81 Designs Is On A Mission To Empower Refugee Artisan Women With Income Opportunities
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Driven by art and social impact, 81 Designs brings together Middle East artists with Palestinian women refugees living in Lebanon to empower them to have a sustainable livelihood by making use of their artisanal talents. Launched in 2015, the venture was started by mother-daughter team Nesrine El Tibi Maalouf -whose background stems in advertising- and Nadine Y. Maalouf, who previously worked with art education institutions and retail groups. The brand primarily focuses on utilizing the art of tatreez, a traditional Palestinian embroidery craft, which remains the primary embellishment in women’s clothing, as well as a reflection of a woman’s social status in Palestine.
“A part of the daily routine in old villages [was that] women used to work collectively on an embroidery project, until it has become a traditional craft passed from generation to generation,” explains Nesrine, who is half Palestinian herself. “During the political unrest, tatreez became a coded language used to express opinions and share stories- a symbol of resistance, identity, and heritage.”
Collaborations like these have allowed the social enterprise to thrive- in March 2018, following the successful launch project, the enterprise has managed to employ four more female artisans, making a difference to the lives of a total of 14 refugee women. At Art Dubai, 81 Designs also presented its recreation of some works from the Graffix from the Souk collection by contemporary artist Hassan Hajjaj, perhaps better known in the art world as the Andy Warhol of Marrakech.
81 Designs booth at Abu Dhabi Art featuring The Journey
Source: 81 Designs
The enterprise was also asked by Facebook to launch their participation at Dubai Design Week in November 2018 through an entire week of workshop activations, which focused on the history of tatreez and 81 Designs’ goal of both modernizing and preserving the traditional craft. And recently, in November of this year, the enterprise presented a new project called The Journey at Abu Dhabi Art. In collaboration with eL Seed, the artist painted seven murals inside Ain al-Hilweh, one of the largest and most crowded Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, along with the refugee women that 81 Designs employ, and their children.
Besides empowering women artisans through design and art, 81 Designs also offers capacity building through skills and confidence workshops in south Lebanon. Their head artisan, Um Mahmoud, also conducts regular trainings to build the refugee artisans’ confidence and continuously develop their technical skills. Using their own personal funds as seed capital, the company’s founding duo says they generate revenue through successful sales of their projects. “We currently do not have any other private investors or VCs involved in the social enterprise,” Nadine says.
As a venture aspiring toward making real social impact, the mother and daughter also make it a point to ensure that the people and entities with whom they collaborate share similar values as 81 Designs. “They also share the same compassion and drive we have towards reaching our goals,” Nadine notes.
As entrepreneurs, every decision count, and they can essentially make or break your venture. When it comes to making difficult decisions, Nesrine says transparency is a key factor in how they go about the process. As a mother-daughter duo, Nesrine claims that they have an open and honest relationship. “We were both transparent from the beginning on where we see our involvement within the social enterprise we created,” says Nesrine, noting how they’ve given themselves clear roles- Nadine is the Art Director, while Nesrine handles partnerships.
As for what’s next for the enterprise, the duo states, “Eventually, we hope to provide an educational scholarship for refugee children.” And finally, when asked for advice they’d give other entrepreneurs, Nesrine replies: “Stay curious and believe in yourself, your intuition, and your vision. Most importantly, know that it is okay to explore unique ideas.”