“Bridging the gap between fashion, social and environmental awareness”
May Kassem and Ali Al Nawawi, co-founded Scarabaeus Sacer in 2019, an ethical sustainable fashion brand producing 100% organic Egyptian cotton streetwear. With thematic collections, the label advocates for social and environmental issues and aims for fashion to be a tool to start conversation and raise awareness. In addition, the founders give back to the community through donating a portion of their sales back to marginalized individuals, as well as creating social media campaigns and in-person events to further advocate for the cause. Along with other industry players, they are founding members of the Sustainable Fashion Alliance – MENA, an organization that aims to raise awareness, educate and advocate for sustainable fashion, lifestyle in the MENA region through creating a community of connection and collaboration for both industry players and consumers. In the past three years, the founders are proud to have partnered with some key organizations that aim enhance the sustainable fashion industry, both on a local and global levels, such as Fashion Revolution, UNHCR, Dialogue in the Dark, International Trade Center (ITC), The Community Hub, Ahead of the Curve, 11 Radius, and the Circular Fashion Pledge.
Scarabaeus sacer is the latin name for the ancient Egyptian Scarab beetle, which is considered a sacred and a symbol of re-birth and resurrection. The brand aims to invoke revival and re-birth of the fashion industry; specifically, what is to be ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly. The Scarabaues Sacer team wanted to bridge the gap between conventional or stereotypical ideas about organic fashion with fashion forward, trendy and hip premium fashion. One can be a conscientious consumer and still be fashionable.
The story of the brand began in 2005, when co-founders started Scarabaeus Sacer because they wanted Egypt to compete with other international brands and realized there was a gap in the quality of goods at the time. The brand then was put on hold for personal reasons, and they joined the UN to work in sustainable development. After many years, the co-founders decided to make the difficult decision of leaving the stable and secure life of UN employment and decided to resurrect the brand in 2018. They did this to follow their passion for social impact and personal development, as they were frustrated with the status quo and the lack of effectiveness of big organizations to solve real world problems. Consequently, Scarabaeus Sacer was created as an ethical sustainable streetwear fashion brand that advocates for social and environmental issues from the mental health perspective.
The mission of the organization is to create fashion for healing, to provide an ethical and sustainable option for consumers while at the same time giving them the opportunity to express their feelings through what they wear. To start a conversation and movement about the important social/environmental issues that people tend to shy away from confronting. Scarabaeus Sacer aims to bridge the gap between fashion and mental health.
The organization was founded because they believed there is a large gap between what is currently happening in our world, and what NEEDS to be happening. Fashion is the second biggest polluter on the planet and not enough action is taking place to address it. Since, Egypt has the best cotton in the world and creating products from organic Egyptian cotton provides people with an extremely high-quality product that is kind to the environment as well as good for their skin, respiratory systems, and not harmful to the farmers. The founders started this brand because they felt that their product can compete on the international level and as well as put Egypt on the global map.
The second reason is that the founders felt that it was important to create social impact and individual change. Big organizations tend to be slow, bureaucratic and hindered with political agendas. The founders wanted to take matters into their own hands and do something about the social problems that exist in the world today. May Kassem, a psychologist, came to realize that one of the biggest hindrances to healing, whether it be on the individual or societal levels, is the misinformation and lack of understanding/awareness that people have towards mental illness. The stigma and discrimination that exist towards those that struggle with mental illness is one of the biggest reasons that people upon finishing treatment and ready to re-join society are met with such a lack of empathy, that their illness is re-triggered, leading to a vicious cycle of illness and unemployment. They felt there is a need for a fashion that heals. Fashion that can drive individual change and societal transformation through starting a conversation and building empathy.
May envisions the brand growing and expanding continuously to embrace sustainability and circularity with innovations and creativity that shocks and inspires. She envisions that the Scarabaeus Sacer movement to grow to the point of making real change happening and affecting how the world works and how people treat each other. She is firm believer that mental health is the basis of all life and through the brand and profession as a therapist and Positive Discipline Educator, she plans to continue to spread awareness and advocate for it.
The founders are proud that they continue to grow as a sustainable fashion brand and moving more into circularity as they just recently released their first circular collection made from almost 100% recycled and up-cycled materials. As a collaboration with the UNHCR, the founders worked with refugee artists to design a collection that advocates for the mental health of refugees and migrants in Egypt. Another partnership is a collaboration with Dialogue in the Dark to raise awareness for the visually impaired and blind. Creating special edition products for the campaign and including a Braille card describing the product within the packaging to facilitate independent shopping for those that are visually impaired and blind.
The founders’ advice to those on the similar journey is not to wait for the perfect moment and the idea is to take the plunge, learn on the job, to enrich oneself and take what works. One of their most important realizations is that along the way is to have a ‘hard shell’, and not to let emotions drive decisions and not let failure keep one down. To continue to learn from one’s mistakes and have the strong belief that it’s not about failure, but its more about figuring out a way to get back up and doing things in a way that builds and improves on lessons learnt. Mainly it is to be passionate about what one does, because that will be the driving factor to achieving one’s vision for a better and kinder living for ourselves and our planet.
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