By Claire Davenport
May Kassem ’05 isn’t afraid to make a statement. Her brand, Scarabaeus Sacer, offers a green alternative to mainstream or fast fashion while raising awareness of social issues such as mental health.
The brand name refers to the ancient Egyptian scarab beetle, which is a symbol of rebirth and resurrection. And true to the name, Kassem is on a mission to revitalize Egypt’s fashion scene. Kassem started Scarabaeus Sacer in 2018 with her husband Ali El Nawawi, looking to create positive impact while drawing on her background in psychology as well as her corporate experience. The brand was incubated by the AUC Venture Lab.
“I always speak very highly of my time at AUC,” she said. “Combining your studies with extracurricular activities really shapes who you are funding, sponsorship and marketing — even with things as simple as knowing how to present and pitch your ideas,” she said.
Sustainability isn’t just one factor, Kassem said. It’s a combination of strategies to treat labor fairly and equitably, find materials locally, use eco-friendly resources, mitigate carbon emissions, reduce water and energy consumption, and make sure that every part of a product is sustainably sourced.
Scarabaeus Sacer has a transparent supply chain so consumers can see how their clothes are made from farm to closet. “Customers are able to scan a QR code, which will take them to an app where they can see images of every single part of the manufacturing process,” Kassem said. “We also reduce waste by using everything that comes out of production, even the scraps.”
For Kassem, a big part of the shift into an eco-friendly fashion future needs to be consumer-driven. “Consumers have the power to say no to unsustainable products and should also be on the lookout for certifications such as Fairtrade and Global Organic Textile Standard,” campaigning through in-person events and live talks to bring this information to the forefront.”
The Scarabaeus Sacer team is working to make its brand even more eco-conscious by experimenting with new inks and dyes sourced from veggies, fruits and other natural resources, as well as finding more sustainable packaging options and continuing to upcycle its lines.
In addition to sustainable fashion, a big part of Scarabaeus Sacer’s advocacy work focuses on destigmatizing social issues. Their pilot collection was called “Mind, Body & Soul,” focusing on mental health and well-being.
As Kassem noted, “If people walk down the street wearing one of our designs and someone says, ‘Oh what’s that about?’ — it starts a discussion on anxiety, depression, gender equality and discrimination.”
Kassem is excited to watch the conscientious fashion movement grow in Egypt. “Every year, we see more people interested in living sustainably and having eco-friendly options. There is a demand, and now there is a supply. This is just how fashion has to be,” she said.