Sometime in the 1970s, Thomas Abercrombie, while on assignment for National Geographic, took a photo that would change everything for a young Palestinian woman. The picture depicts a man standing on a beach in Gaza surrounded by hundreds of skeins of red, yellow, and blue yarn. Yasmeen Mjalli was fascinated by this shot; she had never seen anything like it in Palestine. The resulting search for long-forgotten traditions is how Nöl Collective was born.“I started learning about our heritage of craft and artisanship, including handwoven traditional fabrics, hand-spun wool, naturally dyed yarns and fabrics, and traditional cross-stitch embroidery,” Mjalli recounts. Stories of Palestinians who celebrate indigenous practices by keeping them alive today continued to inspire her. From weaving studios in Gaza, sister embroiderers in Nablus, and family-owned workshops in the hills of Jerusalem, to a factory in Bethlehem and many more, Nöl Collective is the story of Palestinians finding joy in their crafts. Mjalli says, “It is important to remember that these practices are inextricably linked to women, to the earth, and to a slow, intentional production process.”
The upcoming spring collection from Nöl Collective mirrors everything that Mjalli believes in. Photographed in Hackney and worn by Lilac Khatib and Silai Estatira, Palestinian and Afghani models, the collection was born around “concepts of movement, heritage, and persistence.” It features the work of artisans and craftsmen from the West Bank. Bright pops of color amid soft greens and neutrals weave a larger narrative across sweatshirts, slouchy cargo pants, naturally dyed dresses, hand-embroidered baby tees and miniskirts, and hand-woven shoulder bags.
Every garment is a result of an ethical and sustainable production process, the beating heart of Nöl Collective. Mjalli likes to describe her initiative as hyper local and intersectional in nature. “The intersectional approach to design and production means thinking beyond the garment itself. As beautiful as a piece may be, it doesn’t do much for me if it doesn’t have a soul.” She finds this meaning primarily in the people behind a garment and the land that has brought everything to life. Mjalli considers the families and workshops of Nöl Collective no less than revolutionaries in the face of a global industry – one that continues to prioritize production and profit over people and planet. “Living and creating in Palestine offers an ongoing series of challenges. Physically meeting with producers and artisans is much more arduous due to apartheid roads,” Mjalli says. She also talks about how traditional fabrics, embroidery, and crafts integral to Palestinian identity have been under threat in recent history. But artisans and craftsmen all over the occupied territories continue to persevere, “a testament to the resilience of Palestinians to keep our heritage alive.”
Originally published in the April 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia