By Muhammad Riaz Usman Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The founder of Palestyle's social mission is simple: By purchasing a Palestyle luxury handbag, you empower refugee women with jobs and their families with social projects.
After visiting refugee camps in Lebanon for the first time in 2009, Zeina Abou Chaaban, managing director and founder of Palestyle, was moved by what she witnessed.
Over 180,000 refugees were crammed into one square kilometre of land. Most of those refugees were young and educated, yet due to a lack of job opportunities and inadequate infrastructure, they were struggling under poverty.
"At the camp, I met a group of brave women who, despite the harsh conditions, spent their time embroidering to make money and contribute to their families. This was so inspirational that I decided to act. That is how the idea of Palestyle was conceived as a social fashion brand, a pioneer in the region," she says.
The artisans behind Palestyle's intricate handmade embroidery have now journeyed from impoverished camps in the Middle East to Italian workshops where the brand's luxury handbags are crafted. From there, the handbags travel to high-end department stores around the world, including the likes of House of Fraser and Bloomingdales.
Along with Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Palestyle is also available in Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the UK. The brand has a very strong online market in Australia, Belgium and a couple of other European countries.
Empowering women Palestyle's genuine leather handbags are adorned with embroidery and gold-plated Arabic calligraphy containing messages of femininity and strength.
"Through Palestyle, we empower women by providing them embroidery jobs and their communities with a percentage of our sales invested in social development projects, while also promoting the beauty of Arabic heritage through calligraphy and embroidery. It is those women who inspire us every day and because of them, we aim to empower more from different backgrounds," says Zeina.
Palestyle cannot change the world, however it is small steps in the right direction, adds Zeina.
"The idea of luxury and social impact does not necessarily go hand in hand; but we are proving that every person can enjoy luxury and give back to the community at the same time," she says.
In 2011, Zeina's brother Ahmad joined Palestyle as partner and creative director, taking the brand to new heights and landing Hollywood actresses and models Michelle Rodriguez and Allison Harvard as faces of the brand in 2013 and 2015.
The siblings have continued expanding Palestyle with the inclusion of a home line and the introduction of new ventures around the world. Through their work, they have helped solidify the brand, empowering more refugee women in the process.
"We are very famous for our genuine leather handbags which have been worn by celebrities such as Eva Longoria. At present, we are looking to expand Palestyle-Living, a home accessory line rich in handmade embroidery, to support more refugee women while making one's home vibrantly warmer. We are also looking to introduce a men's line soon," Zeina says.
Since the brand's launch, Palestyle has helped over 100 refugee women by outsourcing embroidery jobs.
Its social development projects have touched the lives of 4,000 refugees as a result of the 2.5 per cent of sales devoted to projects such as olive tree plantation and providing clean drinking water.
Zeina says while focusing on the social cause, she never compromised on the brand's quality.
"Quality is even more important when associated with a social product. There is no compromise on quality and detail. Ours is a unique value proposition of luxury, trend and social impact.
"Palestyle's social mission is simple: By purchasing a product, you empower refugee women with jobs and their families with social projects," she says.
Technology's role Zeina says technology plays a vital part in business today. "I remember when we first started in 2009, we were one of the first regional brands to use Facebook as a successful platform. Now, it extends to a full social media portfolio utilising a variety of tools for branding and building a community of Palestylers, fashionistas and trendsetters with a social responsibility," she says.
Zeina advises young entrepreneurs to look for a mentor who can give them moral and business advice. "Do not shy away from seeking help as this mentorship will make you stronger in your journey and help avoid failures," she says.
She also advises entrepreneurs to never give up on their idea but be flexible in its execution. "If it does not work one way, it will work in another. As an entrepreneur, do not let emotional stress get to you. Learn not to take things personally and more importantly, practise disconnecting completely after work and during weekends," she concludes.