A Small Step for the Planet…A Giant Leap for Tight-Knit Syria

Now that TKS team members Dana and Alex have been in Lebanon for almost two months to work in the field full-time, we have finally been able to make some massive strides towards one of our long-term goals: embroidered pieces that are not only beautiful, but friendly towards both people and the planet! In the past we have resorted to working with some pre-made elements of purses that were readily available to our artisans in Shatila, but this fall we have finally been able to effect a major design overhaul, and we are excited to tell you all about it..!
Materials
Earlier this year, an upholstery store in Beirut went out of business. Like most textile stores, it was well-stocked with small swatches of fabrics to help customers make a decision. Although these swatches of fabric are high-quality and have never been used, they are too small to sell individually and would usually have ended up in a landfill – but the owner knew of TKS’s work and decided to donate them to us instead. We realized right away that most swatches were big enough to create wallets and – in many cases – small purses with and started preparing our first capsule collection: a series of items with a base of refurbished material and a (not-refurbished) decorative flap hand-embroidered by our artisans.
Of course our items also need a lining, and for this we turned to the local second-hand clothing market in Shatila camp. This market is very extensive; old or damaged clothing is one of the first things people who are struggling to make ends meet will sell, and many Shatila inhabitants are dependent on these sales. Nevertheless, a quick perusal of the carts of clothing in Shatila’s souk reveals that many of the items for sale will not find new wearers because of tears, holes and stains. Even damaged items generally still have sections of perfectly useable fabric, however, and we soon realized that especially men’s button-down shirts – after a good cleaning – make a perfect lining for the embroidered pieces of our new collection: they are available in many different shades, the fact that they are generally striped gives the items some cohesion, and they are the right kind of light, thin fabric.

Construction
Although our artisans are skilled needleworkers (and in some cases very competent with a sewing machine to boot) none of them is experienced in the construction of whole wallets or bags. This was the reason that we have worked with pre-made structures in the past, even though their exact origins (and the working conditions of the people who made them) were unclear. We were therefore very lucky to come into contact with Samer, a Palestinian-Syrian tailor who lives in Shatila camp, who is not only an amazing human being but also an expert in his trade. Whenever we drop off a bag of little bundles containing 1.) a piece of refurbished fabric, 2.) a hand-embroidered flap and 3.) a section of a men’s shirt, he has transformed them into beautiful, unique pieces within a week.
Although there is still some ways to go on the road to completely sustainable products, this has been a huge step forwards and we’re thrilled to showcase our very first Refurbished Capsule Collection of limited-edition items!

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