Turath is tucked away, just south of 26 July Street, on Hassan Sabry in Zamalek. Its glass storefront and sleek white shelves allow it to blend in with its Zamalek surroundings, but wood flooring, a rocking chair and piles of rural crafts give it an honest and homey feel.
“It is a place where people can come in and relax, even if they do not buy anything,” said owner Nada Nossier. “A place where you can get away from the noisy streets of Cairo and look at all the beauty of Egyptian art.”
Turath is filled, but not cluttered. “I wanted to have a place where you can buy everything that is handmade in Egypt, but different than the other craft shops.” Nossier selected every item in the shop, even helping to design some of the signature scarves that are the centerpiece of the store. This personal touch adds the feel of a boutique to a store that is equal parts fashion, culture and social awareness.
One thing that makes it unique is the care that is taken with display; something Nossier learned while taking courses in museum studies in Florence. “You learn how to display things, so that stuff pops out. I want people to see the scarves for the craft that they are, not just a fashion accessory. I also like to tell the story, that these are people that you are helping, you are helping a community.”
The story of Turath starts with Nossier’s mother. She was successful in a family business but she wanted to give something back to Egypt. A friend of hers recommended she take a trip to the village of Naqata. The village is located eight hours south of Cairo and the villagers are famous for the weaving they have been doing for over a millennia.
Nossier’s mother started bringing back scarves and selling them to friends and family and before long, the Industrial Modernisation Centre asked her to represent Naqata at international trade fairs. Around this time, Nada joined her mother in the new family business. The opening of Turath this week is the latest iteration of the company.
Though Turath has sent Nossier to locations such as New York, Dubai and Milan, its heart is still in Naqata. Said Nossier, “it is run down and there is a lot of work to be done on the infrastructure but the people are extremely giving and hospitable. When you are walking down a side street, people who do not know you will call out itfadaly to invite you for a cup of tea.”
Nossier worries about the craft of weaving. “There are only 48 weavers left in Naqata, both women and men.” The young generation has little interest in weaving, which used to be a family business where everyone would take their turn at the household loom; now they prefer to work in the tourism industry. Nossier and her mother are looking for funding to establish a training centre where a new generation of weavers can be trained.
Presently Turath has relationships with a few suppliers and other weavers that they work with directly. This is not always easy said Nossier; “one thing you learn is that common sense is not always common. Something that seems beautiful to me may seem very plain to them. But when I ask for a design, and it sells, they think, ‘maybe she knows what she’s talking about.’”
Nossier loves working on designs with the villagers. “When I see my friend put on a scarf I designed, it makes it all worthwhile. You see something you did, someone else gets enjoyment and the money gets put to good use.”
In addition to the scarves from Naqata, the shop has jewelry from Dendera, and napkin holders from Hegaza. It has a line of books from AUC press and baskets from Dakhla Oasis. Some of Nossier’s favourite products are the batiks from the Ramses Wissa Wassef Centre. Nossier said the serenity of Wissa Wassef is something she is trying to replicate with her shop. The batik works are large cloths where the artist drips hot wax in a design and then dips the cloth into different dyes for colouring. Nossier is in awe of the skill this takes. “You need to work so fast, and have a plan for your entire design ahead of time.”
Turath blends the care and thought of museum displays with the intricate brilliance of ageless craftwork, a perfect oasis for a shopper in Cairo and celebrates the opening with a gala on Wednesday from 6-10pm.