Getting inspired by the past to create a modern design, that’s Noora Khalifeh’s recipe for success. The Palestinian designer fashions handmade cross-stitched designs with the help of more than 80 local craftswomen. Together, they proudly uphold their region’s culture and historical art.
“The Palestinian heritage makes me want to continuously observe and touch it. And the more I look at it and examine the colours, the embroidery, the details and brocades, the more it makes me want to study, explore and see more.”
Noora Khalifeh’s face lights up when she talks about her passion… a passion that she turned into her job. The designer is well-known for letting the past and the present meet and interact in her creations. Historical craftsmanship meets modern, original designs and fabrics. “What I do is I recycle historical brocades and embroideries and I retell the stories and tales that are linked to the Palestinian attire. In every embroidery, there is a story, there are symbols and connotations that exemplify the social identity of the Palestinian people”.
In Palestine, “Tatreez” or traditional cross-stitching is often seen as an outdated practice. But the businesswoman sees it as a hidden national treasure. “My father was an antiquarian, he sold antiques and vintage items and amongst them, these items of embroidery existed. I always perceived them in a special way. They’re like paintings that have taken significant time, effort and thought to create”. In a country impacted by conflict, economic hardships and political tensions, the young designer decided to focus on the diversity and beauty it had to offer. “The Palestinian fashion and textile sector had been neglected and I’m reviving this sector through retelling the story of the people. I’m weaving and designing pieces from an elegant past to connect it to a bright future.”
Noora Khalifeh’s goal is not simply to promote and restore her country’s tradition. It is also to empower women from her region, economically and personally. “The local community is where one should invest. It’s very important to spread your usefulness in your community. More than eighty Palestinian craftswomen are working at my fashion house. It has a strong social and economic impact on their lives”. Some of the designer’s pride is to see skilful women hired and ready to pass on their invaluable stitching skills to younger generations of artists.
Women in the Mediterranean still face challenges to become economically and professionally independent. That is one reason why the self-made woman encourages Palestinian peers to stand up for each other. “Women are partners to one another and with such partnership, collaboration and exchange of culture and experiences, we can aim so high and shine in the fashion industry and the business world”. Khalifeh herself finds inspiration in her team and women designers surrounding and supporting her: “All women and designers are role models to me. Everyone can be a role model in specific areas. Every woman has something I can learn from”. In 2017, the Palestinian entrepreneur benefitted from the Union for the Mediterranean’s supported programme “Promoting women empowerment for inclusive and sustainable industrial development in the MENA region”. Such programmes make up for part of the lack of business opportunities for women in the region.
This idea of standing up for each other and getting inspired by each other holds for the nations of the Mediterranean too: “The Mediterranean is a great portal of stories and experiences worthy to be observed. The influence of the societies that are close to one another is greater than their influence by other societies that are geographically distant”. Sharing stories through fabrics and generations but also through different countries is at the heart of Khalifeh’s work. The designer uses materials from neighbouring countries and exports to the United States and Jordan. In 2017, Khalifeh presented her work in Paris for the first time, a consecration for a fashion entrepreneur.
“I was the youngest designer there, everyone else was older and more experienced, but the Palestinian fashion was present in Paris and it was such a beautiful thing”.
From promoting Palestinian heritage to taking on traditional society and empowering women, Noora Khalifeh is tackling challenges one after the other. She’s not out of energy, the designer regularly takes part in workshops and forums where she speaks about her experience and passion as an entrepreneur in the middle east.