February 21, 2021

How Lebanese Handbag Designer Joelle Khawam Is Making Waves With Her Brand MMMbyJoel

MMMbyJoel is a quintessential made in Lebanon brand by Beiruti Joelle Khawam. Her hand knitted line of bespoke craftsmanship bags ship all over the world and spans through three generations- ma grandmere, ma mere et moi (my grandma, my mother, and me)- hence the three letter Ms.

“I knew since I was a young child that knitting is my passion. I grew up watching my grandmother and my mother knit beautiful pieces of art, which would entertain me for hours. Sometime around Christmas holidays in 2016, my grandmother and my mother were knitting hand bags from wool for my cousins. Seeing the bags made me realize that I can start an artisanal craftsmanship in the family, and the name of the brand,” she remembers of the brand’s conception.”

What Khawam has been able to do is create stylish bags that have been made with a twist of heritage for every woman, for every occasion. “Watching their hands and eyes motion while finishing up their pieces of art caused my whole world of design to change in my mind and soul,” she notes of her familial matriarchs.  

The brand’s knitted envelope hand bag is handcrafted from rattan (khayzaran in Arabic) straw with a hand knitted flip from shimmery rope and a magnetic closure; and the Kenza bag is handcrafted bucket from rattan straw, a filet of handmade nods from shimmery rope and a wooden round handle- and it can be paired with any summer slip dress.

Khawam got her start in fashion by working with Lebanese fashion designer, Elie Saab “I acquired a sense of unique and traditional fashion, indulging artisanal purses into today’s world,” she shares. But, her desire to express herself through fashion came at an early age. “Since I was a little girl, I used old jeans and clothes to make handbags and decorated them with beads and accessories. Later on, after graduating from fashion design school I started designing bags with my grandmother who helped me sew together upcycled patchwork of fabric and leather. With such family talent I knew I had to hone my skills so I joined Elie Saab and tried to sponge as quickly as possible everything I could to finally make the jump into my own collection.”

Ensuring that her brand is eco-friendly, MMMby Joel bags are sustainable. “Sustainability is a message that goes beyond making money, we offer our high-end heritage bags to women who love the outdoors but we keep our line chic and use sustainable materials. Sustainability brings profound meaning to our brand image, and consequently, greater emotional bond with our customer.”

Lebanon’s tragic August 4, 2020 explosion that killed over 200 and injured hundreds more has taken its toll on her business. “MMMbyJoel was slowed down already due to the economic crisis and the pandemic. The blast added yet another tragedy, we weren’t ready for it. Our workshop isn’t located in Beirut so thankfully the mmm family is safe. Six months have already passed and we are staying positive during these hard times, and we refuse to give up. We are focusing on collaboration with boutiques outside of Lebanon, and on selling online.”

Moving forward, Khawam will move the brand even more in a sustainable direction. “I want to give back to the world and the planet for all they gave me and launch my new eco line. Inspired by our Jumi clutch, Rejumi is our first recycled bag, hand knitted with 40 repurposed plastic bags matching leather and yarns from old collections, which makes the bag 100% upcycled. I am also revealing a new item from SS21. The Rattan bags will have a matching rattan hat as well.”

What Khawam has been able to do is add to today’s outfits her traditional knitted bag with new flavored style. Even through a pandemic and Lebanon’s economic current hardships, her bags are able to reach all women, made and sent with the love of family.