Darzah is an empowering initiative, launched by professor and humanitarian Janette Habashi in 2008, that aims to better the lives of marginalized women in Palestine while preserving tatreez, an age-old embroidery technique passed down from generation to generation.
“We want to show the regional and Western market that we have high-end products, and that we empower marginalized women. We want to introduce the culture, the art of tatreez, in a nice way that everybody can enjoy, ” says Habashi speaking to Vogue Arabia over the phone. An Educational Psychology professor at the University of Oklahoma, Habashi has been in Palestine for the last six years, helming this project.
The initiative initially began as a fund-raising project in refugee camps spread across Palestine. “After a couple of years women started asking us if we could provide them with a job, so we started creating educational toys through an initiative under our non-profit organization called Child’s Cup Full,” explains Habashi. Through this organization, she decided to employ marginalized women to make the toys, and eventually the project grew. “We had a lot of women reach out who wanted to work with us in order to support their families. As our production was on a very small scale, we could not offer everyone jobs. So we moved out of the refugee camp and rented a space in a small village called Zababdeh. But the problem then, was that the people who came to us asking for employment did not match the skills we were looking for.”
Rather than turning the women away, Habashi sought alternative options for the women that were more suitable to their skill set. “We realized that most of these women who came to us could do tatreez, as it was taught to them from a very young age. So, we started to think about doing something to utilize those skills,” she explains. This is how Darzah, an ethical fashion range of hand-embroidered shoes, handbags, and homeware under Child’s Cup Full, was conceived.
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,” muses Habashi. The shoes, which can take up to a month to complete, are first designed by an in-house artisan who dream up the colors, patterns and names (all of which are titled after Palestinian sweets and pastries such as zalabia and baklava) before the women 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 more women,” says Habashi, “These women are very talented and what they need is an opportunity to showcase these talents.”
The embroidered flats, handbags,clutches cushions, napkin rings and scarves can all be ordered online. Each purchase supports training and employment programs in the West Bank.