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October 20, 2017
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Fighting for Freedom with Needles and Thread

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Gold Plated Palestine Pin. (Photo courtesy of Palestyle)

Over 60 years of occupation has put the livelihood and culture of Palestinians at serious risk. The vast majority of Palestinians live abroad, a significant number in refugee camps, where conditions are crowded, unstable and frustrating. Among a myriad of other problems they face, many professionals there often find themselves unemployed, living hand to mouth. A certain young Palestinian woman became increasingly distressed by what was happening to her people, and decided to do something about it: thus Palestyle was born.

The company aims to relieve some suffering in the refugee camps by employing women to design and decorate a comprehensive range of fashion. Not only are these embroiderers, seamstresses, pattern cutters and designers well paid for their work, but the founder of the company, 28 year old Zeina Abou Chaaban, donates 5% of her profits to projects run by social organizations supporting Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine itself.

Glam Calligraphy Clutches with
Swarovski Crystals
(Photo courtesy of Palestyle)

She recently hired Ahmed Abou Chaaban as her Partner and Creative Director. Mr. Chaaban brings several years of fashion industry experience, abundant energy, and a tirelessly positive outlook to Palestyle. "If I have learned one thing in life it's that the impossible is nothing, especially when working with our amazing refugee women," he enthused. Although Palestyle is essentially a charity, there is nothing "granola" about its clothing and accessories: only the finest silk, cotton, wool, leather and crystal are used to create stylish tops, bags, shawls, jewellery and belts, and the high prices of the goods reflect the craftsmanship and quality.

The summer collection for 2011 was indeed elegant, and introduced a new range of brightly coloured leather bags with gold plated clasps laser cut into elaborate Arabic calligraphic messages that translate into messages of love and hope. "This collection combines both gold plated calligraphy and handmade embroidery to create a vibrant, trendy product, but what got to me the most is my memories of [her workers'] smiles and excitement when we combined these two finished elements together with success," says Zeina.

Zeina and Ahmed Abu Chaaban 
(Photo courtesy of Palestyle).

Certainly, Palestyle has made great progress: the brand is increasingly well known in the Middle East and beyond, and has had coverage from major fashion publications, including Grazia and Velvet. The lives of hundreds of refugees have been transformed with the steady wages their womenfolk earn.

Yet, the elephant in the room is still there: no matter how many purses are sold, no matter how many shawls are bought, Palestine is still an occupied territory, and its people are essentially stateless. Saod, a Palestyle embroider summed up the sentiments of many when she said: "I constantly dream of returning to my homeland, my olive trees, my people. Sometimes I feel there is nothing I can do, but now [with this job], I am fighting with my needle and thread."

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