Arab designers are using clothes to start a conversation centered around pride of heritage – and it’s reaching the halls of American Congress.
“The aim of my designs is to preserve Palestinian indigenous culture while bridging the gap between Eastern and Western worlds,” pronounces Suzy Tamimi, a New York-based Palestinian designer who repurposes and combines traditional embroidery with contemporary designs. “I feel like this is a pivotal time.” The designer uses vintage remnants of Palestinian embroidery to complete her garments, interpreting themes of continuity, identity, and empowerment. She implements indigenous fabrics “to pay homage to the past with eyes set on the future.” Her practical athletic wear features traditional fabrics decorating sleeves and collars hand-embroidered by Palestinian women refugees. The words “freedom fighter” are printed in both Arabic and English in bold typography.
Originally published in February 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia.
The conversation has since gained momentum and Tamimi doesn’t hesitate to tout her latest collection as a political and humanitarian expression. A boxing robe adorned with traditional Palestinian textiles features a unique crest. Tamimi presents a coat of arms with doves (universal symbols of peace), olive tree branches (cornerstones of Palestinian agriculture and heritage), and poppy flowers, intended to honor the lives lost in pursuit of freedom. “The crest and robe together make a clear statement relatable to all oppressed people of the world: we have to fight for our freedom.”
In the US, many turned to the polls last November to have their voices heard – and on January 3, Rashida Tlaib was sworn in to Congress dressed in a Palestinian thobe. The Michigan congresswoman wrote on social media, “I will always embrace my roots and allow it to help me serve you with love and an unwavering fight for justice.” Ahead of the ceremony, she invited followers to join her in spirit by wearing their favorite activist T-shirt, mother’s thobe, or own ethnic clothing to proudly shows off their roots. The hashtag #tweetyourthobe quickly went viral, with Tunisian model Kenza Fourati posting a photo of her toddler daughter, Dora, and niece in Palestinian thobes. Her husband, journalist Ayman Mohyeldin, wrote, “As the son of a Palestinian mother, it is a milestone for Palestinian-Americans to see their culture and heritage reflected in their elected officials. Young girls like my daughter and niece now have officials they can see and aspire to be like one day.”
Creative Director: Mike Fernandez
Photographer: Diego Ramos and Paul Barcena
Stylist: Michelle Hellene
Designer: Suzy Tamimi
Makeup: Marco Castro
Hair: Javier Puga Jr.
Models: Ahmed Samir, Rasika Navare, and Saida Valieva.
Additional writing by Adnan Qiblawi.