Stitching Jordanian traditions into innovative design

August 28, 2019
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The EU-funded Creative Jordan Fashion Designer Competition (“Khayt”) was launched for the first time this year in Jordan, with the goal of advancing the fashion and design industry through creative and innovative partnerships between designers and fashion and textile manufacturers. The non-profit competition, which ran between January and June 2019, witnessed the application of over 110 Jordanian and non-Jordanian emerging fashion designers, seeking to become the new hype of this booming industry.

A frail 22-year-old in an oversized pale green jacket, Sujood Darabkeh first appears like a shy young Jordanian woman, fresh out of the university benches; she hesitates to find her words and struggles to recollect the details of her teenage years and of her journey into the fashion industry.
But, as soon as she is asked about her winning collection created for the Khayt design competition, her eyes light up and her attitude radically changes. “Creating new designs is a way for me to express who I am. It helps me convey my message and communicate to people what I think,” frantically explains the young designer, who seized the first place out of 9 selected contestants.
“I have always been interested in fashion and in experimenting new things, like assembling pieces together to come up with new creations,” Sujood recalls, noting that it was a bit difficult to make her family accept her switch to the Fakhoury Fashion Design Studies Academy after she earned her degree in Multimedia and Visual Arts at the University of Jordan.
“They tried to discourage me because they didn’t believe in the field of fashion in Jordan. They wanted me to engage in a more secure path.’’ But, with the support of her sister and her three brothers, a lot of dedication -and a sprinkle of stubbornness- Sujood managed to change their mind.
“They were very impressed when they saw the efforts I put as an intern with several local designers, and also how much I connected with their mindsets. Finally, like me, someone seemed to be thinking outside the box,” the young woman recalls.
Her ability to navigate this seemingly inhospitable industry was the last stroke that persuaded Sujood’s parents. “It is actually my mum who encouraged me to participate in the Khayt competition when I first came across it on social media. I had to submit a proposal portraying my modern interpretation of Jordan, in a way that combined the traditional values and imagery of Jordan with the modern trends of fashion.”

Old meets new
The competition, which was organised by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) in collaboration with the Garment Design & Training Services Centre (GSC) was made possible thanks to the financial contribution of the European Union and the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation. Worth 41,000 euros, the project is an extension of the five-year programme “Development of Clusters in the Cultural and Creative Industries”, labelled by the 43 Member States of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and funded by the EU between 2014 and 2019.
Khayt falls under the umbrella of the Mediterranean Initiative for Jobs (Med4Jobs), a flagship initiative of the UfM to help increase the employability of youth and women, close the gap between labour demand and supply, and foster a culture of entrepreneurship and private sector development. It comes as part of the EU’s efforts to contribute to sustainable and inclusive economic growth and job creation in the Southern Mediterranean, through the improvement of entrepreneurship, innovation, product design and marketing capacities among creative enterprises.
Divided into three main phases – prototyping, material production and fashion show- the Khayt competition took the contestants on a six-month, design-packed, educational journey. Sujood and her eight peers received the technical support and mentorship of international and local fashion experts and stylists, in addition to undergoing business sessions and meet-and-greets with relevant industry representatives.
“It was very challenging for us, and sometimes stressful, like that time when we had only 24 hours to create a capsule collection of 12 sketches from our existing look,” remembers Sujood.
But the difficulties did not scare the hardworking young woman, who has been described by her mentors as “perfectionist and persistent”, almost ‘‘excessively exigent’’. “I had a very clear idea of how my inspiration should look like in a prototype, so I was very demanding and did not accept any error; even if it meant changing a million times until it was perfect,” recalls Sujood with laughter.
The young designer says she used Downtown Amman and the traditional Souk Juma’a to draw her inspiration for her look on the theme of ‘A Modern Interpretation of Jordan Culture’. “I wanted to portray things that are slowly fading away: these old streets that are being forgotten as new buildings spring up in Amman,” Sujood explains, describing how the simple, plain colours of her creations slowly merge into a chaotic assembling of lines and patterns that represent the vibrant chaos of the capital.
“For me, fashion is a way of making lots of little pieces come together. Once assembled, every creation speaks by itself and people who wear it can convey my message,” the 22-year-old elaborates, noting that she draws much of her inspiration from the techniques of collage and multimedia printing.

Under the spotlight
The fashion show crowning the Khayt competition’s winner did not have much to envy these worldwide fashion landmarks. Held on June 26th at the prestigious W Amman hotel, home of the glamour and luxury, the awarding ceremony was a star-studded gathering of the Jordanian capital’s crème de la crème.
The eight contestants, although nervous, displayed a positive and solidary energy that sometimes lacks to the couture industry. “They were all so impressive and really honoured the Jordanian design community,” recounts Yasin.
Slender models gracefully walked the catwalk under the scrutinizing eyes of the jury panel, composed of distinguished local and international experts.
Famed Lebanese designer Hussein Bazaza, international stylist Cedric Haddad, businesswoman and Ralph & Russo Chief Business Development Officer Lama Hayek, international brand developer Srdjan Prodonovic, Jordan-based regional fashion designer Tatyana Aceeva and renown product designer Giulio Vinaccia were part of the deliberating panel.
They peered through every detail of the total looks, which had to include a single outfit with matching accessories, using a carefully selected set of criteria. These included the look presented on the runway, the respect of the competition’s theme, the aesthetically pleasing nature of the outfits, as well as the complete capsule collection created by each designer.
Although one of the youngest participants in the competition –one had to be aged over 18 years old to enter the draw- Sujood proved that age was no limit to creativity. Her pinstripe Bermuda short coupled with a silk-screened, customized jacket, shirt and external bra stood out from the eight other contestants, awarding her the winning title.

The rise of a booming sector

The manufacturer chosen to produce Sujood’s collection, Yasin Abul Rous, expresses his pride to see more and more Jordanian designers like Sujood unleashing their creativity to the public eye.

“I have been working in this industry for over 20 years and the change has been striking in the last decade. In the past, no Jordanian designer really dared to take his/her chance in this field. There was no acceptance or recognition of the quality and talent of our local design,” remembers the manufacturer, who personally decided to invest in Sujood’s collection.
“Things has changed. Now, creators are proud to include the label ‘Made in Jordan’ on their products and this is an incredible shift because designers in Jordan truly have great potential and they display advanced levels of creativity compared to the rest of the world.”
Yasin especially praises the talent of the young competition winner, whom he says, “is like no one else I have ever seen”. “I have visited many international fairs all over the world throughout my career, and worked with many local and international designers, but I have never witnessed anyone as bold and creative as her. Her ideas, the fabrics, prints, cuts and prototypes she created are so different from any international trend,” Yasin stresses, looking over at Sujood with pride.
Beaming with content, Sujood returns the compliment, voicing her happiness to be working with such an experienced producer. “He has been able to translate my concepts into reality and to put what I have in my head into the exact pattern makers I wanted,” she rejoices, acknowledging how much of a herculean task this could be for the other people she worked with.
Both agree on the importance of projects such as Khayt, which help emerging designers put their foot in the door of local and international markets.
“When you think differently, you have to take risks, and it is never easy. You can either succeed or fail but to be a leader of change, especially in this industry, you have to take the leap,” concludes Yasin. And Sujood’s boldness has already paid off, as her creations were recently showcased in the capital of fashion, Paris, where she hopes to be participating in the next Fashion Week.

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