Intro by Esther
One of the things my husband and I are constantly talking about at home these days is how we want to be doing more to serve refugees. We don't want to just keep posting things on social media or ranting about it - we want to DO something. I'll admit it - I haven't thought this much about refugees until the latest changes executed by our current government in restricting refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. The truth is I should have cared more about refugees even before the Syrian refugee crisis - which, at least to me and my husband, is the biggest humanitarian crisis today. As each day goes by, we are increasingly discouraged by news reporting things such as lay-offs in organizations we support who are helping refugees, families being kept apart, seriously ill children blocked from receiving treatment that could save their lives, etc. We want to DO something. One of the blessings I have by running bonJOY is being able to choose who we feature and support. The fact is that refugees are at a very high risk of being exploited and trafficked due to being in more desperate and vulnerable situations. In short, the refugee crisis is an issue that bonJOY cares about and wants to help alleviate. I'm excited to introduce you to Darzah, a wonderful organization employing refugees in the West Bank. I spoke with Cayley Pater, assistant director of Darzah, and am so pleased to share with you their mission and work!
1. You have a heart to serve and support refugees...can you tell me more about it and, out of all the different humanitarian issues of today, why you want to work with refugees? Darzah is part of a non-profit women's economic empowerment initiative based in the West Bank. We created the Darzah line in 2015 because we knew there were so many marginalized women in the West Bank skilled in this beautiful Palestinian embroidery technique, passing it down in their families for generations. It also isn't that easy to find tatreez embroidered products in the U.S. We saw an opportunity to bridge that gap. Our focus on refugees has been part of our organization's mission since it was founded. In the West Bank, unemployment rates are high across the board, for both men and women, and we wanted to figure out a way to create jobs for the hard-to-reach individuals in the region. Daily life in the refugee camps is hard, and women with refugee status in communities across the West Bank experience a great deal of hardship both economically and politically. We want to alleviate some of the stress of daily life through job creation, as confidence in the economy in the West Bank is low. We believe that by building the Darzah brand, we not only provide sustainable income for these women and their families, we also share their beautiful work, and a piece a Palestinian culture, with the world. In the U.S., it's hard to find products made in the West Bank, and we believe each Darzah product is not only a work of art, it is also a conversation piece.
2. What are some common issues faced by the refugees you work with in the West Bank and what are some ways we can help them? In 2015, unemployment rates for young women in the West Bank were as high as 63%. Additionally, in the northern region of the West Bank, where our artisan center is located, finding jobs is even more challenging than in the south. Refugee communities oftentimes have higher unemployment rates still, which is why we have these two criteria for hiring women: refugee status and economic hardship. Many of our artisans' families do not have stable job opportunities, as it's hard for both men and women to find work. Working for our organization is a source of consistent income for these women's families, as we try to provide full-time and part-time employment for as many women as we can so that the women know they have a job for the foreseeable future. Additionally, some of our artisans are single moms, so their children depend solely on the income they bring in from working with our organization.
Shopping with Darzah, and our sister brand Child's Cup Full, directly supports our training and employment programs in the West Bank. We have a waiting list of refugee and low-income artisans who are skilled and want to work for us. With our focus on the U.S. market, we strive to create beautiful, high quality products that people want, and the more we are able to sell, the more jobs we can create.
3. Who designs your products? How much and what kind of input do you invite your employees to contribute? Darzah is a collection of traditional Palestinian embroidered products. The embroidery motifs have been passed down from mother to daughter for generations, and they are also specific to different regions historically. With our focus on the U.S. market, we want to incorporate those traditional designs into each product, while also keeping the products fashion-forward and relevant for women here. In order to do that, the design of each product is a collaboration with our lead embroidery artist, Rahaf, and our team in the U.S., which is Dr. Habashi, the founder of our non-profit, and myself. We keep Rahaf up to date on colors that are trending, and also do small design workshops with the artisans to make sure they know what kinds of products our target customers are looking for. Rahaf is the point person for mathematically calculating each design, as each stitch is counted in tatreez embroidery. She works directly with our shoe maker in Hebron to figure out the patterns for the shoes, and this is a new process for the shoe maker as well, as tatreez embroidered shoes are not a traditional product from the region. The design collaboration process is actually a key part of our mission to create a democratic, collaborative environment with the women who make each Darzah product.
4. Given today's climate around the refugee crisis, how do you feel this will impact the work of Darzah? Refugees have always been a community in need of support, and we hope that as awareness around the refugee crisis grows, opportunities to support these communities also increase. Refugees have amazing skills to offer to the world and giving them business so that can support themselves and their families is so crucial. We hope that brands like Darzah can gain visibility as a venue to provide support, and also celebrate their cultures wherever possible.
5. Anything else we should know? Our Spring collection will be available next month on Darzah.org and we can't wait to launch it! Each season, we have been working hard to refine our product line to make it better than the last collection. We have lots of new tatreez products and we're so excited to share them with the world!