By Mara Vigevani
At her ninth floor apartment-cum-studio in Tel Aviv’s trendy Nahalat Binyamin neighborhood, against a backdrop of a stunning view of the Mediterranean, designer Gal Shukroon displays her new collection of shoes, inspired by Palestinian embroidery and manufactured in Hebron.
“Baraka” (Arabic for “blessing”), Shukroon’s new line was launched in July and is inspired by motifs she first saw in Palestinian embroidery.
The line has nine models, each embroidered with one of three blessing motifs: a heart, for good health; a pair of doves, for honest love; and a key, for wealth.
“Exactly one year ago I read an article about Palestinian fashion and embroiderers,” said Shukroon. “I saw those beautiful geometric and colorful embroideries and I started studying the meanings of the symbols and motifs on Palestinian dresses in the Middle East.
“I discovered that for centuries, women used to sew their secret wishes on their clothes and jewelry and those wishes are still the same for me, a modern Jewish modern woman.”
Shukroon, 42, was born in Moshav Barak, a small town in northern Israel to parents of Moroccan origins. She says her passion for handicrafts and blessings come from her two grandmothers.
“Both my grandmothers arrived in Israel from Casablanca. At home they had a lot of traditional Moroccan handi- crafts, and would continuously bless me for health, love and living,” she says.
What she couldn’t imagine is that, despite the political climate, her idea would be just the beginning of a wider project that would see her shoes produced by Palstinians in a factory in Hebron.
“I never imagined I could produce in Hebron, a city I knew only from the news,” she recalls.
“A friend, who also works in the shoe industry, suggested I check the option. Once I understood it was possible, it was clear I would manufacture my brand, close to my sources of inspiration.”
The first-time Shukroon went to Hebron to look for a shoe factory, she was impressed by the beauty of the city and the professionalism of the businessmen.
“People there are interested in working hard, and I felt that with them I could make peace and not only speak about peace.”
Between the 1970s and early 1990s, Hebron’s shoe-making industry provided about one-third of the jobs in the city, but the opening of the market to Chinese goods dealt a blow to local manufacturing.
Within a few years most of the shoes in the Palestinian market were Chinese. Today only a few thousand people remain employed in the city’s shoemaking workshops — the majority of production goes to Israel.
“We are a small factory with 60 workers. Most of our products go to the Israeli market. Firms like Renuar and Yanga are my clients,” said Ashraf Amuri, the owner of the factory.
“In the last few years more and more Israelis are returning to produce shoes in Hebron, both small designers and bigger companies. But still, the local economy is not back to what it was.”
Shukroon’s project combines traditional Palestinian styles with modern Israeli fashion, but also seeks to empower Palestinian women.
“When I first visited the factory in Hebron, I was very impressed by the high quality of their products ,but at the same time I noticed few women working there,” Shukroon said.
“As an independent woman and shoe designer, it was very important for me that my shoes be produced by women.”
While Shukroon has so far sold some 300 pairs of shoes from her Baraka collection, which sell for around 550 shekels ($150), she has ambitious plans to expand and plans to set up her own factory in the city that will include a center for women’s empowerment.
“I decided I do not want to sell only shoes, but shoes with a story,” says Shukroon.
“I have a sensitivity to women, I love independent women and I decided I will help Hebron women to get out of the house and acquire a profession.”