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Pathbreakers of Arab America: Rami Kashou

posted on: Dec 6, 2023

Wiki Photo

By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer

This is the twenty-fifth in Arab America’s series on American pathbreakers of Arab descent. The series includes personalities from entertainment, business, sports, science, academia, journalism, and politics, among other areas. Our twenty-fifth pathbreaker is Rami Kashou, a Palestinian American born in Jerusalem, raised in Ramallah, trained in the U.S., and known for his fashion design for such celebrities as Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and Queen Rania of Jordan. A deep sense of his Palestinian heritage is seen in his designs and his avid support of Palestinians. Rami advocates for justice, human rights, and a peaceful resolution to the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rami Kashou– Palestinian American designer to the rich and famous

Rami Kashou was born in Jerusalem on May 11, 1976, and raised in Ramallah where he began his fashion design journey during his early teens. He is presently an Arab Palestinian citizen of Israel and a Muslim. Wikipedia says Rami’s mother and friends used to bring Rami along during their regular visits to the local seamstress, where he would create designs for each lady inspired by her latest fabric purchase. His creations were said to “come to life.” Rami’s designs are influenced by his passion for travel as well as his Palestinian origin. In his works, he typically incorporates themes and designs from traditional Palestinian needlework.

In 1993, Kashou immigrated to the U.S. to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Following his studies, he worked as a designer for a variety of high-end clothing firms, including Donna Karan and Oscar de la Renta. Rami is perhaps best known for taking part in the reality competition series, “Project Runway.” After winning “Project Runway,” Kashou launched his private clothing line, ‘Rami Kashou,’ and appeared as a guest on several other TV shows, including The Wendy Williams Show and Good Morning America.

Kashou, per Wikipedia, “is a talented designer known for his edgy and risk-taking works. He is a staunch advocate for diversity in the fashion industry.” Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and Vogue have all featured his creations. Rami draws inspiration for his paintings from his love of travel as well as his Palestinian heritage. “He frequently uses motifs and patterns from traditional Palestinian needlework in his artwork. Kashou is known for his dedication to inclusion and diversity in the fashion industry and founded Fashion for Peace, a nonprofit organization that uses fashion to promote understanding and peace. Additionally, he focuses on creating his works with eco-friendly materials and methods.

Known for his dramatic red-carpet gowns, Rami has draped the silhouettes of celebrities and trendsetters such as Penelope Cruz, Dita Von Teese, Heidi Klum, Paris Hilton, and Kim Kardashian. His designs have graced the pages of the New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily, Interview, Elle, In Style, and Flaunt amongst many others. Kashou is not all about gloss and glimmer, however. For instance, he showed up in the West Bank in 2016, only to find out, according to the Times of Israel, that ‘women here want glamour!’ There, in Ramallah, he held sway in a little shop, where “tucked behind a nondescript door another world beckoned: one of burgundy walls and floor-length mirrors, as Kashou hosted a three-day pop-up fashion shop.”

The Times reported, “A handful of women of all ages browsed the elegant designs, occasionally trying on clothes under the watchful eyes of Kashou, who rushed to dispense fashion advice when needed.” He reported that he’d been away from the West Bank for a long time, and though he would usually come to visit his family, this was the first time he’d brought his designs along.

Rami’s journey in fashion leads to advocacy for the Palestinian cause

Beyond his success in the fashion realm, Kashou has been an outspoken advocate for the Palestinian cause. Rooted in his heritage, Rami has actively engaged in initiatives aimed at raising awareness and fostering dialogue about the challenges faced by Palestinians. He underscored his advocacy role in the 10th episode of “Project Runway,” titled “Freedom.” The episode, reported in the publication Vulture, involved Rami making a dress, his personal construct for the absence of freedom in his homeland:

“Where I come from, as a Palestinian living under military occupation, we don’t have the freedom of movement,” Kashou says. “I’m unable to visit my birthplace, Jerusalem. There are always obstacles and checkpoints in the way. But in this particular design, I wanted freedom of flow, freedom of movement.” This was a rare moment for “Project Runway,” but the directors allowed it to happen—to “Put a face on, give a voice to, and honor the singular difficulties of the Palestinian experience.”

Rami–showing his gown designs to West Bank Palestinian women

Putting his money where his mouth is, Rami has participated in fundraisers, charity events, and collaborations that aim to provide aid and support to Palestinians affected by the conflict. He is committed to using his influence to “amplify the voices of the marginalized.” Rami’s journey from a young boy designing imagery from a cross-cultural perspective to a major fashion celebrity is inspirational. He is ingenious in combining his craft as a designer with his advocacy role in support of Palestinians.

Rami Kashou’s journey from a young designer navigating cultural duality to a luminary in the fashion industry serves as an inspiration to many. His unwavering dedication to his craft and his tireless efforts in advocating for his roots have solidified his place as more than just a fashion icon. “Kashou’s legacy transcends runways; it encompasses resilience, cultural pride, and a commitment to humanitarian causes.”

This story demonstrates a strong link between the artistic-esoteric world of fashion design and the day-to-day world of war and violence in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. In a world of fashion, where changes are frequent, “Kashou is a beacon of both style and substance, leaving an enduring legacy that transcends the confines of the runway.”

– “Rami Kashou,” Wikipedia Biography of Arab Americans,” 2023
– “Palestinian-American designer to the rich and famous pops up in W. Bank,” Times of Israel, 8/2/2016
–“Two American series dare to depict the reality of Palestinian life under occupation,” Vulture, 11/27/2022

John Mason, Ph.D., focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, and is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.

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