Controversies surround women’s prisons in Lebanon; human rights abuses, lack of governmental support for affected children and accusations of mismanagement are but some of the challenges faced by the incarcerated. Hope to some victims of the system comes in the form of Dar el Amal (House of Hope), a charity founded in 1970 which supports vulnerable children and carries out reformative programs for ex-prostitutes and prisoners.
In the year 2000, master’s student Sarah Beydoun, set up the company Sarah’s Bag. Inspired by Dar al Amal’s work and its beneficiaries, she decided to merge her love of fashion with her desire to have a positive impact upon some of Lebanon’s marginalised. Sarah’s Bag offers many women the opportunity to reintegrate into society with a sense of purpose, dignity, confidence and independence they may have lost. Five of her designers have published their stories online – despite their horrifying experiences, their accounts are inspirational and reaffirm the belief that reformation in such cases have no bounds. “…I now supervise a team of seamstresses in my village. No one can look down on me for being an ex-prisoner” says Fatima.
Ethically sound, Sarah’s bag offers unique designs made by hand. Influences are drawn from Arab culture, pop art and calligraphy. Thirteen years ago she set up a little stall in down-town Beirut with 13 bags. Now she finds herself in Vogue, Bazaar and on the Parisian runways.