Yasmine and Sereen Khass – The Palestinian sustainable entrepreneurs
September 29, 2022
Driven by the desire to support local designers and artisans, two Palestinian sisters launched Syko, an eco-responsible clothing line combining ecology, social impact and community support. The duo, which is supported by the EU-funded All Around Culture programme, is committed to raising awareness of the “slow fashion” movement, while promoting sustainable, accessible consumption.
Forced to move from one country to another through their entire childhood, Yasmine and Sereen Khass very early on developed a need for cultural belonging. Fascinated by the beauty of Palestinian embroidery and craftsmanship, they finally achieved their quest for identity when they moved back to their hometown in Ramallah, Palestine.
In search of identity: promoting local Palestinian heritage
“Having to flee from one country to another filled us with this need to cherish our heritage, and promote it. This is why one of the reasons we wanted to support local artists, designers and artisans so strongly,” recalls Yasmine, adding “we truly wanted to make our local culture known both to the Palestinian people and to the rest of the world.”
Along with her sister Sereen, the two visual artists envisioned a fashion brand producing 100% Palestinian sourced material, which would support small local entreprises, designers and craftsmen and women. But they were quickly stopped in their tracks, as they faced the reality of Palestinian infrastructure.
“We realised that sustainable fashion was quite alien to the population here in the West Bank, and that resources were extremely limited. We just could not lay our hands on the types of material we needed to accomplish our project,” Sereen remembers.
Far from being discouraged, the sisters took a turn, and rebranded their project into a platform for fashion designers and industries keen on embracing sustainable fashion. In 2018, they officially established Syko, dubbing it “A Palestinian Platform that Specialises and Amplifies the Trend of Sustainable Fashion”.
Syko: a progressive dive into sustainable fashion
Through awareness raising campaigns on no waste fashion, workshops and debates, the sisters are seeking to bring the matter of sustainable fashion into the spotlight.
“We are aware of the need to promote these topics first, as there are still limited levels of environmental concerns due to the dire situation here,” the sisters explain, noting that a part of the Syko platform is devoted to educational purposes, where people can learn about ethical fashion choices.
As part of their participation in the EU-funded All Around Culture’s Youth Led Civic and Cultural Initiatives, the sisters also developed a full blown contextual research to assess the market, finding that some 30% of people would be keen on supporting such an initiative. “It can seem discouraging but, for us, it means that there is a great leeway to create something new and instigate change in mentalities.”
“We believe in the need of accelerating the conscious consumerism movement to achieve a fast transition into a more eco-friendly and ethical fashion world,” they insist. “But to do that, we need to show people that it can also benefit them, including economically.”
The Syko project aims to provide a solid basis for entreprises that use locally sourced material through the development of suitable infrastructure and sustainable mindset changes among consumers and clothing producers in Palestine.
In order to achieve that, they are looking for innovative partnerships with institutions and individuals working in art, design and craftsmanship. “Our goal will always be to establish solid ties that contribute to supporting the local market by collaborating with small enterprises.”
The sisters are currently working on a unique exhibition on the future of fashion in Palestine, which will give an extra boost for local fashion designers willing to embrace the movement. “Sustainable fashion is the way to go and we want to spread this word as broadly as possible and make this movement start here in Palestine.”
“Through difficulties, you get to learn a lot, and you adapt to your circumstances” is the lesson learned by the Khass sisters. “Keep trying always, never lose hope because there is always a solution and a way to continue working towards your dreams.”
The Youth-Led Cultural and Civic Initiatives (YLCCI) is one of ACC’s five components, implemented by the Tunisian not-for-profit organisation l’Art Rue. Started in April 2021, YLCCI aims to raise access to culture and start intercultural dialogue through the support to community-based collaborative and contextual artistic projects.
The project does so by promoting youth-led cultural and civic initiatives through 32 research and 24 production grants, collaborative laboratories as well as tailor made guidance and networking.