MENACatalyst caught up with the founder of Habibi Worldwide, Hani Azzam, to learn how his innovative startup is starting a conversation about Palestine, and promoting cross country collaborations with socks. But not just any socks, Habibi Worldwide infuses traditional Palestinian symbols and motifs onto their socks, all while supporting entrepreneurship and a building a more resilient economy.
What is Habibi Worldwide?
Habibi Worldwide is a small business with a social mission. We have been around for about a year now, since 2018, and our focus right now is on Palestinian designed and inspired socks our goal is promoting Palestinian entrepreneurship and supporting the Palestinian economy.
We do so by having a designer in Palestine design a sock, or a few pairs of socks, and compensate them for that. At this point, the socks are mainly manufactured in the U.S., but we donate almost 50 percent of all profits to projects or organizations that are fostering entrepreneurship in Palestine.
Who are you targeting with Habibi Worldwide?
Everyone interested in supporting the Palestinian cause and specifically the Palestinian economy, and hopefully everyone that those people know as well. The idea behind Habibi Worldwide was definitely to use it as a vehicle to spread more awareness about Palestine. And while most sales have been to people in the U.S., as well as Palestinian Americans and Arab Americans, we also get a lot of sales from activists who are supporting Palestinian and human rights across the world.
Can you talk a bit about the designs behind the label?
All the designs we use are drawn from Palestine and in general Bild Al-Sham. Some designs are very traditional, like our kufiya socks, there’s not much embellishment on that, it’s great as is. And our most recent one was a nice hybrid, taking a traditional pattern used in tatreez with a more contemporary navy-blue backdrop.
How are you spreading awareness?
It’s been a lot of social media, and just trying to tell the story about who designs the socks, where the patterns come from, and also to tell the story about Palestinian entrepreneurship. And again, that is mostly through social media, right now, it’s the easiest way to reach a lot of people and share positive stories.
As a Palestinian American infusing traditional motifs into a simple pair of socks may seem simple enough, but what is the greater message you are trying to share?
Palestine is filled with entrepreneurs, talented designers, and talented people in general. And it shouldn’t just be written off as something you hear about in the news, as part of a conflict because there is an economy there driven by talent people, creativity and innovation. But at the same time, I don’t want to overshadow the fact that there is a conflict there, as well as oppression and injustice, and the patterns we use on our socks are unique especially in the U.S. and outside of Palestine because they can be ways to start a conversation about what is happening there.
And my message to Palestinians in the diaspora is that you can start a business or a side project that can benefit and support Palestine. Palestinians can work together across borders to build collaborative businesses that promote our heritage and share our designs in unique ways.
What comes next for Habibi Worldwide?
I think I would be interested in expanding into other products at the same time I want to expand our line of socks to work with more designers and also potentially replicate this model with other communities in the middle east. Having something like this where we work with Syrian designers on a project that supports entrepreneurship amongst Syrian refugees. So, there are a lot of directions, we are also coming out with a new pattern at the beginning of 2020.
What impact are you working to achieve?
The three ways that we as Habibi Worldwide measure our impact are through Growth, Reinvestment, and Support. Growth is how much we can contribute to the spread of Palestinian and Arab designs, culture, and heritage. Reinvestment, in terms of how much we can reinvest into the Palestinian entrepreneurship ecosystem. And support, how much we can support projects and initiatives that are building up that ecosystem, and the connections between local Palestinians and those living in the diaspora, whether it be refugee camps or refugees in the Middle East or people like myself living in the U.S. a few generations removed, if we can find ways to work together we can all benefit from that.
I chose to support entrepreneurship because when I was living in Palestine I felt like so much of the hope of the future lived with entrepreneurs. And as a community, it was clear they were resilient and working to take control over their future and destiny. They were tackling obstacles with hope, which to me was really inspiring.
What advice would you share with aspiring entrepreneurs?
Just do it. Don’t be complacent, don’t wait around for something to happen, if you have an idea, just run with it and positive things will happen as soon as you start doing something.
To learn more about Habibi Worldwide, visit: https://habibiworldwide.com
And follow @habibiworldwide on:
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