Amanda Navai: the reinvention of the python bag

Amanda Navai menu copy

Exotic… Luxurious… Colorful and fun! All words to describe the best selling python handbag brand of SAKS and Bloomingdale’s – Dubai, and their creator Amanda Navai.   If ever a product could be so similar to its owner this would be the case.
Amanda is originally Iranian and was raised in Sweden. She studied in London and when not globe-trotting around the world she lives between Dubai and Lebanon.  With a background in luxury, working at the Chalhoub Group in Dubai, and a love for the finer things in life; it is clear that luxury is conveyed in her handbag collection.   We sat down with Amanda to find out more about her inspiring story:

Tell me how it all began? When did you first decide to create your own line? What inspired you?
I always wanted to become an entrepreneur but I didn’t know what I was going to do. The truth is I was always very comfortable in my job and I didn’t feel that I needed to push myself.
I moved jobs during the financial crisis and I became very miserable. Then one day I had to go to a conference for my job, where Sahar Hashemi, the founder of Coffee republic was speaking. As an entrepreneur herself, I was very inspired when she was explaining that “you don’t have to re-invent the wheel, you just have to improve it”.  It is a misconception that you have to be a pioneer. You just have to take what is already out there and make it work better.
When I lived in London, I would go to Portobello market and buy Python handbags. This is because python is very expensive but durable. The older it gets the softer the python becomes which you can then pass on to generations.
The conference inspired me and gave me the idea to focus and create python handbags with unique details that differentiate them from other handbags.

 

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The Nejla Bag

How would you describe your handbags?
Timeless, classic, smart designs, vivid, versatile.

It is not easy to turn an idea into a best selling product, the beginning is usually the most difficult step. How did you start, what was your first step?
The first step was to outsource everything. The python is not very easy to find. When you make something as expensive as python, you need excellent quality.
Then you need to come up with the designs and then put that idea into reality and see people’s reaction.
Everything is difficult. You have to make sure people like your things.
You have to be persistent. Persistence is really important; it is the key to success. It is easy to give up when you are faced with a problem and you will face many problems along the way, so it is very important to persist.
For example the first time I ever ordered python I received sea snake. It wasn’t what I ordered, but then I found an alternative use for them and turned them into sample handbags.

THE ALIYA BAG BLUE

The Aliya Bag

At which point since you began creating handbags did you think to yourself ‘wow i really did it!’ Have you gotten to that point yet?
The first time I was at Bloomingdale’s I felt that was a bit surreal. Having said that, it gave me a lot of pressure, it was a big challenge. Usually you would start from the middle and work yourself up, but in my case I started from the top.
I had a lot of qualitative issues at the beginning and technical issues but with every production you make, you have to improve it.
The first time I was at Bloomingdale’s I had an order for 9 handbags. I had produced my first handbag on the 20th of January 2010 and by the 10th of May 2010 they were on display at Bloomingdale’s.
With my first collection, I took photos of my handbags and e-mailed them to the buyer of Bloomingdale’s explaining what I do. She didn’t reply so I was calling her ten times a day for one month. Every opportunity I had, I would call her.  In my coffee break, on my way to work… until one day she picked up.
You have to have persistence and determination. At the end of the day this is not rocket science you do not have to be the smartest person on earth. You just have to be persistent and determined, because you have to follow simple steps again and again.
For example till now, I have to go the factory every day to show my face.

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Amanda Navai wall at Bloomingdale’s Dubai

Do you pinch yourself sometimes?
Yeah I do. A lot of times I can’t believe it’s real.
There was a time I was on my way to an interview and it was on my last day at work a year ago. I was in the car and thinking “What is happening?” and now I am going from one interview to another, it is so surreal.
My last day of work was the 27th of July 2010. Taking into consideration that I haven’t worked since or taken money from my parents, my business has supported me since I left my job. The 10th of May was my first order with only 9 bags to Bloomingdale’s and now, one year since I have begun I have had over one million AED in retail sales.

How does it feel to be exhibiting in one of the most prestigious galleries in the world, Saatchi gallery, side-by-side internationally renowned luxury designers?
It feels great. It’s been a while; I feel that every day is a blessing.

Presently, you have a very successful collection at SAKS and Bloomingdale’s. What are your future plans? Do you plan to sell in other Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, etc….
My near future goal is definitely London.
I need to be very hands on so it’s hard for me to put my items in a place that is hard for me to visit like Saudi Arabia. However, Saudi Arabia is a very large market I would like to tap into. The one store I would like to get into in Saudi is DNA. Qatar and Kuwait I would consider in the future. I have a lot of people from Kuwait who buy from my website.
One thing I would like to highlight is that in the Middle East is that we don’t appreciate handmade items. In Europe they put more value on what is handmade.
However, my focus is to work on sustainable development in the Middle East. For example instead of going to Italy, you create many jobs for people in the local community. First you start in a factory and then after your business goes well you open your own factory.
I would like to take on CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility. I have a long term plan. There are sales projections, but the path I have chosen for my brand is a conscious one where there are also social initiatives.
For example, I support a charity organization in Lebanon. My mother has always worked and given to charities and she has instilled this in me. Therefore, if I am working in Lebanon and Dubai then I would support organization and charities in those countries. Every time I make an order, I would donate 10% of the proceeds to charities in these countries and to different people.

THE RAQUEL BAG BRONZETHE MAUREEN BAG  RED AND PURPLETHE TANYA BAG PURPLETHE YASMIN BAG ORANGE

The Raquel bag (bronze), The Maureen bag (red and purple), The Tanya bag (dark blue) and The Yasmin bag (orange)

What are Amanda’s essentials in Amanda’s handbags?
My blackberry and my iPod. When I travel I take 2 iPods.

Can’t live without…..?
Hamburgers and fries.

One piece of advice you would give aspiring designers and entrepreneurs?
Be persistent and determined.

 

 

photo

Amanda Navain and Nayla Kanaan at Saatchi gallery, London

 

For more information on the collection please visit www.amandanavai.com
Photo credits: Victor Rotari, Bloomingdale’s – Dubai

6 Comments

  1. Amanda

    at 8:31 am

    Naaayla!!! Love love love the article its by far the best article about me I have ever read!! Love you even mooore!!! xxx Thank you!

  2. Mikele

    at 9:01 am

    This is such a great article – it is almost as if I am sitting with Amanda and listening to her talk so passionately about her business and road to success. There should definitely be more stories like these to inspire others. Loving the whole site! xx

  3. Aziz N

    at 10:25 am

    Nayla,

    “Exotic… Luxurious… Colorful and fun!….” At first I thought you were referring to Amanda, a statement i would have agreed with wholeheartedly. I cant say much about the product itself but i have “bags” of epxerience when it comes to the brains behind it; sheer creatviity and utter dedication! I also noticed, that its your first editroial contribution brilliant….onwards and upwards girl!

  4. Anmol Gangaramani

    at 10:52 am

    Congrats Amanda…. a great article about great designs!!… was good to see your new collection in London!

  5. Ramona Fazeli

    at 3:52 pm

    Amazing collection, love the bags, and the shoes are the hit! look at the turquoise heels, girls. Well done Amanda. BTW the first authentic interview I have read since a long time. keep up the creative process.

  6. Layla

    at 9:47 am

    Nayla congrats on your first article! Very well written!

    Amanda, I’m so proud of what you have achieved! You’ve worked very hard on this venture. You are a superstar! I love your entire collection and I wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors.