Whenever we make something with our own hands and mind, we add a layer of meaning, from the time we spend carefully selecting materials to the thoughts and dreams we infuse our makes with. Making is such a powerful thing – it connects us with others, helps us form connections and build friendships, encourages us to share our skills and knowledge, creates safe spaces, and can even prevent isolation. All of this is even more valuable for makers in less privileged situations than most of us, like the 25 Syrian women living in the Chatilah refugee settlement in Lebanon where they are part of Threads of Syria.
Threads of Syria is an Artisan & Fox initiative that offers collaborative, creative, meaningful work to women refugees, encourages them to take ownership of their own livelihood and involves them in every step of the process, aiming for them to run Threads of Syria independently in the future. The beautiful scarves they hand-knit come with a beautiful patch with cross-stitched embroidery, featuring traditional Syrian patterns, and are available in their online shop.
We teamed up to share more about Threads of Syria over the next couple of days (which I’m so excited I about!), and are kicking things off with an interview with Jaron, one of the co-founders of Artisan & Fox. Continue reading below to learn more about Threads of Syria and their gorgeous work, and feel free to leave questions you might have in the comments!
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me, Jaron! Can you to tell us a bit about yourself and your work for Artisan & Fox?
Thank you Verena! My name is Jaron, and I’m the co-founder of Artisan & Fox, an online ethical marketplace serving artisans across the developing world.
I started our social enterprise two years ago, after a chance meeting with a silversmith in the Himalayas. His name is Prem, a talented silversmith, loving family man, and a great friend. When I met him, he was handcrafting these beautiful, intricate silver rings – but he was struggling heavily after the Nepali earthquake.
Seeing an opportunity, I decided to help bring his handcrafted pieces online to help him get by and raise his incomes. I built an online store for 100 dollars by myself, and sold out his rings in just 2 weeks.
Two years on, we still work with Prem, but we have now expanded to work with over 100 artisans in Afghanistan, Guatemala, Mexico and Kenya now. Recently we also started working with Syrian women refugees in Lebanon in a new project titled 'Threads Of Syria’, engaging 25 Syrian women in the Chatila refugee settlement to handcraft beautiful Syrian scarves. 100% of profits goes back to the women, their families, and the camp community.
What inspired you and your team to join forces with Tight-Knit Syria to collaborate on Threads of Syria, and what makes this initiative so special?
We want to change the media's narrative about refugees.
The media often paints refugees in a negative and dehumanizing manner. They are always seen as a burden or leaches on national resources; and often as passive victims, unable to forge their own path out of their predicaments.
Together with Tight-Knit Syria, 'Threads Of Syria' wants to change these stories about refugees. We want to show the world that refugees have many untapped skills and talents, and if given the opportunity to engage in meaningful work, they can achieve so much. What makes this initiative so special is the women’s level of involvement in ‘Threads Of Syria’. Often, you see companies helping refugees by merely offering jobs — but what we are doing here, far beyond meaningful work, is to give the women the opportunity to partake in building up ‘Threads Of Syria’. We’re also special in that this global effort is 100% not-for-profit; 100% of profits goes back to the women, their families, and the refugee camp community.
All ‘Threads Of Syria’ scarves are co-created and co-designed by us, Tight-Knit Syria, and the women through a collaborative process. We also involve the women in the marketing process: and they are involved in the photography and videography process. Our eventual aim is to have the women run ‘Threads Of Syria’ independently in the future.
We’ll get more insight into what being part of Thread of Syria means to the women you’re collaborating with over the next days, and I’m so looking forward to sharing their stories. What’s a typical 'Threads of Syria' work day like for the artisans?
In Lebanon, businesses are not allowed to hire Syrian asylum seekers - and so most of the women do not have the opportunity to work outside legally, even if they wish to. ‘Threads Of Syria’ is special in that it offers flexible, home-based work for the women. So a work-day is unlike any other kind of job — they fill in knitting of the scarves alongside time spent with their children, and visiting other women in their shelters to knit together.
This is so important in a refugee camp. Because the camp is often socially isolated, both externally and internally. Externally, the camp is cut off from the rest of Lebanon because locals do not visit, and there is general animosity towards refugees. Internally, the people can also be isolated from each other — due to mistrust, cultural nuances, or general chaos in the camp environment. ‘Threads Of Syria’ creates safe knitting spaces where women can co-work beside other women, bring their children together to socialize, and share advice and tips to improve their skills and navigate the chaotic camp environment.
Could you tell us more about the inspiration and thoughts behind the scarves Threads of Syria is currently offering?
Each Syrian Scarf is hand-knitted in the colors of the Syrian flag — red and green. It is also infused with a beautiful patch with cross-stitched embroidery, featuring traditional patterns often found in traditional Syrian costumes. We hope that the scarf will serve as an artifact that connects you to the woman who knitted your scarf; and that you can feel the love, the hope, and the warmth of the person who made it. We also provide a card that tells you the first name of the woman who made it, as well as a postcard of the making process!
What parts of your and the artisans’ work and situation are most challenging?
There are so many challenges, we’re not quite sure where to begin! From getting the materials into the camp (it is difficult to source proper and consistent wool sources in Lebanon, and into the camp), to remitting funds to the women (we’ve had our transfers cancelled several times for no reason, and the Syrian women refugees do not have the legal right to open bank accounts in Lebanon either!). But together, our global team is resourceful and we are able to make it work for the women. They are also ingenious and entrepreneurial, in finding ways around the many limitations that bind them.
Can you share a bit about your goals for the future of Threads of Syria? Are there any upcoming projects we should have an eye out for?
Together with the 25 Syrian women refugees, Tight-Knit Syria and Artisan & Fox hope to scale ‘Threads Of Syria’ first within the Chatila refugee settlement, then across Lebanon — as a source of dignified work for Syrian women, and a building block of community amongst refugees. In the long-term, we hope to scale this model across refugee camps worldwide, to empower women refugees to take charge of their own futures.