Beyond The Material

by Habiba Sugich
August 20, 2014

The moment my feet landed on the asphalt of the Aswan Airport, with the 105 degree weather instantly taking effect on my body, that feeling of elation I missed was restored.

In the recent years of what can aptly be described as Egypt’s most  tumultuous political rollercoaster ride, socio-economic hits have effected people all throughout the country-most noticeably Aswan.

The fertile city that once was a favorite among the likes of Agatha Christie and Winston Churchill, now a slumbering, barren home for a people that we label as idle.

Nubia has become a priority. For the government, NGO’s, and corporate CSR applications. But that’s not enough. It’s our responsibility as ordinary citizens to bring about change and attention to the socio-economic injustices we so evidently recognize-regardless of the political agenda. This summer, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to people who shared this conviction.

I visited 4 different villages and organizations in Southern Aswan, where I was introduced to some of the strongest women I have ever met. My sketchbook quickly turned into a makeshift contact list of the women artisans I so eagerly wanted to work with.

All my worries, wanting to work in unchartered territory with a  community I was not particularly familiar with, were washed away.   “Give me the work and I’ll do it. Just don’t give us words, we’re tired of words, give us action.”

With the majority of my summer’s effort going into developing a team for El Nuba, I had a lot to learn. I realized that in order for El Nuba to succeed and in order for me to really make an impact I needed time, patience, and people. From meeting with government leaders and micro-finance pioneers to professional designers and recent graduates - I learned that I wasn’t the only one that cares about El Nuba.

Through utilizing traditional handicrafts to create marketable products that can be seen than just more ethnic items, redesigning handicraft products can allow for Nubian women to have a more significant and sustainable source of income.

Inspiration board: With tourism at a historic, the cottage industry in Egypt needs to be revitalized. As more and more Egyptian students are choosing design over business, we are seeing a surge of young designers looking to make a change.

By recognizing that design and development can go hand in hand, combining these forces can bring about a much-needed change in the lives of Nubian women and their families.

Habiba Sugich RISD '15 is a Social Innovation Fellow working on a project to find an optimal solution that allows for Nubian women artisans to be fairly compensated for their work, while also preserving the craft and heritage of a slowly diminishing culture.


“The only important thing about design is how it relates to people.”- Papanek