Fashion unites for Palestine

Sarah Elhosary , Tuesday 14 Nov 2023

The global fashion industry is drawing inspiration from the Palestinian resistance, creating attire that both pays tribute to and raises awareness of the cause.

Bekkaoui, and Osama
Bekkaoui, and Osama


For decades, fashion has merged with political issues as a means of expression, conveying messages in various ways. Much of what the world has witnessed in political fashion statements has also been associated with Palestine and the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people. 

During this time, the Palestinians have faced fierce attacks, and their supporters worldwide have worn clothing and keffiyehs (Palestinian scarves) signifying the Palestinian identity in support of the cause.

This support has more recently found a creative space with designers and artists who have used their talent to express their sympathy and concerns. Dutch-Moroccan designer Aziz Bekkaoui has been one of the most consistent supporters of the Palestinian cause. 

“My support for Palestine has always been unwavering, not only as a response to the ongoing genocide, but also because of the 75 years of occupation and humiliation that Palestine has endured. Therefore, it is crucial for me to be a voice for the Palestinian people, and I will persist in doing so until they achieve their freedom,” Bekkaoui told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Throughout my educational journey, I have remained deeply connected to and inspired by the Palestinian people, drawn to their resilience, hope, and resistance. This inspiration will always be a driving force behind my artistic expression.”

“As a tribute to Palestinian culture, I launched various projects in 2014, for example. In 2015, I staged a fashion show called ‘United Hearts Now’ or ‘World Keffiyeh Day,’ which combined glamour with protest. It is crucial for me to show the world Palestinian culture and to provide a forum for their opinions to be heard,” he said.

Meera Toukan, founder of an Eastern-inspired brand, also consistently draws her inspiration from Palestine and the Middle East. “This has been a core part of my creative journey from the start and goes beyond current events,” she said.

“The deep bond with Palestine has always been a significant part of my identity. While I was born in Jordan, the cherished memories of my grandparents sharing their Palestinian stories have always had a special place in my heart. That’s why we incorporate words like horriyeh (freedom), salam (peace), and hobb (love) into our designs, often blending them with the keffiyeh pattern to highlight the enduring importance of these values.”

Toukan has recently blended the Palestinian keffiyeh, with its symbolic motifs expressing unity and the resilience of the Palestinian people, with a modern design for an acrylic purse.

Art can be a powerful method of expression, she says, as well as a way to bring attention to significant situations, such as the current one in Gaza. Art and fashion provide a platform for raising awareness and amplifying the voices of those who might not otherwise speak up. These platforms can be used to bring attention to vital issues, spark conversations, and rally support for important causes.

“The support for the Palestinian cause has garnered more followers, coinciding with the current Israeli airstrikes on Gaza,” commented fashion designer Maram Ahmed. “I’ve been closely following the news about the Palestinian people’s plight, and it has undoubtedly affected us all emotionally and mentally. I found myself putting aside all my designs and using the Palestinian keffiyeh to create fashion that supports the cause.”

“Our sense of helplessness in the face of the attacks on Gaza compelled me to stay closely tied to the cause. I feel an endless desire to talk about it, and even when I’m silent, my clothing conveys the message,” she added.

Ahmed ordered several Palestinian keffiyehs to design a blazer, vest, and skirt. She donned these designs and shared them with her social media followers, receiving a warm and substantial show of support.

However, Maye Al-Husseini and Heba Abul-Fadl’s designs, inspired by the Palestinian cause, received some criticism when they presented them on their clothing brand’s social media pages.

 “We introduced a collection of designs inspired by Palestine called ‘The Holy Land.’ It includes a jacket and two T-shirts adorned with the map and the Palestinian keffiyeh. One of our followers reacted with strong criticism, but we tried to explain that the designs are our way of expressing support for the cause,” Al-Husseini said.

“Over time, our followers understood, and the percentage of dissenters did not exceed two per cent, while the majority of our followers embraced purchasing the designs and wearing them frequently as a means of expressing their support.”

She drew inspiration from Palestinian keffiyeh for one of the designs, saying that “we chose to draw inspiration from the motifs and patterns of the Palestinian keffiyeh, which is a symbol of Palestinian resistance and reflects much of Palestine’s cultural and social history.”

 “The interlinking motifs symbolise the activity of fishing, which the Palestinians have practised for centuries. The two extended lines at the edge of the keffiyeh represent the road that extends through Palestine and has been used in trade. The olive tree leaves on the keffiyeh symbolise the plantations passed down through generations of Palestinian families.”

“We were enthusiastic about supporting the cause, so we intensified our efforts to produce the designs in just one week, which is a record time compared to the usual timeframe for designing and manufacturing pieces with the same specifications,” Al-Husseini said.

“We have also tried to support the cause in every way possible. We have allocated about 20 per cent of the proceeds from the sales of these designs to support Gaza. We have also modified our brand’s logo by adding the Palestinian flag and name to it, despite the possibility of being banned from our online page due to the restrictions imposed by social media platforms on Palestinian cause supporters in the West.”

The same feelings are shared by designer Mohamed Osama. “I was not afraid of having my social media pages banned, and I worked on designing a robe specifically to support the Palestinian cause during the ongoing aggression, which I shared with my followers,” he said.

The design features the colours of the Palestinian flag in green and red, along with the famous Palestinian keffiyeh patterns. It took a week to design and produce.

“The difficulty in creating the design was not only in the concept itself, but also in wanting to create a design that combines elegance with the colours and features of the Palestinian flag and heritage,” Osama said.

“The most important thing for me was to convey my support and message while maintaining a stylish and wearable design that can be worn at any time, not just as a display or support piece. Achieving this in the fashion design world is nearly impossible because any idea belonging to this style falls under the category of ‘avant-garde’ or unconventional and is then meant for display only.”

“My design serves as an expression of the pain and anguish within me resulting from the massacres and genocide being committed against the people of Gaza, especially innocent children. I only have my talent to convey my support for the people of Palestine, but art is a universal language understood by people of all cultures, especially in fashion design.”

 “Therefore, I have chosen to voice my support through fashion, making this design my first inspired by Palestinian heritage.”

Speaking about the criticism he has faced, Bekkaoui said that “in 2014, when I showcased the World Keffiyeh Day collection, the Western fashion press argued that politics and fashion should not be mixed, and they condemned my actions. But it is remarkable to see major fashion houses displaying pro-Ukrainian T-shirts on the catwalk just a few years later.”

“Fashion is still a form of freedom of expression for me, as oppression and occupation have always been condemned in art.”

“As a designer or artist, you have a humanitarian involvement in the world, and if something is not acceptable, such as the genocide in Gaza, you cannot keep quiet about it. All designers and artists have a platform and should use it against acts of inhumanity; otherwise, you cannot be considered a contemporary designer or producer.”

“As a designer, you also communicate through clothing, and it’s like a second skin you carry with you. When people see the collection, they ask where it comes from and what it stands for. I tell them the story about the Palestinians because most people are not well informed about Palestine.”

“With my designs, I reach many people differently. Everyone can, in their own way, convey the story of the Palestinians to the entire world so that their history is not erased and forgotten,” he concluded.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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