By Abi Lomax|
May 3, 2022|
8 mins read
Overwhelmed by news of war throughout the world? Increasingly exerting your privilege of being able to simply tune out of it, and distance yourself from the despair and sadness? You’re not alone, or indeed a bad person for feeling so. News fatigue and anxiety are exceeding commonplace at the moment. It is easy to feel completely powerless when it comes to humanitarian crises, and donating spare change to relief efforts can often feel too meagre.
Well, I’m here to offer you an alternative: supporting refugees by buying textiles, clothes and goods from those working with artisans in displaced communities. Grassroot projects empower and uplift primarily women, giving them the means to support themselves and their families- enabling them to be less reliant on the handouts of humanitarian aid.
This is nothing new either! My Great-Grandmother, a Jewish refugee during the Second World War, sold fabric flowers on the streets of London to support herself and her family, after narrowly escaping Nazi-occupied Austria in 1943; while my Grandmother and Great Uncle were evacuated to rural England. 5 years later, my Grandmother attended the prestigious Fashion College, Saint Martin’s School of Art, studying Fashion illustration. Textiles empower and uplift. And it wouldn’t be possible without the patronage of people like you and I.
But first, some hopeful news!
In response to the war happening in Ukraine, 45 UK businesses have formed a coalition to offer employment and long term support to Ukrainian refugees. One such is the cosmetic retailer, Lush, who have opened up 500-600 seasonal staff positions starting May 2022. This will be followed by roles in web development, forecasting, warehouse and retail assistance, alongside several others.. Additionally, the retailer Asos is in the process of creating roles for those displaced – especially in tech engineering, a Ukrainian area of speciality; working with the relevant European partners. They are licensed to offer sponsorship certificates, so they will be using them going forwards.
Outside of the Uk, in Frankfurt, Germany, B2B (Business to Business) tailoring workshop Stitch by Stitch runs three-year traineeships for refugees with a certificate upon completion, which helps them find future jobs.
Read the full article by Vogue Business here
So for those irked that the responsibility to support refugees is unfairly falling upon the citizens of host countries, not the businesses or our tax-paid government with the means to do so, here lies some hope.
10 Organisations Working With Refugee Communities
Based: UK and refugee camps worldwide
About: Love Welcomes was established in 2017 to help with the migrant crisis in Europe, and to rehabilitate some of the 1 million+ refugees arriving in Greece and Southern Italy from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. The company trains women and employs them to make homeware products which are then sold on their website, charging a living wage. Additionally, they use some sustainable materials including recycled or upcycled linen and vegan leather.
Based: Rwanda & Ghana.
About: Indego Africa is a non-profit organisation based in Rwanda and Ghana partnering with 1100 women, many of which are refugees, to become empowered businesswomen and lift them and their families out of poverty. Designed in New York, the products are made with local techniques, materials and artisanal skills. These partners are then provided with access to the global market, ensuring a fair and consistent income. The sales of such, along with donations and grants, are then invested back into the community, in the form of business training for the women and youth. Naturally, they hope to grow the number of partners as time goes on.
Based: New York, USA and Brazil
About: Portuguese, for return, VOLTA ATELIER creates 100% hand-stitched, one of a kind upcycled leather handbags in Brazil, with discarded leather from accessories factories, in partnership with local NGOs (Non Government Organisations). The artisans are women refugees from Haiti living in South Brazil, victims of domestic violence, or former inmates. Volta Atelier’s mission is to ‘encourage a circular economy, breathing life back into lost cultural heritage and growing communities from the ground up.’
About: SEP Jordan (Social Enterprise Project) is a fashion and lifestyle business based in the Jerash “Gaza” Camp in Jordan, working with over 500 refugees, in the art of hand embroidery. A Certified B Corporation, they work privately with camp residents as partners, not recipients of aid, enabling the women to uplift themselves and become economically independent.
Based: San Diego, California
About: Designed in California, and made in Southern Turkey, Raum Goods produces sustainably made leather shoes. Working with artisanal cobblers 5 generations old, with a team made up of 10% Syrian refugees, they work sustainably, using leather left over from the food industry as a bi-product, and vegetable-tanned leather soles, excluding harmful chrome from the traditional tanning process. Additionally, no steel moulds are used or harmful chemicals, reducing waste water and toxic waste in the process. Lastly, all the shoe parts are sourced within a 90 mile radius of the workshop saving greenhouse gases from transportation.
About: The Social Outfit works with migrants and refugees in Australia to financially uplift them through ethical clothing and product manufacturing, with a focus on female humanitarian migrants.
Additionally, they have run entry-level training in Retail, Digital Fulfilment and Customer Service Roles, paid work experience, and free Community Sewing Classes for Women from Refugee and New Migrant Communities; setting them up with the necessary tools for employment beyond the program, including empowering a number of startups from the skills learnt. Hundreds of people have been helped this way. ‘70% of our activities go into running our clothing store and workroom, where we provide employment opportunities for refugees and new migrants in ethical clothing manufacturing and retail. 30% of our work goes towards running free training and education programs that expand social connections and provide positive experiences for refugees and new migrants.’
In terms of sustainability, 9.5 tonnes of fabric and textile waste has been saved from landfill, from working with fashion brands to save deadstock fabric. They create trans-seasonal garments, instead of following the wasteful multi-seasonal outputs that fast-fashion brands adhere to, reducing waste further.
Based: West Bank, Palestine
About: Based in the West Bank, Palestine, Fair Trade Certified and non-profit Darzah, provides work for low income and refugee women, employing them to produce products using the traditional Tateez embroidery, native to Palestine. These are techniques that have been passed down from mother to daughter over centuries, and each motif features imagery telling stories with significant meaning. Unemployment in the area is 60% for women, so by paying a living wage, far above the local minimum wage, artisans are able to provide for their families and support the local economy.
About: Made 51 is a global organisation created by UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to link refugees in Africa, Asia and the Middle East with local artisanal social enterprises that they approve and work with based on their proven experience in design, production management, export and marketing. They create a range of MADE51 items along with their existing work. It enables artistic and cultural traditions along with the skills and knowledge needed to be financially supported and passed down to future generations.
‘A global organisation dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people.’
Based: Peshawar, Pakistan
About: ‘Lél is an artistic collective dedicated to preserving and evolving the 16th century Florentine and Mughal art of hand-crafted stone inlay.’
The artistic collective works with local craftsmen and refugee artisans to preserve the craft’s knowledge and skills for future generations, as well as explore the creative possibilities of the technique.
Based: Operating out of London and Singapore
About: Artisan & Fox works with more than 200 artisans in 11 countries, providing access to the global market through their online marketplace. They collaborate and co-design with their partners, merging contemporary and traditional design and craftsmanship. Everything is underpinned by ethics, transparency and sustainability.
Artisan craft provides one of the main sources of income for both men and women in the developing world, but many of these artisans can find themselves marginalised and exploited by unscrupulous middlemen.
They aim to empower the artisans it works with throughout the design process. Each piece is inspired by the cultural landscapes of their local region. The company guarantees 50% of all gross profits from each item it sells, provides micro-loans and pays for raw materials in advance, helping to create more resilient local communities.
So there you have it, a plethora of brands where you can invest in some truly conscientious pieces. War and displacement leave deep scars, but by supporting artisans from affected regions you can help heal and rebuild their communities. If you’re buying textiles, basketry, fashion or stonework, choose the most socially and environmentally friendly options. You never know when you might be placed in a similar position of vulnerability yourself. Poverty leads to some desperate situations, from slavery and sex work to life-shortening disease and destitution, so use your economic privilege for good!