81 Designs: A social enterprise that marries art with women’s empowerment

The women recreated art by Hassan Hajjaj. (Photo courtesy: 81 Designs)
Updated 09 July 2018
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81 Designs: A social enterprise that marries art with women’s empowerment

DUBAI: It started with a desire to bridge art and humanity. Emirati art graduate Nadine Malouf always wanted to do something charitable and art-related. Being half-Palestinian, setting up an enterprise that helps women affected by the refugee crisis in Palestine seemed an obvious choice, so she founded 81 Designs together with her mother, Nesrine El-Tibi Malouf, in 2016.

The brand oversees a group of refugee women as they recreate the works of leading Middle Eastern artists in the traditional “tatreez” style of cross-stitching.
The results created using this painstaking technique are as innovative as they are beautiful.

“I wanted to modernize something that has existed for hundreds of years and its legacy was fading because of the commercial uses it is being applied for,” Nadine explained. “The way the craft is usually applied (in run-of-the-mill accessories and poorly made handicraft products) is a short-sighted approach.
But we are providing a wider platform for it.”

The first capsule collection debuted at Art Dubai in 2017, in partnership with renowned artist El Seed, and sold out. This year, Moroccan contemporary artist Hassan Hajjaj worked with the women to have 14 signature pieces from his funky, nostalgia-infused “Graffix from the Souk” collection recreated in the form of embroidery art. The collection was released at the 12th edition of Art Dubai to a very warm reception — each piece was uniformly priced at $8,000.

“I think the fact that we are able to give these women structure in their lives, that they have full-time employment in such a volatile environment, is something to be proud of,” Nadine said. “Plus, by giving them the opportunity to create something, be part of something — it gives them a feeling of self-esteem, a sense of joy.”

From allowing them to get medical treatment for their families to giving an autistic child the opportunity to secure meaningful employment, the impact 81 Designs has had is significant and far-reaching. And it continues to grow, as they develop their next collection with textile label Bokja by designers Maria Hibri and Huda Baroudi.


Dolce & Gabbana cancels China show after racial row

Updated 21 November 2018
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Dolce & Gabbana cancels China show after racial row

  • ‘Foreign companies operating in China should respect China and respect Chinese people’
  • ‘We are very sorry for any distress caused by these unauthorized posts. We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China’

BEIJING: Dolce & Gabbana canceled a long-planned fashion show in Shanghai Wednesday after an outcry over racially offensive posts on its social media accounts, a setback for the company in the world’s most important luxury market.
The Italian fashion house quickly issued a statement apologizing and saying the accounts as well as that of its namesake designer Stefano Gabbana had been hacked, but it did little to calm a brewing social media uproar in China.
Some of China’s biggest celebrities had been billed to attend the “Great Show” event, but on Wednesday one after another announced their withdrawal.
“Our mother country is more important than anything, we appreciate the vigor and beauty of our cultural heritage,” said the management of Wang Junkai, a hugely popular singer in boyband TFBoys, as they announced his withdrawal.
“I love my mother country,” actress Li Bingbing told her 42 million fans on Weibo.
The controversy arose after Dolce & Gabbana posted short clips on Instagram earlier this week showing a woman eating pizza and spaghetti with chopsticks that some deemed culturally insensitive.
It erupted into a firestorm after screenshots circulated of an Instagram user’s chat with the famously volatile Stefano Gabbana in which he used five smiling poop emojis to talk about China and launched insults at the country and its people.
Even China’s Communist Youth League jumped into the fray.
“Foreign companies operating in China should respect China and respect Chinese people,” the youth league tweeted to Dolce & Gabbana on Weibo.
Actor Talu Wang also tweeted on Weibo: “Respect is more important than anything.”
As the backlash escalated, Dolce & Gabbana took to Instagram and Weibo saying its account and that of designer Stefano Gabbana had been hacked and that its legal office was “urgently investigating” the matter.
“We are very sorry for any distress caused by these unauthorized posts. We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China,” the company said on Instagram.
Dolce & Gabbana said separately on its verified Weibo account that the show “has been rescheduled,” though it did not specify the reason nor did it give a new date for the event.
“We apologize for the inconvenience,” it said.
The controversy marks the latest backpedaling by a foreign company for offending Chinese consumers with advertising or information that insults China or clashes with Beijing’s official position.
Earlier this year, German automaker Mercedes-Benz apologized for “hurting the feelings” of people in China after its Instagram account quoted Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, seen as a separatist by Beijing.