Designers / Industry

How We Got Here: Sisterhood Emboldens Okhtein’s Aya and Mounaz Abdelraouf


Whether it was playing dress-up or doing arts and crafts together, Aya and Mounaz Abdelraouf knew from a young age that they’d always work together—and that early inspiration has turned into an accessories empire the sisters say is now ready for fine jewelry.

Their brand, Okhtein, literally translates from Arabic into two sisters, and that relationship is the foundation of Aya and Mounaz’s business, they say. They used their childhood memories as themes to build their designs, which started with handbags that celeb watchers may recognize from fashion icons including Beyoncé.

The duo debuted their fine jewelry line in September, and it is now available online and through the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where the sisters grew up and live. As siblings are the longest relationship people experience, the Abdelraoufs say they are invested in jewelry not only as a way to grow their company but also as a way to share that bond of sisterhood.

“We’ve always been passionate about jewelry, even before we started designing handbags. When we design bags, we start with the hardware, and that’s why we consider ourselves jewelers at heart,” Aya says.

Okhtein jewelry
Okhtein’s jewelry is structured and minimalist, much like the architecturally inspired handbags that started the brand’s journey into accessories, the sisters/founders say.

The sisters say their first memories of working side by side were as children in their family home, which was always filled with friends, relatives, and art.

“Our family has a strong artistic background. Our grandmother was a fashion lover and a big inspiration. She, along with her sister and our aunt, are all artists,” Aya says. “Our dad is a free soul who enjoys music and cooking. So we’ve always had a creative and artistic home.”

Mounaz agrees. “We had a lot of fun building imaginary worlds, like castles, and playing dress-up. We spent hours in our grandma’s closet.”

Both sisters attended college: Mounaz graduated from the American University in Cairo in 2012 with a degree in art and marketing. Aya graduated a year later with a degree in communication and media arts, which she says taught her to trust her instincts as well as be rational.

Mounaz worked in the advertising industry, starting as a junior art director and junior art copywriter at Leo Burnett and JWT. These early experiences taught her how to talk to customers, connect with clients, and showcase products in their best possible light, she says.

Okhtein bracelet
Okhtein’s Rosary bracelet (price upon request) features 18k gold, sapphires, and emerald to tell a symbolic story of prayer and meditation, something that is important to the sisters.

The sisters founded Okhtein in 2013, and it was Aya’s first job. She says their secret weapon was family—not only for the lessons they learned at home but for their younger brother, Mohamed Abdelraouf, whom the sisters describe as a genius and their favorite CEO.

“He’s the strategic and financial expert behind our growth and success,” Aya says. Mounaz chimes in: “He completes our team and plays an important role in shaping our brand’s future.”

Are they a tight family? Unequivocally, yes.

“We’re like two peas in a pod,” Mounaz says. Aya adds: “We’re inseparable.”

But the jewelry they’re creating together is unique and identifiable, the duo says. Okhtein’s jewelry line has four motifs: Bond, Rosary, Snake Rod, and Sister Charm. These matching pieces symbolize the bond between sisters, whether they are biological or chosen. Having a sister by your side or a piece of Okhtein jewelry on your body gives you support and strength, the sisters say.

“Jewelry holds sentimental value and enhances the beauty of our bodies. It’s an extension of our identity,” Mounaz says.

Top: Aya and Mounaz Abdelraouf have expanded their accessories empire to include fine jewelry, which the sisters debuted in September (photos courtesy of Okhtein). 

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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