Fashion as resistance is allowing Palestinians everywhere to reclaim their narrative and tell their own stories. Celebrating tradition, sharing timeless stories, and resisting the ongoing occupation, designers like Mai Hammad are reintroducing the world to Palestine through fashion.
MENACatalyst had the great opportunity to meet with Hammad to learn how Forty8 is transforming the landscape of Palestinian fashion while reaching a new generation of Palestinians across the globe.
Can you share a little bit about your background, and how it has influenced your career as a designer?
I’m a Palestinian-American who was fortunate enough to grow up in Palestine. I have my atelier in Ramallah with a few employees that consist of hard-working Palestinian women. My home and atelier are across a Zionist settlement, and a military base; a view that encourages me every single day to resist the occupation through my designs. I started designing at the age of 20 in 2010. My first line was couture embroidered dresses; my business started by word of mouth, and with years I expanded. In 2014 I launched “Forty8”.
What lead you to pursue fashion?
Fashion has been a big part of my life ever since I can remember. The moment I knew I wanted to become a designer is the moment I learned how to draw figures and dresses. Once I started, I never stopped. I was about ten years old when I fell in love with my mother’s emerald table cloth. I stole it, cut, and sewed it by hand into a beautiful strapless gown. It was perfectly imperfect, but perfect enough to make me take the best decision I’ve ever made, and that is to become a fashion designer.
What is your favorite part about being a designer?
My favorite part of being a designer is being able to see my pieces being worn by our youth. Many of them do not live in Palestine, and seeing their interest in our heritage through my designs is exciting. I name my pieces after stolen cities in Palestine to teach and remind our generation where we came from. I feel like I’m keeping our history alive by keeping these cities in your wardrobe.
What is the inspiration behind your designs?
My inspiration comes from my desire to resist the occupation one piece at a time. The name Forty8 speaks for itself. Palestinian embroidery and clothing existed long before any occupation and will continue to exist behind my needle and thread. We will not let the Zionist state steal our identity and claim it as their own. Palestinian tradition should be kept alive and passed down from generation to generation, and a Forty8 piece is just one way.
How would you define fashion?
Fashion is a personal form of expression. Every piece of clothing you decide to wear is how you want to speak to the world. It can be the language of resistance, peace, and resilience. Fashion is instant language.
As a Palestinian, who infuses traditional embroidery into her designs, what is the message you are trying to share with the world?
That Palestine has a voice in the fashion world, and most importantly that our tradition should be kept alive in our everyday wear.
Who is your main target with Forty8?
My main target is the Palestinians in the diaspora and the new generation.
Where do you see Forty8 in the next few years?
In the next few years, I want to expand my company and team to hire skilled women from different villages across Palestine. I also want to see Forty8 pieces not only reach Palestinians, but I want to spread the Palestinian threads across the world.
How do you spread the word, in terms of how your marketing or outreach efforts?
I’ve been in the business for almost ten years now, and I’ve built my cliental starting with word of mouth. Now with social media being so integral, it has made marketing and reaching customers easier.
What is the impact you are working to achieve, economically or socially?
Economically, I strive to support Palestinian women in remote villages. Many of these women have unique skills but don’t have the resources or opportunities to put them to work. Some of them have families to support, and I want to be able to help them by offering them jobs. I also make a point to support small local businesses in Palestine. I buy all of my fabric and materials in Palestine.
Socially, I want to share and preserve Palestinian culture and traditions, clothing specifically, to be recognized by everyone around the world. It brings me joy seeing my pieces being worn in various parts of the world.
How has your journey establishing Forty8 and becoming one of the few fashion houses in Palestine impacted you?
Forty8 started as just a dream of an ambitious girl who had a passion to create and design. I could never have imagined it would become what it is today. I am very humbled by the journey it took to establish this company. It all started with cutting up my mother’s old thobe and fashioning it to a modern piece. Today, I have thobes coming from all over Palestine, each one bearing the story of its owner. Coming in contact with these thobes and the ladies who wore them has taught me to appreciate the stitching and work put into each pattern. I’ve learned that each village has its own unique design and story to tell. I’ve learned so much about villages in Palestine, how they embroider different patterns and use different fabrics. I’ve developed relationships with my customers that now are a part of the Forty8 Family.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
To any aspiring entrepreneurs, I recommend creating a strategic plan. Set goals and do research. Ask as many questions as you can because learning is a part of growing.
To learn more about Forty8 visit: https://forty8bymaihammad.com
And keep up-to-date with the latest Forty8 designs on social media:
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