Launched right before two big events, Lebanon’s national revolution in 2019 and the global pandemic in 2020, Chaton By Nada has defied odds and grown from strength to strength. Started by Nada Khoury, her handbags have caught the attention, not just of Lebanese women but of women around the world. Taking a skill that so many women around the world can identify with, Khoury has been able to make a business and a product that’s scalable and fashionable, and what’s more, she has been able to establish a women-run business that helps women around her bring in income to their households.
Lebanon has been going through a hard time, even before the pandemic started. Not many people outside of Lebanon and the Middle East know a lot about the tiny Levantine country that’s sandwiched in between Syria to the north and Israel to the south. Hyperinflation, mishandling and corruption, outside nations vying to control, and a failed banking sector are just some of the problems that led to the Lebanese taking to the streets in October 2019 wanting things to change. And then the pandemic happened in early 2020, not to mention the August 4, 2020 explosion, which didn’t make things any better, furthering deeper economic woes and hardships in the country. But, there’s something built into the psyche of the Lebanese: when things fall they build back up, and when things are hard they endure. In all these things Khoury launched a fashion business. Fashion is usually one of the first things to suffer in the midst of hard times but Chaton By Nada is going strong.
“Hard times create new visions and blessings. I keep on saying this in all my interviews whenever I get the chance,” says Khoury. “If you put your heart and mind to something, it is bound to succeed. Stay honest with yourself and with people, and keep a positive outlook to life. We have a proverb in Lebanese that says: ‘if you can’t stop it then ride on top of it.’ COVID, crisis, and global politics are beyond our control. So rather than sit and do nothing about them, we can all collaborate and work hard to overcome them. I know this may sound like preaching a bit, but our story at Chaton can prove this is doable.”
When I lived in Lebanon I visited Khoury and she asked me where I’m from. I told her South Carolina and she beamed. ‘No one ever knows South Carolina,’ I thought to myself. “I just had had an order from someone in, in, in Simp-son-ville,” she tried to sound out phonetically. From Lebanon to the smallest southeast US state- and a small country town at that- Canada, and Singapore, her bags are going around the world.
The business started off as a family business, and this was a time when protests were strong in the capital. Half the days were regular work days. “Soon after, we found ourselves at home for longer periods of time due to the pandemic,” she muses. “This series of unfortunate events would turn out to be a blessing in disguise but we did not know it yet. Ideas for new purse handles, scarf designs, and even a “men’s line” emerged, and Chaton by Nada was slowly growing. Before I knew it handles were being designed, drawn, and manufactured uniquely by and for the company. An identity began to take shape. As the pandemic began to subside, my family members each went back to their pre-pandemic routine. Universities reopened and workplaces returned to in-person working hours. The company shifted its focus towards determined Lebanese women who were keen on making their own income in order to support their families,” remembers Khoury.
It was essential for Khoury to fill this gap and find women who wanted to crochet and make an income so she taught women who worked at home various crocheting techniques, introducing them to this artistry that would translate into an income, all from the comfort of their homes. Calling Chaton By Nada a hub for empowered women committed to leaving their mark on the world, this business that she has created is not lost on Khoury.
“At first I was proud of this approach. Now we are more like a family, and this family is growing. We are no longer women alone, we are a family of women and men who believe in teamwork, and we are dedicated to making it together. Yes, people can generate decent incomes by working from their homes, and working on their own time. We make sure that the atmosphere where our items are fabricated are hygienic and suited for delivering top quality products, and we allow ourselves to work at our convenience whether during the day, at night after work, or any time that we find suitable. We do not believe in the factory way. We are artisans and proud of the way we work, and we can feel more empowered and enthusiastic from the fruit of our hands,” she explains.
Her cotton scarf with mixed colors with a matching regular wood handle bag is made with polyester yarn. The Lilibet Chaton in fuchsia has the brand’s newest wooden handle. It’s a color that has been trending in fashion since Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Pink Collection.
A new touch that Khoury has incorporated on her bags is painted art. The Chaton Black in polyester yarn with wooden handle has a painting of Beirut on it. “We have an artist who enjoys displaying his paintings on our bags,” says Khoury. “Those have gained so much fame that even the US Ambassador to Lebanon carried one at the opening ceremony of the tourism season. Those paintings portray images of our beloved country and other subjects such as pets, FIFA world cup memorabilia and any other topics that a client may request. These are small pieces of art on our bags which we are extremely proud of.”
Incorporating different materials like brass gives the brand a unique lease on life than only sticking with crochet and wooden handles. The Handmade Brass bag with the engraved logo pattern is a key symbol for Chaton By Nada.
Since its inception three years ago the brand has initiated new products and created new designs. “We keep on contemplating and testing new designs, especially for bags,” she continues. “New handles are introduced seasonally, as well as bag colors and sizes to meet the tastes of our clients. We have come a long way with proposing new designs, but one thing will never change, our full commitment to quality of finish and quality assurance. Our evolution did not stop here, we now have scarves and leather belts within our family of items. Those are also made by small-scale artisans in Lebanon, and help us spread our mission to a wider spectrum of collaborators in Lebanon.”
Khoury’s outlook and perspective are the most admirable things about her story, and its these things that have gotten the brand launched and soaring. With three years in and a solid team of men and women, she has chosen to rise above the challenges Lebanon continues to find itself in, as well as the hardships of the past couple of years to create a company that’s giving back. “With the grace of God and the trust of our clients we have reached where we are now. But we will keep on moving forward and try harder. We will always strive to maintain this person to person relationship with our clients,” she says.