“For decades, Jordan has taken in millions of Palestinian, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees, earning it a reputation as an island of peace,” starts Aseel Qawasmeh, the designer behind the contemporary womenswear label Aseel, launched in 2016. Amman is a humanitarian hub, with scores of international agencies, NGOs, and aid workers who cycle through every few months to manage crisis in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Palestine. Jordan hosts over 1.3 million of the 5.2 million Syrian refugees. “As a human, a Jordanian, and a fashion designer, I’ve decided to narrate this in my own way. I translate what I see and hear every day through stories, faces, unspoken words, and heartbreaking stories.”
Refugees’ stories comes to life with a unique collection. Handwritten notes from 40-year-old Syrian mother of four Hana line a white jacket . “Symbolically, the jacket conceals the hurt and anguish. The words are carefully tucked away in the lining. Her husband vanished into a Syrian government detention after being injured by a car bomb,” states the designer. Meanwhile, a white t-shirt is emblazoned with a serial number and barcode, “It serves as a bittersweet reminder of what refugees around the world experience. Bitter as their nationality is reduced to a number and sweet because it documents what they have endured. It cannot be discounted nor disregarded.” Refugees are given identification numbers and a UN certificate that defines their status. “I wanted to make this difficult moment visible to all by exposing it on the front of a plain unisex white t-shirt as a mark of solidarity with all migrants,” continues the activist designer on her powerful message.
Qawasmeh was offered a fashion mentoring opportunity at the Za’atari camp with UNHCR. “It gave me the chance to inspire young designers. As I got to know them more, their words kept ringing in my head. Regardless of all those endless nights I stayed awake thinking of giving up, all the tears and breakdowns, I kept going. Not on my own, but with the support and love that was coming my way.” In tribute, photos of the Za’atari refugee camp were printed on white jackets and dresses. 70% of the fabrics used are traditional Syrian Saya textiles with bright colors symbolizing women’s tenacity and their need and will to survive under brutal circumstances.