Working at her small, crowded desk with sheets of paper, pencils and thread, Aziza Msabeh first sketches a dress on white paper, then goes over her work in black. Then she starts the second stage of her work, taking the design from a drawing to a unique dress that her client will wear to her brother’s wedding.
Msabeh, who lives in the central Gaza Strip neighborhood of Deir al-Balah, is one of the four founders of a fashion house and boutique called “Dar Organza Fashion,” a pioneering fashion design house in downtown Gaza City. Its first boutique was opened in February 2017, followed in September by a second branch in the Rimal neighborhood. The fashion house provides employment for 30 women who had never worked professionally before.
The four women opened the fashion boutique under the sponsorship of the nongovernmental organization Premiere Urgence Internationale, which covered the initial costs of the project, including rent and basic needs such as fabric, thread and sewing machines. Today, the women are able to cover the expenses with their sales.
Msabeh and the other women behind the project — Faten Habib, Lamia Jaber and Lina al-Hartani — were brought together by a common interest in fashion and design. “Our love for fashion and participation in the Tasmimi competition in late 2015 gave us the idea to open the boutique. The competition was organized by the International Humanitarian Relief organization with 58 participants, and we were the four winners. We also attended several fashion and design workshops organized by the International Humanitarian Relief organization,” Msabeh told Al-Monitor.
She said that the fashion house is a dream come true for all four. Dar Organza, which takes its name from the soft, floating fabric used in many evening gowns, creates a variety of pieces used in national ceremonies, holidays and other celebrations. It also produces embroidered accessories and bags.
Habib told Al-Monitor that some members of their team are freelancers who work from their homes on embroidery. Their aim is to help unemployed women overcome the financial difficulties they face under the blockade that has plagued Gaza for the last 11 years. It's been difficult, but the designers have managed to establish a customer base outside Palestine, designing clothes and exporting them to France and Britain. She said they plan to recruit more unemployed women.
She continued, “We [founders] have many things in common, like our will to empower women in Gaza and introduce the world to Palestinian culture through traditional clothing.”
Hartani said that they focus on embroidery as one of the traditional crafts of Palestine. Jaber added that, in Palestine, there are few employment opportunities and a lot of talent and potential goes to waste. Gaza suffers high rates of unemployment, including among university graduates.
Halima Nashbat, who works for the boutique, told Al-Monitor, “The four designers chose me for my designs and asked me to work with them. Together, we rush to deliver orders on time. A dress takes around three hours to make, and I earn around $7 per design.”
Unemployed before she joined the boutique, Nashbat is now able to support her family and husband through her work in fashion.