Palestinian refugees making high fashion

http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/05/18/palestinian.refugees.fashion/index.html
By Catriona Davies, for CNN
May 18, 2011 11:54 a.m. EDT
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Palestyle and Inaash both sell traditional embroidery made by women in refugee camps
  • 27-year-old Zeina Abou Chaaban started Palestyle as a social business two years ago
  • It sells in high-end department stores and boutiques

(CNN) — Women living in refugee camps are embroidering clothes and accessories sold in high-end department stores, through a business started by a 27-year-old Palestinian woman.

Zeina Abou Chaaban runs a social business called “Palestyle” selling embroidery made by Palestinian women in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

The designs, including clothing, bags, jewelry and belts, are sold through Bloomingdales in Dubai, and other stores in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and the UK.

Abou Chaaban, a Palestinian woman living in Dubai, said: “I wanted to spread the richness and wealth of Palestinian culture, but in a trendy way.

“Usually embroidery is on very traditional pieces, but we are trying to revive the embroidery culture in a very modern way, using modern colors and modern designs.”

She set up the business two years ago and now employs 40 women in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. NGOs working with women and children receive 5% of all proceeds from Palestyle sales.

Life in the refugee camps is a far cry from the high-end stores where the women’s work is sold for prices such as 850 Dirham ($230) for a leather clutch, 550 Dirham ($150) for a shawl with gold-plaited motif and embroidery, or 195 Dirham ($53) for a kafiya top with hand-made embroidery.

Abou Chaaban said: “The living conditions in the camps are very harsh with shortages of basics such as water, electricity, food and schooling for children. It’s a struggle for the basics of life.

When they are embroidering, they feel Palestine is with them. It’s their roots. They are fighting with their needle.
–Jacqueline Khayat Inglessis, Inaash

“The income they receive for the embroidery helps them support their families and their kids’ schooling.”

Inaash is another organization that has been training refugee Palestinian women in embroidery and selling their wares since 1969.

Jacqueline Khayat Inglessis, president of Inaash, said: “We now have about 500 women in several different Palestinian camps in Lebanon working for us. Over the years we have trained more than 6,000 women.

“We want our heritage to stay and we are teaching embroidery to the younger generation.”

Their work is sold through the Inaash cultural center in Lebanon and exhibitions worldwide.

Most of the women were born in the refugee camps and have never been to the Palestinian Territories, but still consider it to be home.

Inglessis said: “They are always thinking about Palestine, of their villages, their homes, their olive trees, or what’s left of them — even the ones who have never been there.

“They know where they came from and they think that’s home. Their dream is to go back.

“When they are embroidering, they feel Palestine is with them. It’s their roots. They are fighting with their needle.”

Inglessis said women working for Inaash are paid by piece depending on the size and complexity of the embroidery.

Most of the women do the embroidery from home in their spare time alongside looking after their homes and children.

“The money helps them a lot,” said Inglessis. “This is why they are always asking us for more work and we do our exhibitions and try to sell as much as we can.

“It’s a hard life in the camps. The professional people in the camps, the doctors or engineers, cannot work on their profession in Lebanon. They can only work in low-grade work.”

Inaash, like Palestyle, aims to give a modern twist to traditional designs.

“The work is all based on traditional Palestinian motifs but nowadays we try to put more color in them. We keep our old patterns and motifs so our Palestinian heritage will stay alive,” said Inglessis.

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About W

Wissam, Wesley, or simply W, is an educator, writer, entrepreneur, engineer, activist, ex-Imam, humanist, liberal thinker with interest and mediocre attempt at many takes of life. A modern confused Renaissance man, who uses doubt as a path for emancipation and science as a road towards enlightenment.

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