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6 Arab Women in Fashion Who Are Making a Change

posted on: Mar 10, 2021

6 Arab Women in Fashion That Are Making a Change

By: Pamela Dimitrova/ Arab America Contributing Writer

The media is constantly focusing on western women in fashion and their social activism. And while all women who are creative deserve acknowledgement, we believe in highlighting the Arab women who are creating art while changing the world. Here are six trailblazers, who are empowering other women and giving back to society. Whether they’re raising funds for charities or advocating for the environment, they are dedicated to making a difference in the world.

1. Rawan Maki

6 Arab Women in Fashion That Are Making a Change

Rawan is an environmental engineer and fashion designer. Originally from Bahrain, the designer believes that beauty can only be accomplished alongside sustainability and justice. These themes carry forward in the aesthetic of the brand where her designs are inspired by the interaction of the natural and the man-made. For instance – the shoreline and how it is continuously extended to make more land.

Rawan debut collection in 2017, is an ode to the land and sea that emerge in the aftermath of land reclamation, as well as the dialogue we have with receding shorelines, shrinking forests, recycling signs, and all the invisible hands and energy that goes into creating final products.

She combines her environmental engineering and design background to create each piece as a “system,” both aesthetically and in terms of design elements, where she designs to minimize waste and uses fabrics with recycled and organic components.

2. Janette Habashi

6 Arab Women in Fashion That Are Making a Change

“Darzah” is an empowering initiative launched by professor and humanitarian, Janette Habashi in 2008. The organization aims to better the lives of marginalized women in Palestine while preserving tatreez, an age-old embroidery technique passed down from generation to generation.

The centerpiece of the collection is the colorful embroidered flats, which are hand-stitched using silk, thread, and leather all sourced from the West Bank. “We try to keep everything 100% Palestinian if possible,” says Habashi. The shoes, which can take up to a month to complete, are first designed by an in-house artisan who designs the colors, patterns and names (all of which are titled after Palestinian sweets and pastries such as zalabia and baklava,) before the female volunteers (many of whom work at home due to household commitments) start embroidering.

Today, the organization employs 15 women, has two suppliers, and oversees many volunteers along the West Bank. “Our goal is to continue hiring and helping women,” says Habashi, “These women are very talented and what they need is an opportunity to showcase these talents.”

3. Céline Semaan

6 Arab Women in Fashion That Are Making a Change

Challenging the industry’s status quo through a mixture of design and dialogue, Céline Semaan is attempting to bring mainstream tech concepts, like “open-sourcing” and collaborative development, into the fashion world. Her first related project, Slow Factory, was a sustainable clothing and accessories “design innovation lab,” and she recently launched two new resources—The Library and Study Hall conference series—to further explore the intersections between sustainability, technology, and human rights

She arrived in Canada with her Lebanese parents in the late 1980s as a refugee herself, and is seeking to highlight both the struggles and the triumphs of the approximately 65 million people scattered around the world whose treatment has recently been a contested topic in the United States and abroad.

A portion from every sale is going to a different charity. Anera, an organization that provides humanitarian aid to Palestinians and poor families in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon, has collaborated with Slow Factory since she originally created the Gaza by Night scarves in 2014. During that time Céline said, “We raised enough money to build a school in Gaza.” She added that Anera also used the funds to supply women in Gaza with “dignity kits,” containing scarves, underwear, soap and feminine hygiene products. Other projects focusing on the environment, outer space, and on women in science have followed.

4. Jessica Kahawaty

6 Arab Women in Fashion That Are Making a Change

In support of children affected by the Syrian civil war, Lebanese-Australian model Jessica has joined the Louis Vuitton for Unicef appeal. The brand has been working with Unicef since 2016, and in the face of the large-scale humanitarian crisis, Louis Vuitton‘s initiative has a dual purpose: To raise awareness and increase their funds to contribute to Unicef. The appeal has raised more than US$ 2.5 million, with campaigns running across social media with the hashtag #makeapromise.

This is not Jessica’s first foray into humanitarian work. While studying international human rights law, refugee law, and family law in Sydney, her focus has always been children. She’s been involved with charities in Australia, working to provide children with education and meals. Last year she visited a UN refugee camp in Bekaa Valle in Lebanon.

Zaatari camp has been run by Unicef and the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization since 2012, and offers emergency aid, educational support, medical attention, and emotional support to the children and families affected by the civil war. Jessica has been on the ground supporting the appeal. “It was a heartbreaking trip to the Zaatari Refugee camp,” she reflected.

5. Sarah Beydoun

6 Arab Women in Fashion That Are Making a Change

Sarah Beydoun, the founder of Sarah’s Bag, was born and raised in Beirut. Her unconventional journey in fashion began during the final year of her master’s degree program in sociology when she was conducting research at Dar Al Amal, a local NGO that rehabilitates women at risk and female ex-prisoners.

As both a fashion label and social enterprise, Sarah’s Bag works to empower underprivileged women. The signature hand-beading and embroidery the bags are known for is meticulously crafted by a team of over 200 women, among whom are female prisoners, ex-prisoners and underprivileged women in Lebanon. Most of the designs are created to showcase their skills.

Trained by Sarah’s Bag team, they are skilled artisans in their own right and some have been with the company since it first launched in May of 2000. Some of the prisoners used the income they earned to overturn wrongful convictions; others to support their families while they are incarcerated. Once out of prison, Sarah’s Bag encourages its artisans to train other women in their towns and villages, thus creating much-needed jobs in some of the poorer communities in Lebanon.

In 2016, the Oslo-based Business for Peace Foundation awarded Sarah its annual prize in recognition of her work as a global business leader who is positively changing the face of business.

6. Sahar Wehbe

6 Arab Women in Fashion That Are Making a Change

Sahar is the Lebanese-Palestinian founder of UAE-based bespoke handmade doll company, “Dumye.”  Each doll is handmade. Additionally, the designer also sells doll sets which allows the buyer to create their own doll. This process of doll creation gives children an opportunity to reflect upon themselves, process what they have been through and control at least one piece of their world. So, if you purchase one for that special child in your life, you are also ensuring that an additional child who may have not been able to afford one for themselves is provided with this special gift.

Each doll purchased from Dumye allows Sahar to gift one of her creations to a child who is underprivileged or an orphan, and further allows these children to experience the joy of making their own doll at her workshop.

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