Empowering Women Refugees: How I Used Ethical Fashion To Tackle A Pressing Issue

Empowering Women Refugees:

How I Used Ethical Fashion To Tackle A Pressing Issue

Photo Courtesy of REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker

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For a moment, I would like you all to take a journey with me, I would like you all to close your eyes and picture this scenario.

She is on a boat, clutching her two-year-old son, so tight, wishing she could protect him from all he’s seen. She thinks of her war-torn country…or what remains of it. Her two-year-old cries, hungry and shivering. She is aware that she is of the lucky few who were able to secure a spot on this raft but is terrified of what lies ahead. She wonders what will become of her husband who was unable to join her on this journey but told her he would catch up to them. She never thought they would be separated like this. Choking back tears, she stares down at her son’s eyes that ache from crying. His ribs have become clearly visible. She stares to the point where an endless blue sea meets an endless blue sky and wonders if that is where hope lies.

In 2011 I was finishing my graduate work in “Crisis Care for Refugees after Resettling in their Host Country”. It was the start of the biggest humanitarian crisis of our lifetime. The refugee crisis had hit an all-time high by 2013 and is still growing. I remember going into International Psychology with the goal of later doing something involving art therapy. As my research progressed into the needs of refugees after arriving and resettling, a lot of the same issues were rising: feelings of anxiety, culture shock, and the language barrier was very standard for recently resettled refugees. While the list of challenges goes on, they are still very resilient and strong and want the best for their families and new country.

Photo Courtesy of Blue Meets Blue

So the question became how do we create a welcoming environment, make them feel empowered, and help them start their lives over?

I decided to combine my background in psychology with my background in design and came up with a unique form of art therapy. The concept is basically luxury fashion meets humanitarianism –Blue Meets Blue.

Photo Courtesy of Blue Meets Blue

Blue Meets Blue is an ethical clothing line that directly supports refugee women in the United States. Many families receive only $500/month after resettling in the United States, which is barely enough to cover groceries. This lasts for only a few months and after that, they are on their own. While grasping the language is difficult enough, most are unable to find work in their previous fields. We want to make sure they’re able to find work to support their families.

We launched the company in August 2016 but had met two years prior to develop the idea and form the business. I had contacted resettlement agencies, they then surveyed refugees to see who used to work in the garment/sewing industry. After creating a team and working together for about two years we officially launched and received an outpouring of support. Since then we have met so many refugees (and partnered with so many organizations) that are excited to be a part of Blue Meets Blue and its growth. It was very important for me to start a business that felt fulfilling and enriching because in many cases it doesn’t feel like work at all.

Consumers are also becoming very aware of unethical fashion, mass production, and fast fashion. One of my favorite documentaries, True Cost, shows how fast fashion is very detrimental to the environment and to the people involved in creating the garments. Work conditions in places like Bangladesh and China are so poor, the workers get paid very little, and the way the textiles are made and easily discarded create a lot of environmental toxins. Ethical fashion is on the rise, consumers feel happy when they buy something that serves a purpose. The clothing means something to those who make it means something to those who will buy it.

After a few years of working with these women, they have reported feeling empowered, less anxious, and more focused on their new life. They are very grateful to be in the United States and very excited to have jobs. Many of them held very esteemed positions back in their home country and after arriving in the United States were unable to find work in their skill set which added to their depression. 

One of the artisans at Blue Meets Blue was previously a seamstress in her home country. Before working with us the only job she was able to find was at a meat factory that was two hours away from her home. You can imagine how she felt when the only job she could find was to clean a factory, instead of work in her skillset. She also has a sick mother and a very sick brother and she is the main caretaker for her family. She couldn’t be very far away from them in case of an emergency, and Blue Meets Blue was such a wonderful fit for her. She was not only able to stay close to her family but she did work that she enjoyed doing, work that she felt she could contribute to and built her confidence. Through Blue Meets Blue, the artisans have been able to work in their skill set, have friends amongst one another-growing their network, and have a safe space so they can work through many emotional burdens. This has been our greatest success thus far.

This year we are focusing on expanding and selling our products to stores, while still maintaining a focus on high-end, luxury, and slow fashion. We have expanded our team and our latest collection has been a collaboration with Rakan ShamsDeen, who had his own line in Turkey and has recently resettled in the US. Randa Kuziez our strategy consultant brings years of experience working with the refugee population in St. Louis. We also now have an incredible model, photographer, production manager, and of course the artisans who are the heart of our company.

Photo Courtesy of Blue Meets Blue

We lastly want to change the misconceptions about refugees in the United States by spreading love through our fashion. We want people to know that these incredible artisans are very grateful to be in the United States, and they are very excited to contribute to their new country. I hope that Blue Meets Blue will be a movement in the fashion industry, beautiful clothing with a powerful cause. We want to unite people with our fashion, Blue Meets Blue stands for an endless freedom and connectedness as free and connected as the blue of the ocean meeting the blue of the sky.

Shahd Alasaly

Shahd Alasaly received her Masters in International Psychology focusing on: Working with Refugees Post Arrival to their Host Country. She founded Blue Meets Blue, an ethical luxury clothing line that employees refugees in the USA

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