TKS in the Alps: MADE51 UNHCR Workshops and Christmas Market in Geneva
It’s hard to believe sometimes, but almost two years have passed since Tight Knit Syria first got involved with MADE51. This great UNHCR initiative provides organizations that work with refugee artisans, like Tight Knit Syria, with a wide range of support to help them provide fair livelihoods for refugees. This includes professional design input to improve our designs, and featuring items at international trade shows where buyers from businesses all around the world can scope out items for their own inventory. (The capsule collection of scarves we developed with MADE51 last year toured Paris, Frankfurt and Tokyo – unfortunately, we didn’t get to accompany them!)
Last December, representatives from the organizations participating in MADE51 were invited to come to Geneva for a series of workshops, followed by a three-day holiday market at the Palais de Nations where we displayed and sold our refugee-made products.
Dana and Alex represented Tight Knit Syria at the event and, although the days were long (and we ended most of them by splitting a mushroom pizza at our hotel before going straight to bed) it was an incredibly productive and inspiring week.
Right off the bat, one of the best parts of the Geneva event was meeting representatives from other organizations who work with refugee artisans. Apart from the wonderful Roula and Waleed, whom we already knew from Lebanon, there were also organizations working with Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan, Afghan refugees in India, Myanmarese refugees in Thailand, and Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, to name but a few. Although the attendants of the workshop worked all around the world, the discussions covered many topics that are relevant to all of us: what to do about shipping when refugee artisans often live so far away from their customers; how to deal with customers who are used to the extremely low prices of mass-produced items and who might not understand why hand-made artisanal, fair trade items are more expensive; and what can you do as an organization to help protect artisans who might be especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation? No wonder that we always finished the day long after the planned time, despite the best efforts of the lovely UNHCR team to keep us on schedule. It was definitely worth it to speak to so many people in the same boat as us, however!
The market was held in one wing of the UN’s Geneva headquarters, the Palais des Nations. We were very lucky with the beautiful venue (including an idyllic view of the mountains across from Lake Geneva) where each organization had its own booth to display its products. The products were so colourful, creative, and diverse that it was hard not to keep ambling around the market to look at what everyone else had brought (and buy all their merchandise for Christmas gifts), but we manned the Tight Knit Syria stand dutifully. Because the market coincided with the Global Refugee Forum, which was held in the same building, many people visited the market in the course of the three days, including refugee speakers, members from humanitarian organizations, and several people who had lived in or around Lebanon or Syria in the past and stopped by to chat with us. It being the week before Christmas, our Christmas ornaments and snowflake-embroidered bookmarks were the first to sell out, but there was also plenty of interest in our knitted and crocheted scarves, and even some of our first prototypes of a new upcycled project (that we’re eager to share with everyone in the spring!).
The Geneva event was a great experience, and the Tight Knit Syria team is very grateful for the time, energy and effort that the MADE51 team dedicated to making it happen. Our only regret is that, due to travel and language restrictions, our artisans were not able to attend it themselves. We are hopeful that this can change in the future and, in the meantime, we will apply everything we have learned to making 2020 an even more ambitious, productive, and better year than 2019!