posted on 09/08/2012: 714 views
Launched just three years ago and with only seven women, Sougha was established by the Khalifa Fund to preserve and promote the traditions of Emirati artisans in a thoroughly modern way. More than 100 talented nationals have now benefited from the initiative, developing ranges of leather accessories for the scheme, which means "souvenir" in Arabic. As part of a collaboration with the online retailer Fashion ComPassion, a new collection of covetable, handcrafted clutches is about to be rolled out internationally. Ahead of the launch, we caught up with the Syrian-Russian Kristina Hamza, a designer and consultant for Sougha.
It all started when …
… the Khalifa Fund and the Sougha team approached me to help them design a new line of accessories to be sold abroad. So I've been heavily involved in workshops sponsored by the British Embassy, educating and supporting Emirati artisans in everything from sketching, designing and pattern cutting to sewing.
All of the artisans are Emiratis …
… and all of them have traditional skills. By delivering workshops in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi and the northern emirates we've been educating them in the quality of new materials and tools. Not so long ago, most of the ladies were Bedouins and based at home, without real jobs. The majority didn't know how to make money out of their skills and that's where Sougha has created the opportunity for them.
Originally, the Sougha team would go into a city …
… and almost be knocking on doors to drum up interest and support. But it soon became much easier for them, as women began bringing their sisters, cousins and nieces to the workshops and they all became involved. When the enterprise first started, the average age was 50, 60 years old and above, now the age has come down to around 30, which is very encouraging because it means more ladies are interested in such a project and will help us preserve the Emirati heritage.
The new line of modern clutches …
… was a collaboration with the artisans at every step, from sketching to sourcing the camel and cow leather and paying close attention to the finishing. For the bags, we've focused on three colours: yellow, green and classic black. We've also worked closely with a tannery called Al Khaznah in Abu Dhabi. It's one of three factories in the world, and the first one in the UAE, producing a unique type of biodegradable leather that we use for our clutches.
We're helping the artisans create businesses at home …
… because in the Emirati and Arab tradition, it can be very difficult for some women to go out and work. Some ladies don't read and write either, making it hard to put them into the fashion industry per se, so we're helping them create small businesses this way. Some have done it and some are on their way. And with this new line we're hoping to expand Sougha internationally. We're already selling here in the Emirates - like at More Café and O'de Rose in Dubai. Aldar also gave us a booth within the Central Market souq in Abu Dhabi.
Fashion ComPassion is an ethical online retail shop helping …
… people all over the world create small enterprises. Our latest project was designed in collaboration with them and the artisans. The owner, Ayesha Mustafa, will be helping us launch our clutches in Pakistan and all the lines in the UK and it's so encouraging for the women to see their projects sold abroad. - The National
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