Field Notes ft. Tight-Knit Syria
Our work at Artisan & Fox would not be possible without the non-profits and social enterprises we’re fortunate to partner with. One such example of our joint outreach Threads Of Syria project with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, supported by the extraordinary social enterprise Tight-Knit Syria. This Field Notes blog will bring you behind-the-scenes to better understand the stories of our artisan partners as we interview the Founder of TKS, Dana Kandalaft.
Tight-Knit Syria is a grass-roots movement that aims to break down economic barriers for displaced Syrian women by allowing their traditional needlework skills to shine.
Founded in 2013, Tight-Knit Syria has manifested over the years through a bottom-up approach that turns informal, honest conversations with refugee women into action. During a chance encounter while visiting a camp for internally displaced people in Northern Syria, the founder Dana Kandalaft realised that knitting was a relaxing pastime for the women which allowed them to express their creativity. Knitting skills were being taught and expanded from generation to generation, and very high-quality products were being produced inside the camp. This was the lightbulb moment for Dana, who founded TKS that same day.
TKS firmly believes that economically empowering women in vulnerable communities is a powerful way of contributing not only to a solution in the face of a humanitarian crisis to provide basic living essentials, but also to address the root cause of many associated problems, such as reliance on child labour, labour exploitation, forced marriage, social isolation and the severe psychological stress that many refugees are under. They also believe that everyone have the potential to make a powerful impact through simple choices such as where and how they purchase their clothing.
Here’s 5 quick questions with Dana of TKS.
How do you ensure that TKS remains transparent to consumers?
We communicate directly with partner artisan collectives to ensure that our organization remains compact and constantly connected. Our field manager in Lebanon, Malak, is herself a refugee artisan living in Shatila camp, and we get a day-to-day update on the artisans’ interests and that their voices are incorporated in TKS activities. We also help coordinate visits to Shatila camp for anyone who is interested in meeting our artisans and seeing how our items are made, as we believe it is important to take them on the journey with us!
What is the biggest challenge that your organisation is facing?
There are natural challenges that come with working with artisans in IDP/refugee camps. It is financially difficult and time-consuming to source materials or transport products in countries like Syria and Lebanon. We also allow the women to bring work home - but the electricity supply in our artisans’ homes is often so poor that it impairs their ability to work, which brings difficulties to our lead times and production capacity. Apart from such practical challenges, we sometimes encounter misconceptions among customers who under-estimate the time, attention and care that go into hand-knitting a scarf or hand-embroidering a purse, and for which we fairly pay our artisans.
As a non-profit organisation working with those affected by the refugee crisis, is there anything that you would like the general public to know?
The refugee crisis is a long-term crisis that needs continued, sustained support. Otherwise, the consequences of such a humanitarian crisis will continue to reverberate for generations to come. The good news is that we live in a technologically advanced and connected world, so creating an inclusive society and business landscape that engages vulnerable communities is more possible now than ever before!
“Tight-Knit Syria is more than an online store; it is a movement inspiring people to overcome personal barriers and see themselves as change-makers for good, but also to see beyond the socio-economic barriers in the world.”
What are some of the feedback the artisans who have benefited from your project? If so, what have they told you?
Our artisan have told us that our projects have helped them cover much-needed basic expenses for their families. An unexpected benefit that many artisans shared is how needlework has helped them mentally. Many find the needlework soothing and that it helps them to relieve stress, kind of a meditative process! Some women have even reported that their work has altered the cultural dynamics in their household, and encouraged their husband to take more housework to allow her to work undisturbed.
What does TKS hope to achieve in the long run?
We hope to have create a global economic platform that provides as many refugee women around the world as possible with the resources they need to earn a dignified income through their often undervalued skillsets in knitting and embroidery. We hope to continue to exist as a facilitator, connecting vulnerable refugee communities with global business partners, and to continue to watch their talents flourish in a global market, and their living circumstances and prospects improve.