Inaash is a Lebanese registered charity dedicated to preserving Palestinian heritage through embroidery, and to providing work opportunities for women embroiderers. Currently over 350 women are engaged in embroidering its superb products, which include jackets, shawls, abayas, clutch bags and other items designed for a global customer base.
MOR talked with Inaash General Manager, Mohammed Hassan (MH) about the mission to preserve Palestinian heritage through the finest quality embroidery, while empowering women in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people. It’s a stark reality. There are half a million Palestinians living in refugee camps throughout Lebanon that do not enjoy full civil rights, with limited access to social services, public health and educational facilities. They depend largely on organizations such as the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for services. This makes them economically and socially vulnerable. The income the Inaash women generate through their embroidery helps to sustain their families.
The living conditions in the camps are very harsh with shortages of basics such as water, electricity, food and schooling for children. The incomes our women receive for their embroidery helps them support their families and their kids’ schooling.
Preserving the Art of Stitching
Prior to 1948, village women used embroidery as an expression of their identity and their environment. Across the generations women would sit together embroidering their thobes and other items, each piece particular to the area in which they lived. Simply by looking at a woman’s embroidered dress, others could tell which village or region she came from, her socio-economic status, and in some cases, whether she was single, married or widowed.
Girls would start learning the tradition of embroidery at a young age learning from their grandmothers and other relatives, refining their skills throughout their lives. When the Palestinians became refugees, this beautiful tradition became at risk of eradication because of displacement in the Diaspora.
Embroidery is a big part of Palestinian identity, and a form of cultural resistance, it’s important that we preserve it. We want our heritage to stay and we need to teach embroidery to the younger generation.
Palestinian Identity and Embroidery
After 1948, when over 700,000 Palestinians became refugees, both the quality and quantity of embroidery emerging from the camps were inferior since people couldn’t afford the means to continue embroidering. This is where NGOs like Inaash stepped in both in terms of providing materials and generating an income.
With time, embroidery emerged a symbol of identity, revolution, and resistance in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Palestinian Woman in an embroidered thobe became the image of the nation in paintings and poster art, depicting power and resilience.
During the first Intifada, women embroidered Palestinian flags, doves and rifles on their thobes as acts of resistance. The motifs were no longer regional and were adapted to represent a new identity for Palestinians.
Reviving and Empowering
Since then Inaash (meaning ‘revival’ in English) has done a fantastic job safeguarding this long-standing Palestinian tradition. The organization has worked with thousands of women in the last 50 years producing embroidered products retailed to customers worldwide.
As well as opportunities to earn an income for their families our women take great pride in preserving this important tradition. When they are embroidering, they feel the strength of their Palestinian roots and their connection to their homeland.
As well as producing its own designs, the Inaash team works with established designers like Rabih Kayrouz, May Daouk, Nada Debs, and Raya Morcos. New collaborations, designed to catch the attention of the younger generation, include a capsule collection with Creative Space Beirut/Second Street Shirts, and pieces by Mira Hayek, as well as Ecru Online and Nafissa.
Historically embroidery was for traditional pieces, but Inaash uses embroidery on contemporary items with cutting edge designs and color combinations.This way we hope to expand our market beyond the Middle East for a global reach. We have many clients in the region as well as collectors from Europe and North America. Our trajectory is focused upwards. Our mission is always to preserve the heritage and empower our embroiderers.
Currently Inaash sells its products through its Beirut Hamra showroom and in exhibitions in the region and abroad. Later there are plans for an e-commerce website.
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Tanya knew that Palestine was her symbolic homeland. Always curious about her identity and connecting with her roots, she was eager to strengthen her ties to the Levant and traveled the region, desperate to learn more. It wasn’t until her first trip to Palestine that she became spiritually and emotionally connected.
She studied Political Science and Sociology at the University of Toronto. She then moved to the UAE, supporting numerous NGOs related to children’s welfare in the region. When she had her own family, she created the My Olive Roots platform in the hopes that her children and the Arabs diaspora would have a place to connect, learn and preserve their roots. Tanya enjoys discovering humanist stories and exploring the connection of food and art with culture.