Home Away From Home is a series that spotlights BIPOC brands that are adding a cultural essence to everyday items. This allows anyone to always have a piece of their culture in their own space without ever feeling homesick or out of touch with their roots. We're exploring the stories of the individuals behind the brands that have touched people's hearts through their products and have allowed people to feel at home anywhere.
A Palestinian non-profit organization is preserving the traditional embroidery style of tatreez by incorporating it into their handmade products ranging from home goods to clothing. The art form is composed of various intricate motifs which often tell a story about the person who owns the item containing the pattern, like napkin rings or pillows.
But Darzah's mission goes beyond creating beautiful handmade products. Through interactive and enriching workshops, they're creating jobs for marginalized females who often faced challenges of gender inequality which results in low-income issues and a lack of economic opportunities.
Preserving the Heritage
Darzah, which means "stitch" in Arabic, uses tatreez that have been passed down through generations of women—from mother to daughter. Motifs are often described as an unwritten language because they can reveal numerous personal traits like which village an individual originates from, what they do, and even their partner's back story.
"Every motif has a meaning," says Dr. Janette Habashi, the founder of Darzah. "Every village has its own motifs associated with the landscape. Even when a woman gets married to another man in a different village, she takes on the motifs from her original village and the other village her husband is a part of."
The traditional embroidery is incredibly detailed and requires much time, patience, and math with some longer pieces even taking months or years to finish. However, Darzah is taking the initiative to modernize the art form, so it takes less time and money to produce as beautiful goods at a more reasonable pace and price range. "What we're trying to do is to take this art and make it accessible," explains Dr. Habashi. "We want to explain the motif, the origin of the motif, and what you're putting in your house. We want to make it fun."
Dr. Habashi acknowledges that some buyers may not be completely aware of the cultural significance of tatreez or the specific motif they're buying, but what really matters is that they appreciate the time and detailed handwork that went into the piece. "We want people to enjoy the handmade piece and the woman's story behind that product," says Dr. Habashi. "There is somebody alive, living, who's creating this product for you to enjoy." Just recently, Darzah's team came across a review by a customer who had purchased their set of napkin rings—they had hosted a dinner with the napkin rings as part of the tableware. The napkin rings had all the guests conversing over the intricate details like the vibrant colors, the motifs, and who had made it. "She said the whole conversation over dinner was about the napkin rings," says Dr. Habashi. "The conversations were endless."
A Team Effort
Dr. Habashi is a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Oklahoma, and was helping her students fundraise for educational after-school programs for children living in the West Bank when she was approached by local Palestinian mothers. They were looking for a long-term solution to their economic troubles and strongly believed working would allow them to properly educate their own children at home. "What they proposed was much better than what we could offer," says Dr. Habashi. "They can take care of their children while also having a better impact than us."
Currently, Darzah's team consists of 21 women with one main artisan who leads projects teaches the other women how to embroider specific motifs and keep them authentic to the culture. Each motif is distinct even down to a single stitch or color, so the process requires great concentration and meticulous stitch work. "The motif looks different if you separate or miss one stitch," explains Dr. Habashi. "If you fill every item, it looks different. If you fill half of it, it'll look like a different motif."
Dr. Habashi understood the challenges of creating Darzah and knew that accommodation would be key in leading the brand. The embroidery materials for a specific project are dropped off at each part-time employee's home by the leading artisan, who then explains the instructions and specific elements of the included motifs. This way, the local women are able to set their own schedules and work around their lives to finish the work. "You do your house chore or you take care of the children, and in the morning, while you're drinking coffee, you do some," says Dr. Habashi. "You go out to do something else, come back, and you do some." After they have completed the product, the leading artisan takes the goods back to headquarters, and the cycle begins again.
By tailoring to the local women's personal schedules, Darzah allows them to still be very present within the household while also creating a source of income for them to freely spend. "The project is giving power back to women. Economic jobs create social power in a way. It allows you to make a decision on any small thing," says Dr. Habashi. "For example, one of the artisans will come up to me and say, 'if I'm thinking about buying a bar of chocolate, I can buy a bar of chocolate. I have the authority. I can make a decision.'"
"The project is giving power back to women."
We're All Connected
Dr. Habashi emphasizes the social responsibility everyone should carry to support one another especially if they've grown up privileged—having the freedom to make simple decisions about going anywhere they want, buying their favorite snacks, attending school, and more. "We don't exist in a vacuum," says Dr. Habashi. "We have to be in support and with support and for support of each other."
Although the world may seem large, Dr. Habashi says we are all connected in one way or another. "We're connected as human beings," says Dr. Habashi. "We're connected on an environmental level, we're connected on an economic level, we're connected on a social level. It's like if a woman is abused here, they're abused somewhere else too."
As Darzah continues to grow and thrive, the organization is working on creating an online archive for motifs. Due to the extensive nature of motifs, the archive will help organize the motifs and better represent them on what they stand for. Darzah is encouraging Palestinians around the world to submit their own family heirloom motif to the archive, so they can preserve its history, meaning, and design for future generations while simultaneously educating others.
The motif archive will allow customers to choose what motif personally speaks to them or be inspired to create a new one with a similar design. This way, customers are given the opportunity to individually customize their home goods or clothes with motifs that are significant or portray who they are in a meaningful way.