Styling in Palestyle: Couture with a Social Agenda


High-end fashion brand Palestyle is known in global fashion circles for its statement handbags that are embellished with Arabic calligraphy. But aside from its flare, it is the company’s focus on social awareness and ethics that sets it apart from other fashion labels. Founded in 2009, by Zeina Abou Chabaan with the help of her brother, Ahmad, the Dubai-based brand is committed to empowering Palestinian women in refugee camps in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon.

Chabaan was educated in Germany and later attended the American University in Dubai, where she kindled her business ambitions. Since her childhood, she was inspired by the exquisite handwork of Palestinian embroidery, and after a visit to refugee camps in 2005, she decided to combine her love of embroidery with her entrepreneurial talents to launch Palestyle. Chabaan ensured that 5 per cent of the company’s sales go directly to welfare programs for Palestinian refugees through various NGOs, with approximately 100 women from camps in Jordan working for the brand.

Since the eighth century, embroidery has been a feature of Palestinian culture. The intricate handwork that Palestinian women create and design includes rich motifs of not only the various literary narratives passed down from generations, but also incorporate symbols of the Palestinian national identity even in the midst of the occupation. The patterns are often indigenous to specific villages, and they often integrate the woman’s personal experiences. Each piece is embedded with its personal own language — a language that recounts the heritage of its people in the face of modern political turmoil.

In an interview with Gulf News, Chabaan explains the different designs. “In Palestine the patterns they embroidered would tell you different things about the women who made them. Each pattern will identify which village or area the girl came from. The women from the north embroidered cypress trees while the ones from the south, which is mostly desert, embroider tent patterns. The colors, too, signify something. Red signifies that the woman is married, blue that she’s single. So you can see that it is almost a bio data.”

Chabaan has managed to update these intricate pieces of needlework by adding embroidery to modern styles. In the process, she has also been working to revive the interest in this craft to younger generations who seem to be moving away from this practice.

From Eva Longoria to UK’s top model and actress Lily Cole, celebrities have been sporting the infamous Palestyle clutch and the elegant hand-embroidered dress. Ahmad has been working heavily on marketing the brand via its Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr — all of which is managed by a “mysterious” Palestyle PR girl — and Facebook page, whereas Chabaan has been more involved with social organizations to help rebuild schools and infrastructure. She is explicit in her message that the brand is a social project rather than a charity, in order to empower the women in these refugee camps.

Chabaan and her brother have also worked on projects to replant olive trees, as olives are a substantial source of income in this region. For each clutch purchased, Palestyle plants 15 trees in the West Bank. Zeina and Ahmad explain the motivation behind this initiative. “We’d like to help them in a sustainable manner, rather than just give money. We want to bring about a change that is consistent and sustainable.” This dynamic duo has indeed kept to their goal to “add an impact to the world by positively changing it.”

Palestyle’s signature clutches come in a vast array of colors, textures and styles. From suede to leather, envelope to box styled, cobalt blue to snakeskin holographic prints, these clutches are a staple for women from various walks of life. Each purse includes distinctive Arabic script laser-cut into the bag itself or branded with the signature calligraphy hardware. Another Palestyle product that is creating buzz in the Dubai fashion world is the jumpsuit abaya that boasts vibrant shades and a light fabric to remain useful in Spring or Fall.

Palestyle’s clothing, bags, jewelry and belts are sold in Bloomingdales Dubai, other stores in the UAE, Qatar, Pakistan and recently in the UK. You can shop online through their Facebook page. They are currently in the process of revamping their website, so keep checking in!

By Submitted by Nabilah Jiwani
*Photos used with permission of Palestyle

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