Located in Coptic Cairo next to Darb 17 18 is El Nafeza, a small, dynamic workshop where employees work diligently to revive the papermaking industry in Egypt.
El Nafeza’s owner, Mohamed Abou El Naga designed an environmentally friendly technique that uses the agricultural refuse of Egypt, mainly rice straw, banana stalks and river flowers, to produce saleable, eco-friendly and handmade paper products. El Nafeza employs young women of lower income backgrounds as well as members of the deaf and mute community, trains them to recycle agricultural waste into paper, then produce and design quality handmade paper and paper products for very reasonable prices.
El Nafeza’s workshop serves as both the centre of paper and design production as well as a retail outlet for the products. The workshop is always buzzing with activity and filled with materials, paint and paper; you can feel the artistic juices flowing through the room. To the right is a cabinet that displays many of the finished products. This includes notebooks of various sizes, colours and designs (10LE to 40LE), double photo frames (35LE), mini-boxes to hold office products or jewellery (starting at 10LE), and bags designed especially to hold wine bottles (20LE). Designs range from kheyameya designs to Arabic calligraphy and arabesque patterns.
As you walk around the workshop, you will find other products scattered throughout, including gift boxes of various sizes, folders that were custom-ordered for an event and tote bags designed for the Embassy of Singapore. There are also stacks of newly-produced paper of different colours and patterns, waiting to be twisted, tucked and cut into a new product.
The designers work on the left side of the room and behind them more products are displayed, including a new line of lamps and lamp shades made of recycled paper (starting at 30LE). El Nafeza also takes special orders and can create business cards, wedding invitations, folders and anything else that you desire. In fact, El Nafeza often launches a new line of products based on popular demand by their customers.
In the outside section of the workshop, you will see where the paper is actually made. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there on a day when the employees are dyeing the paper pieces and hanging them on the walls to dry. The employees are more than eager to show you the process and even let you make your own paper!
At El Nafeza, you will get more than just handmade product; you get to be a witness and a participant in the entire process. The next time you’re near Coptic Cairo, be sure to pass by this gem of a shop.