What is Shatila Studio
Shatila Studio creates bespoke, hand-made needle art fashion. Every item is unique. Every item tells a story.
We don’t produce mass-market fashion. We produce wearable works of art to cherish over a life time.
We are a social enterprise run by Syrian and Palestinian refugee women for Syrian and Palestinian refugee women. We operate in the heart of the Shatila camp in Beirut.
We work to order but have also created our own, unique collections that includes bags, shirts and jackets. The studio gives employment to over 100 Syrian and Palestinian refugee women from Shatila. They are skilled in embroidery, tailoring and crochet work. Our own design takes its inspiration from life in camp. The studio counts among its clients Spanish shoe designer Gioseppo, Lebanese designer Rana Salam and Italian corporation Barilla.
Shatila Studio was originally set up in 2013 as a women’s embroidery workshop by Basmeh & Zeitooneh, a local Lebanese charity founded in the wake of the Syrian crisis. Through the help of donations, we were able to train over 1000 refugee women as embroiderers.
In March 2015, Caritas International and the Fidel Gotz Foundation awarded the workshop the Women Sowers of Development Prize for its role in empowering Syrian female refugees.
Women are so much stronger than men. Men crack under the pressure of war. We women keep on going.
(Khadisha, 45, Embroiderer)
But, at the end of 2018, our funding stopped and the workshop was threatened with closure,
When I heard that we had lost all our funding and that we would have to shut down, my heart stopped.
That was when we, the core team, Niveen, Fatimah, Boushra, Samar and Jamil, decided to take fate into our own hands and turn the workshop into a financially independent social enterprise. German-British entrepreneur Meike Ziervogel came on board to help establish the brand and build international relationships.
What makes us different
We don’t outsource. We are run by refugee women for refugee women. We are the largest social enterprise in the heart of the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon.
Working out of Shatila presents its own unique challenges.
Shatila is a refugee camp in the south of Beirut. Originally set up in 1948 for 3,000 Palestinian refugees, it now houses an estimated 40,000 people following the Syrian crisis. Even today for every refugee family that returns to Syria, a new one arrives.
The camp is controlled by opposing Palestinian factions. Shootings are common, but neither ambulances nor the police enter the camp. Taxi drivers will drop you off on the main road but go no further. When it rains the little alleyways fill with water, knee-deep as there is no drainage system. On those days the low hanging electricity cables become live. People die – unnecessarily – from electric shocks, poorly built housing and the atrocious sanitary conditions. Yet life goes on here like anywhere else.
Cost of living in Shatila
Life in Shatila is not cheap. Even though Shatila is a refugee camp, the inhabitants have to pay rent, water, electricity, gas, wifi – just like anywhere else. But most refugees can’t find work and therefore have to take on debts.
Here is a breakdown of the monthly living expenses in Shatila:
Rent: $300-$500 (for 1-2 bedroom tiny flats)
Water/Electricity/Gas : $100 ( nb: the water from the mains is salty, so daily drinking & cooking water needs to be bought separately)
There is only one (free) school for Syrian refugee children in Shatila, and the waiting list is long. If parents are lucky enough to get a free place for their children outside the camp, the expenses amount to about $50/per month/per child to cover travel etc.
The Artisans & The Space we provide for them at Shatila Studio
Most of the women artisans are the sole bread winners of their extended families.
The women’s ages range from 20 to 70. Many of them have received only rudimentary school education. 10% can’t read or write.
There is a free nursery attached to the Studio for toddlers while the women work. Babies can be brought into the work-space.
But the Workshop means much more to the women than the chance to earn money. It provides a safe place where they give and receive support. Their homes often consists of one room which they share with children, violent husbands, elderly and sick parents. Rarely are they allowed to go out – unless it is to the Studio. Here they can chat to other women and discuss their problems freely. Moreover, because the work-room possesses its own generator, the electricity cuts are much less frequent here than elsewhere in the camp. And that matters too. In the winter the women have light and wifi so that they can use their phones to connect with relatives in Syria. And in the summer the electric fans keep the Studio cool.
Every time you are down, you come here and you realize there are people who are caring about you, even though they themselves have so many problems too.
(Um Ahmad, 37, Embroiderer since 2014)
It is also through the studio that women learn about new opportunities. For example, they make use of the psycho-social counselling that is offered by Basmeh & Zeitooneh on the next floor down. Alternatively they could decide to sign up to the Art Therapy group – also in the same building.
I can’t express myself very well in words. But I love drawing. And look what I did in the Art Therapy class. Now I can show you what I have inside me.
(Amina, 65, Embroiderer since 2012)
In addition, we offer weekly yoga classes to the artisans.
The Shatila Studio lead team and the embroidery artisans meet once a month to discuss progress and improvements. Everyone knows that the Studio can only succeed as collective activity.