Machine Assisted Painting 1990’s ©Omarivs Ioseph Filivs Dinæ
It is as if during the past twenty years, since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and the emergence of both local and foreign non-governmental organisations, we have become suddenly aware of the need to create a Palestinian fashion industry. Workshops, grants, funds, and schemes have mushroomed all over occupied Palestine. Some shrivelled and died, others survived and grew into the infestations we now so readily recognise. Still, some claim to empower whilst others seek to inspire, yet all are dedicated to us, the people of Palestine, our welfare, development, and growth. The vulgar millions poured into the creation of community organisations, businesses, vocational schools, training programmes and institutes has achieved little more than corrupt what notion of Palestinian dress we had and what chances of a fashion industry were possible.
Political significance once central to historical dress in Palestine has, since 1993, not only lost its sting and meaning, but has become the romanticised rag indiscriminately and ignorantly employed to polish and aggrandise both high and base. Transmogrified into vapid discourse; a bastardised nationalist visual mantra, grotesque and disconnected. Embroidery is now little more than an epitaph on the tombstone of a system of dress that once reigned supreme in this part of the world. As for the knowledge and function of so intricate and nuanced a phenomenon, these are now confined to the realm of colonial museums miles away from Palestine. What information so confidently imparted by the local institutions and culture-mongering collectors is at best replicated from copies of ineptly translated foreign texts; out-dated and warped.
As for the contemporary state of dress it takes little more than a few field visits to Nablus, Bethlehem, and Hebron to realise how the majority of the textile and garment factories are all, in effect, variations on dysfunctional sweatshops subcontracted to produce for Israeli clothing companies. There are virtually no manufacturers that produce for the Palestinian public. Dirt-cheap Turkish and Chinese products, allowed to flood the market, determine the status quo.
On the individual scale, local designers have to develop an altogether unique approach when dealing with technicians and outsourcing. An inevitable plan-B and a margin of disastrous shortcomings have always to be taken into account. It is both a tragedy and a paradox that the talent pervading and sustaining the craft market exceeds itself only in its own mediocrity, and has entrenched its own incompetence. It is as if all the creative energy of the artisan workforce goes into figuring out how to best fall short of the most basic standards of production. The impotence of the intelligentsia and professional class in countering or even addressing this seems to stem from an unwillingness and inability to critique or deconstruct this sub-creative industry.
Fashion as a system will not come about through NGO meddling, condescending state intervention, or deluded pioneers. It is the socio-economic system of capital, gender, and class that ultimately dictates the mode of dress production and consumption. Ironically, without the appropriate, and unfortunate, capitalist infrastructure, labour force, market, consumer culture, and industrialisation, all of which are impossible under a military occupation and a caretaker government, there is little hope for a sustainable industry. Plainly put, Palestinian fashion is a perfect reflection of Palestinian politics, economy, and society.
Fashion Design in Palestine (An Opinion) was written for This Week in Palestine December 2012 Issue No. 176