Founder, Creative Space Beirut, Fashion Designer, Beirut, Lebanon
Sarah is an entrepreneur and also a believer in people. Lebanese-Armenian, Sarah was born and raised in Kuwait. After graduating from Parsons New School, in New York City, where she had double-majored in fashion design and media studies, Sarah decided to return to Beirut (her family's homeland) and start a three-year fashion school dedicated to providing scholarships to students that lack resources to pursue their dreams in the field of design.
Believing that there is much talent to be uncovered and exposed in Lebanon, Hermez opened Creative Space Beirut. Following a rigorous yearly application process, the chosen five students share a talent and aptitude for design and demonstrate a commitment to hard work. Tuition is free.
CSB allows students from all backgrounds to train for three intensive years in the business of haute couture, create their collections and exhibit them during the graduation fashion show. Students come from diverse backgrounds and commute to the studio from all corners of Lebanon, including Palestinian refugee camps, Saida & Chouf (South of Beirut), Tripoli (North of Beirut), and Armenian populated Bourj Hammoud.
Sarah manages to run the school on proceeds from individual donors, exhibitions, crowdfunding campaigns, as well as sales from a student and faculty-designed ready-to-wear line. In return she is able to provide students with instructions, fabric, a boutique space, transportation fees to and from the school as well as trips abroad for exhibitions and events. She has also in the past partnered with designers like Donna Karan who have donated fabric and expertise. In addition, CSB’s co-founder and Sarah’s mentor and teacher from Parsons, Caroline Simonelli has been an enormous inspiration to the project. A detailed inception story for Creative Space Beirut can be found here.
Since its first graduating class in 2016, each subsequent year brought plenty of new challenges but also incredible wins (for example) for Creative Space Beirut. Through it all, Sarah is there, leading, mentoring, and inspiring Lebanese youth to dream and build skills for a better future. I was fortunate enough to observe her passion and dedication as she mentored students into the late hours on the eve of the annual fashion show. Please read the Q/A with the amazing Ms. Hermez.
2. Where is your hometown?
At this point in my life, Beirut, Lebanon.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
Founder and Director of Creative Space Beirut, and designer of Second St.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?
I was born and raised in Kuwait before moving to New York for college. There, I double majored in Fashion Design at Parsons and in Media and Cultural Studies at Eugene Lang, which was a perfect combination of the two things I love most: design and social justice. While Parsons allowed me to nurture my creative side, the study abroad program of Eugene Lang radically changed the way I view the world. The turning point for me was doing a study abroad program in Cambodia. After that experience, I went back to New York knowing I couldn’t just be a fashion designer, I needed to figure out what work I wanted to spend my life doing. Today, I am mostly proud of having had the courage to start a free creative school in an extremely challenging country and environment.
5. What did you study in school?
Fashion Design / Media and Cultural Studies.
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
I didn't really think about it then. When I was 20 I was much more spontaneous and naive, which I must admit turned out to be a good thing.
7. Was there a time when life knocked you down or out and how did you get back up on your feet?
Is there a time when it doesn't? You just have to get up and keep going. Personally, what keeps me going is the talent that I see in our students, their growth, and their accomplishments.
If the world seems like a terrible place sometimes, it’s only because of our leaders’ lack of compassion.
8. Advice for other women?
Don't doubt your leadership skills. If the world seems like a terrible place sometimes, it’s only because of our leaders’ lack of compassion. And without compassion, leadership is doomed to fail. It’s not even real leadership. That’s why I believe that women are better leaders than men, because compassion is key.
9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values"?
It's just a matter of keeping on and not giving up. No victory comes without endurance. Will people come in your way, will people hold you back, will people tell you it’s impossible? Yes they will. So it really comes down to persevering in moving forward. But ultimately, of course we can be all that we are capable of being, as long as we continue to be honest and hardworking.
“No victory comes without endurance.”
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
With my husband and dogs and friends at our apartment.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
I wish I had more time for hobbies, I need to work on that. I would like to read more and paint more.
12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
I would like to expand the school so that it can be a free school for creative studies, with different programs and not only fashion design. And then after that, when I grow up even more, I would like to disappear into a forest and spend my days painting, being creative, being around the people I love.
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
Fear of public speaking (although I am getting better). Self doubt, although self doubt allows for reflection which in turn allows for growth.
14. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?
I'd like to think I have a few more years ahead of me, so no need to go back and have another go. Whatever I want to do differently, I can do now.
15. What inspires you?
Moments, people, beauty, kindness, laughter, sadness, you know that thing called life.
16. What are you hopeful about?
I'm hopeful about the school and brands we are building, hopeful about the future.
17. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Compassion, love, laughter, moments, reflection, and surrounding ourselves with people that we can learn from and grow with.
18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
Don't fixate on what people might think of you, you're best when you're being yourself.
19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I’m currently reading “Kindred” by Octavia Butler. The last book I read and loved was Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History.” I don’t have a specific book that I always gift, it depends on the person and their interests! Books I like to read can range from authors such as Murakami that transport me to another world, to authors like Frantz Fanon and Paulo Freire that reinforce my dedication and passion.
20. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three (or more) women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description?
Caroline Simonelli, because she's 81 and still as passionate about her work and calling, and without whom there would be no Creative Space Beirut. The two other powerful women I admire are Tracy Moussi, my partner in Second St. and Creative Space Beirut, and designer Nour Hage who carries her strength and power into her designs.
21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?
instagram: second.st, creativespacebeirut, csb_rtw