When Kenza Fourati and Simone Carrica, childhood friends from Tunisia and co-founders of Osay, reconnected in New York after years of following their individual paths in the fashion industry, they discovered a shared nostalgia for their home country and a strong sentiment for responsible actions within the fashion community.
Fourati, an internationally recognized fashion model and one of the first Arab Muslim women to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, has been a constant and prolific speaker of women’s rights and a free speech advocate as a supporter of Human Rights Watch in Tunisia. As a member of the Model Alliance and Model Mafia, she has used her influence and voice to promote protection and safety in the work environment and equitable treatment of models within the fashion industry.
Carrica, who attended EDC Business School in Paris, held numerous forward facing roles within global fashion companies such as BCBG Max Azria and Catherine Malandrino, before launching her first venture of Lost Candor, a home goods company, where she worked with Tunisian artists to produce luxury home decor. As an avid entrepreneur, she created and hosted numerous cultural events celebrating Tunisian artistry and craftsmanship at the Alliance Francaise Institute in New York.
It was during one of these events where the childhood friends reconnected and hatched an idea to create a marketplace where they could highlight the workmanship and finesse of Tunisian craftsmanship, while providing products that would satisfy their core values of responsible manufacturing and affordability in luxury goods.
“We felt strongly that there had to be a way to consume differently, with more integrity, purpose, conscience, empathy, compassion, and soul. But we struggled to find brands that accurately represented who we were as women, reflected our values, and we could afford,” says Carrica.
Osay launched in 2018, originally as a traveling pop up bazaar, selling a variety of luxury, socially minded Tunisian products to US consumers who had an eye for high end global products. For Fourati and Carrica, it was an opportunity to celebrate the creativity and heritage craftsmanship of Tunisian artisans while connecting with their consumers, and learning their buying behaviors. In the intimate setting of the pop ups, the founders were able to build a community of like minded consumers who appreciated quality goods that could be incorporated into their busy, daily lives. This proved helpful during the pandemic when their business continued to grow during the height of lockdown.
On one of the buying trips to Tunisia, the partners were introduced to a family owned atelier who holds an ancestral lineage of hand making shoes.
In collaboration with the atelier’s owner, Moez Ben Fradj, and Master Artisan, Mansour Hosni, Fourati and Carrica refocused Osay from a pop up bazaar into a shoe brand, launching with the classic Middle Eastern/North African slipper, La Babouche. The slipper, a ubiquitous symbol of daily life, was designed from their signature silhouette, a slide-in flat shoe which can be worn as a loafer, or, with a fold down heel feature, worn as a slipper.
The leathers used for the shoes are remnants from previous seasons and excess fabrics from luxury houses, which highlights the short run of each fabrication. During the design process, the slipper was modernized with a memory foam cushioned sole giving it a comfort level for all day wear. It takes 24 hours for each slipper to be handcrafted and sewn. With the optionality of wearing the heel up or down, La Babouche retains its cultural heritage while embracing every imaginable urban usage of the modern day flat. Designed to transition from day into evening, it’s the chic “elevated basic” that fits a woman’s busy life.
Osay, an acronym for Our Stories Are Yours, prides itself on their product offering and their shared messaging of commonality. With a community minded narrative, Osay strives to celebrate global women and to connect with them through mutual experiences in the roles women play; motherhood, sisterhood, daughters, partners, and working professionals. And in sharing Osay’s origin story as well as their own journeys, of childhoods in Tunisia to globe trotting professionals working in the highest echelons of the fashion industry, Fourati and Carrica, both Arabic and Muslim women, hope to reshape the narrative of their own heritage.
Since launching in 2019 as a shoe brand, their largest market has been the US so far. With the pandemic, the founders switched to a Direct to Consumer model and launched a newsletter to continue to engage with their customers. With repeat customers buying for multi-generational women in their families, their low return rate of 4% speaks to their close connection with their consumers and their personal touch point with the products and the business. Osay’s DTC model also allows the founders to have meticulous oversight in the design process while keeping the costs low.
“We didn’t want to be just another fashion brand. We wanted to make products with the highest quality materials and handmade craftsmanship, but still at an attainable price,” says Fourati.
Osay’s next steps are to focus on growth and innovation. The founders have been experimenting with ideas of alternate sustainable materials such as rubber, fish leather, and recycled shaved wool, where the sheep remains unharmed. They’ve recently launched a style for men and will continue to grow the business with Carrica relocating to Paris to expand the European market.
With the world opening up, Fourati and Carrica are considering possible investments into marketing and public relations, but remain steadfast in continually engaging with their customers through a shared culture of storytelling.
“ We named it Osay, because we truly believe that social empathy, and walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, is the key to human thriving,” say Fourati and Carrica.
Available online. Starting at $148