we started experimenting with deadstock swimwear fabric this month. We are going to introduce men’s shirts also using deadstock fabric, of course. The fashion market is overcrowded with fast fashion brands standing out, so it is challenging to gain visibility. Still, the goal for Zakeia is to attract the right people who have the same mission.
We’d love to hear your opinion on the big-name brands like H&M, Boohoo etc. and that recent “greenwashing” that we have seen?
Let me tell you a story; recently, an influencer approached me to collaborate with Zakeia. She was passionate about sustainable fashion, but I quickly learned that she promoted H&M. She said that people would continue shopping at H&M; however, she wanted to highlight the better option of supporting their “green section”.
I feel the issue here is that having a “conscious” section provides consumers with an excuse to continue supporting big-name fast fashion brands. The problem with those brands is the bigger picture and everything they stand for.
They will rely on studies that measure “their sustainable impact” of using certain fabrics for T-shirts that use x amount less water than other materials. But this would be nothing in comparison to how much damage they are doing. It surprises me that people believe that a company like H&M is going to be sustainable. It also takes away from what other “real” sustainable T-shirt companies like Concioustee, are doing. It takes away their credibility, and also from a pricing point, people will compare an H&M “sustainable” T-shirt with a Concioustee T-shirt, and it won’t make financial sense for them. We need to educate consumers about this greenwashing phenomenon, which ultimately has a minimal, positive impact.
Where do you see the future of eco-fashion? How does Zakeia fit into that?
Eco-fashion, due to its limited quantities of items, allows the consumer to be much more expressive. The challenge with eco-fashion is gaining visibility. Fast fashion brands are enormous with huge budgets; they are everywhere, so they embed themselves in people’s brains, and it is very hard to change behaviour like that.
If you are not a person that is actively conscious about their shopping habits and how they affect the environment and you need a dress, a suit etc., you automatically think of Zara or H&M, for example.
The problem is that sustainable brands are not as visible nor as affordable. Fast fashion is cheap; they produce vast amounts of products and have economies of scale.
It is hard for sustainable brands to compete with that because it goes against the ethos of sustainable brands.
They do not want to sell vast amounts of items; the idea is that people understand that buying a garment is like an investment. You want to get to wear this new item for years and years to come. To change people’s behaviour, I feel like eco-fashion brands need to do a lot of educating. I think that sustainable brands will not remain a small niche in the fashion industry’s future; however, you will find a lot of smaller brands catering to a variety of niches.
Zakeia will always cater to people who are looking for high-quality fabric with a feminine vintage style.
What are three things we can all do today to enjoy fashion a little more sustainably?
- The best thing is to think of ten different outfits that you would style the item with. Items have to be from your wardrobe. If you can come up with ten outfits on the spot, you will get enough wear out of the garment, and you are not just buying a trendy item that you will wear once and forget about.
- Look for sustainable brands; so many tackle different issues such as waste, chemical dyes, plastics, etc.
- Shop vintage/second-hand or repurpose your items too. There are many DIY videos on youtube, or if you are busy, take your item to a tailor and ask them to remove sleeves, crop a top, tighten a skirt or even cut and sew two different fabrics together. This way, you can create new one-of-a-kind items out of already existing materials.