A fashion house that rejuvenates style, colours and textiles of middle-eastern traditions is most of all a place to sew up the fabric of hope torn by violence, war and by the Islamic State. Skirts, dresses, suits and sweaters assembled with creative flair after having discovered a talent as seamstresses. It’s the story of Sandra, Dalida, Diana, Farah, Santa, Shahad, Mariam, Sally, Zina, Sophia, Dina: young Iraqi Christian women, many of whom fled from Mosul after the arrival of the militia of the Islamic State, and repaired in Amman, Jordan, where they have been living for the past year and a half. This is also the story of their fashion brand, which not incidentally is named “Made by Iraqi girls”, featuring the label of all their garments that enhance the colours of Iraq.
A passion to rekindle hope. The passion for dressmaking was discovered by chance, thanks to the efforts of two women from the Apulia, in southern Italy, Rosaria Diflumeri, owner of a boutique in Cerignola, and her fellow-citizen Carla Ladogana, expert in the field, with a degree in “Fashion and Costume Studies”. It wasn’t hard for them to meet the request of the Italian priest, Fr Mario Cornioli, from the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, for a long time in the front lines of reception and assistance to Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Amman. “We had to find a way to give these young women a reason to move forward, to hope in a better future” Fr Cornioli said on the phone from Amman. “The idea of a
dressmaking course seemed the best way to reawaken them from the grips of slumber that take over when experiencing difficulties away from your home Country. Life in Jordan is hard for the refugees. They are not entitled to work, and can barely access healthcare and education. They are in need of great help to continue living while waiting to emigrate for good
to the United States, Australia or Canada. Many of them spend their days waiting for a visa that fails to come through.” This led to the idea of “making garments to earn some money, in view of a profession that could restore dignity and smiles.”
The two rivers. Their efforts led to the creation of the “Rafidin” project, the “two rivers.” The term commonly refers to the Tigris and the Euphrates, the two watercourses in Iraq. Diflumeri and Ladogana went to the centre of Salesian Sisters in Amman where from February 23 to March 1 they held a dressmaking course, teaching the young women how to create puffball skirts, shirts and other garments. As if by magic old sewing machines made available by the nuns were working again, and the long tailoring tables were filled with textiles and coloured fabrics.
“This project shed light on our living conditions in Jordan, where refugees are not entitled to work. We feel as if the dressmaking courses have wiped away the dust and the stones to bring to light the diamond we unknowingly cherished”
said Sandra, one of the Iraqi women. “Here in Jordan we are not treated badly, but according to the law we cannot study nor work. The most difficult aspect is waiting, and having nothing to do. We are always waiting for something to change, for the situation to improve, but in the meantime there is nothing we can do but wait.” Thanks to “Rafidin” something is starting to change, as confirmed by Dalida and Shahed: “this project has been extremely important. Before starting the course most of us had never used needle and thread. We have learned something useful and created something beautiful.”
The dream goes on. Many volunteers from the Italian community of Amman (some 1000 people, ed.’s note), are helping the Iraqi women, with amazing results. The “Made by Iraqi girls” garments, launched on social networks, “are enjoying great success, owing to their colour combination and Middle-Eastern textiles, combined with Western design.” A fashion show, obviously in Cerignola, displayed the beauty of the garments worn by models on the catwalk on March 8, International Woman’s Day. “There is mounting interest for the garments, all of them unique items, with prices raging from 50 to 150 euro”, said Fr Cornioli. The idea is to sell them online. We have also opened a Facebook page: ‘Rafedìn – Made by Iraqi Girls’ where the finished garments are on display. All the proceeds will go to the young Iraqi fashion designers who are now recovering some hope and smiles.”