A celebration of identity and a mixture of Palestinian heritage with modern day fashion is how Nadya Hazboun describes her line of fashion and jewellery accessories. "It is intended to act like a medium delivering a message, telling a story about Palestine."
Hazboun is a local fashion and accessories designer from Bethlehem. The city, famous for using olivewood for souvenirs, inspired her to use the wood to make accessories that enable people to carry Palestine around with them.
It was a simple T-Shirt that brought people's attention to Hazboun's work and triggered the demand for more products. From a distance the image on the T-shirt is just a fingerprint, but when you look closely it is a story of Palestinian; "it mirrors our reality when passing checkpoints putting our fingerprints and being reduced to just fingerprints". The T-shirt carries a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, "Record I am an Arab", to tell the story of the struggles of a Palestinian.
Hazboun's love for fashion stems from her childhood when she would sketch designs for clothes and accessories, but entering the fashion field was a far more difficult feat than she had expected. She is still struggling to find a place in the local market where she says "no such thing as fashion designers really exists. I built my own business from scratch." She opened a small jewellery showroom in Bethlehem and an atelier where she makes clothes to order.
Palestine and Bethlehem have been her core inspirations but the people she meets have also driven her work. "People come and go in and out of your life – or just merely pass by – yet they always inspire me."
Noticing that the young Arab generation no longer speak or use Arabic, Hazboun decided to use her work to promote the beauty of the language. Her intention was "for these fashionable pieces to prompt people to start asking questions – to inquire about the messages, to search for their meaning, to look for further explanations."
She decorates the pieces with quotes and writings from Arab poets and thinkers such as Edward Said, Mahmoud Darwish, Fadwa Tuqan and others, these quotes are her attempt to remind people of "who we are and what our culture is all about".
Her designs struck a chord with Arabs living abroad before enthusiasm began to build in her native Bethlehem. Yet Hazboun is quite philosophical about her experience realising that when she first created her brand she knew "it was tricky to work with. Arabs, for a long time, looked for western creations and considered them hip, cool and beautiful – whereas Arabic was frowned upon as uncool. Today this has changed and most people are happy to be celebrating their identity by showing it off through clothing."
"At the end, what you wear is a reflection of your personality, style, identity," she explains.
In the West Hazboun hopes her work will help "cross and surpass long planted false ideologies about Arabs, their language and heritage."
Education and raising awareness are "the strongest weapon anyone can have", and so she uses her designs as "messengers spreading a message , promoting a poem, a quote, an idea" and it is left to whoever sees or hears it to look deeper into its meaning and benefit from it. "You can't teach those who do not want to be taught, you can only benefit the curious," she says.
"For non-Arabs it is perhaps (hopefully) an eye opening road leading them to explore more about our culture and treasures."
Every one of her designs is a project in itself and tells its own story. Her olivewood accessories line enables Palestinians to carry a piece of their olivewood with them wherever they go. "Olive trees have a strong symbolism to us Palestinians and that is why I consider this line very close to my heart."
Due to all the constant changes in the political situation in Palestine, Hazboun is unsure what story she will tell next but she hopes that her work will help firmly place Palestine on the world map of fashion. "Perhaps this would be a first step to making a relevant stamp on the world map as a whole."
Her work carries Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish's famous piece "in accordance to your dreams the universe expands" which she says "summons up the core of all of my work".