Over the years, fashion has become a major outlet for Palestinians to not only preserve their culture and history but as a blank canvas where they can tell their stories and put the spotlight on some of the most controversial issues affecting Palestinian society today. But how is fashion fostering resilience, and what does that mean for the Palestinian economy?
The Global Fashion and Apparel Industry – a Statistical Overview
The fashion and apparel industry is reaching new global heights, and despite one of the slowest years in fashion history, the industry still managed to grow to $2 trillion in 2016 alone. But apart from being a trillion-dollar industry, fashion is responsible for driving economic growth and employing thousands of people in countries around the world.
To illustrate, in the United States, the fashion industry makes a reported 4 percent of the nation’s economy and is worth a staggering 406 billion dollars. But what really stands out is the fact that this industry employs nearly 2 million people over a range of jobs. The UK follows close behind, and the fashion industry there accounts for 94.1 billion dollars of their domestic market and employs over 500,000 individuals. And in the MENA region, the fashion industry is growing at unprecedented rates and set to be valued at 55 billion dollars by 2019.
And as the fashion industry continues to dominate global markets, employment opportunities are abounding, creating new opportunities in a range of fields. To put this in perspective, the fashion industry’s expansiveness translates into a wide array of jobs for designers, dressmakers, tailors, bloggers, retail buyers, and even tech specialists, and the list goes on. The point is, the fashion industry goes beyond garment making and selling, and encompasses pre- and post-production, marketing, and retail, introducing job seekers to a world of potential opportunities.
How E-commerce is Changing the Fashion Industry
While fashion is a trillion-dollar industry, ecommerce is disrupting the way consumers keep up with the latest trends. Over the past decade, the e-commerce industry has been on the rise, and in 2019 reached 3.5 trillion dollars in global sales. Fueling the retail industry, the rapid growth of e-commerce has broken down barriers for retailers and business owners looking to expand their horizons and conquer new markets.
As the fourth industrial revolution continues to sweep the Middle East and North Africa, people across the region are turning to the internet to not only virtually cross borders and keep up with the latest news, media, and trends, but to access new global markets. As such, in 2017, ecommerce in MENA rose to a staggering 8.3 billion dollars, with an annual growth rate of 25%.
Yet, beyond the numbers, what is even more profound is how e-commerce is making fashion more accessible. And not just mainstream fashion choices, but allowing consumers to explore different trends and cultural fashion statements, from around the world. And for designers, this platform has allowed them to share their stories, cultures, and traditions with a new global audience.
Social Awareness in Fashion
When we hear about fashion, what springs to mind are the latest trends dominating the fashion world and even the retail market. But in actuality, fashion goes beyond this. Fashion is a representation of the self, it tells a story, and when infused with culture can be a powerful form of resistance and resilience. The term fashion statement is a perfect example of this because what we wear can speak volumes if we let it.
Related to this is the phenomenon of ‘woke’ culture, which is transforming the way we address some of the most controversial issues affecting society today. As consumers become more ‘woke’ about the socio-economic, political, and environmental causes affecting the world as we know it, fashion has become a strategic tool in which people everywhere can not only share but stand up for their beliefs, and use what they wear to affect meaningful change. From items of clothing that are produced ethically and contribute to the livelihoods of their workers, items that bring attention to contemporary societal issues while contributing to the social good to repurposing traditional patterns and clothing to tell the story of past generations, what we wear has major implications on the world around us.
Palestinian Entrepreneurs Turning to Fashion
An increasing number of young Palestinians are turning to fashion to celebrate their culture, share stories that reflect the resilience of the Palestinian spirit, and address rampant social issues that get overlooked time and again.
Today creating a successful fashion brand requires a combination of creativity and business savvy. This is why organizations like MENACatalyst are taking notice and putting the spotlight on Palestinian innovation, industry, and resilience. The following fashion entrepreneurs are using their skills and artistic vision to not only share the vibrant history of Palestinian culture but to bring attention to the most prevalent issues affecting contemporary Palestinian society.
Shoppinglee – Founder Dara Jarallah
For many Palestinian artisans and designers, reaching beyond local markets is near impossible. Which is why Dara Jarallah decided to put her background in entrepreneurship to good use when she founded Shoppinglee. Shoppinglee is a social marketplace that provides local artisans with the platform and support needed to reach new markets. But what sets shopping glee apart is their focus on empowering marginalized Palestinian women while raising awareness about sustainable and ethical fashion.
“With Shoppinglee, I am working to create a community of self-sufficient Palestinian artists and designers, especially women, to have the platform to sell high-quality arts and crafts to international markets,” says Jarallah.
Natalie Tahhan – Self Titled Fashion Brand
Natalie Tahhan’s Jerusalem based luxury womenswear fashion label is bringing international fashion expertise to Palestinian women everywhere. Tahhan’s designs ingeniously adapt a variety of motifs, patterns, and colors as seen on traditional Palestinian dresses - otherwise known as thobs – and convert them into contemporary designs. But with her fashion labal, Tahhan is working to revive the country’s production and textile industry and inspire other Palestinian designers to manufacture their garments locally to help expand this stagnating industry.
“Coming from a background with a rich cultural history, I was definitely inspired by the historical expressionism of 19th century Palestinian embroidery, as it was a communicative language in itself. I wanted to bring this forward into my work and present these aspects and details to customers interested in contemporary methods in fashions,” says Tahhan.
Forty8 – Founder Mai Hammad
Mai Hammad’s fashion house, Forty8, does things a bit differently from others. Instead of letting old and unused thobs go to waste, Hammad converts them into contemporary silhouettes. With Forty8, Hammad is ingeniously bringing traditional embroidery and cross-stitch back to like by showing the world that Palestinian design and motifs are timeless. Hammad’s garments have helped young Palestinians from around the world not only reconnect with their culture but take pride in it.
BabyFist – Founder Yasmeen Mjalli
BabyFist is one of Palestine’s first ‘socially conscious fashion brands that exclusively focus on MENA women’s rights and donates 10 percent of proceeds to social impact projects.’ This contemporary label has gone mainstream by using fashion to not only make a statement but to start a conversation and address prevalent issues usually considered taboo.
With their signature ‘Not your Habibti’ line, BabyFist opened the doors for Palestinians everywhere to share their stories of sexual harassment and ultimately reclaim their space while inspiring meaningful change. Beyond that, BabyFist ‘manufactures its apparel with small and family-run businesses across the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestyle – Founder Zeina Abou Chaaban and Ahmed Abou Chaaban
Based out of the UAE, Zeina Abu Chaaban and her brother Ahmed Abu Chaaban founded the socially-conscious luxury-brand Palestyle. The brand is known for producing high-end ‘Italian made handbags’ that feature embroidery and motifs made with a touch of Palestine.
The regional brand has garnered considerable recognition as a result of their ongoing efforts to support a variety of social projects, most notably empowering refugee women. Not only has Palestyle helped hundreds of refugee women by outsourcing the embroidery used in their signature handbags, but for every purchase made, 2.5 percent of sales go to in-house charitable causes for Palestine.
Fashion as Resilience
The common thread between these inspirational women is that they are all shining a light on issues affecting Palestinians today. By establishing their enterprises in Palestine, they are creating economic opportunities for some of the most marginalized women while taking the first steps towards revitalizing both the fashion and textile industry in Palestine.
Celebrating the history of the traditional thob by reimagining popular motifs and designs that appeals to a newer generation, to mainstreaming contemporary issues and giving the power back to Palestinians to tell their own stories to the world, these Palestinian are showing the world how fashion can be used as a space for resistance, change, and resilience.