Politics and fashion are always a controversial conversational combination. Making political statements with fashion are always a hit or miss for the audience. From Rebecca Minkoff’s Spring 2017 runway featuring women empowerment and feminism statements in response to the inauguration of elected president, Donald Trump, to the many brands standing with Planned Parenthood during NYFW Spring 2017, fashion has a way of ingraining an awareness about politics. Deema Habbiyyieh and Dunia Shuman have decided to embrace this controversial combination and raise awareness and spread love for their Palestine through their brand: WestBankStyle48.
Habbiyyieh is a 19 year old student studying business while also studying event and wedding planning online with New York Institute of Art and Design. She founded the label and started it up before meeting Shuman online and becoming partnered owners of this brand. Shuman is a 23 year old student studying to be a nurse for radiation therapy. She also works with Project Downtown to provide the homeless residents of Miami with meals and necessities each week. I had a chance to interview Deema Habbiyyieh about their brand and their message.
Who is WestBankStyle48?
WestBankStyle48 is a clothing company. We sell t-shirts, wristbands, traditional Palestinian attire, and so much more. As a company, we want to spread awareness about Palestine and not let it go unnoticed. We really believe that people should be able to rep Palestine without breaking their budget. Those are some of our main goals. Some people want Palestinian t-shirts, but can only find them for $30 at the lowest. We try to make our merchandise more affordable and accessible.
What is the price range?
We average about $20. We have wristbands as low as 5 for $5, t-shirts for $15 and long-sleeves for $20. It’s not too expensive.
What does WestBankStyle48 mean?
The West Bank is a big chunk of the Palestinian land that Israel has not been able to occupy. The occupying of land all started in 1948, so the 48 comes from that. Style is just incorporating our clothing label.
10% of your profits go to PCRF. What is PCRF?
PCRF is Palestinian Children Relief Fund. It’s a nationwide organization where they help rescue kids in Palestine who have been injured. They try to give them medical attention for their needs. If possible, they try to bring the children to the states to get medical attention. Their organization really focuses on the children being affected by the intrusion of Israeli forces. I, personally, know the guy who runs PCRF in Cleveland. I reached out to him to partner with him with this brand.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Palestine situation?
Palestine got taken over (occupied/stolen) by the Israelis in 1948. There were big wars and Israeli forces came and kicked out the Palestinians from their lands and villages. My family was one of the families that were kicked out. The Palestinian people [who got their land taken] had to take refuge in Jordan, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and the surrounding countries.
Why is this something we need to raise awareness about today, in 2017?
We need to raise awareness because this is going unnoticed and the Palestinian people cannot even go back to our land. Our cities and our villages have been taken over by Israeli zionists. When you can’t even go back to your own land, something needs to be changed. Palestinian people wanted peace and wanted to live together [with Israelis], but we got out land stolen. Today, we really want to march and raise awareness and show that we’re not giving up on the land that is ours.
Your family got their land stolen. Have you been to Palestine at all?
Last summer was my first time I went to Palestine. My mom’s sisters and mother live in the West Bank. I also visited Jerusalem and my hometown. Our hometown has been occupied by Israel.
Is Jerusalem in Palestine or Israel?
We consider to all of the land that was Palestine before 1948 to still be Palestine today. We refer to Jerusalem being in Palestine but to the rest of the political world, Jerusalem is in “Israel.”
Palestinians still occupy some of their own land today in 2017. Is this land that Israeli forces are invading and trying to occupy today?
Yes. Israel plans on occupying all of the land. There are Israeli forces all over, including the holy city of Jerusalem.
When you visited Jerusalem, did you witness any of the discrimination by Israelis as a Palestinian woman?
Oh, yeah! It was so funny. Palestinians have to go through extra security searches. We have separate gates routed just to get into our mosques in our holy city. Wearing a headscarf and speaking Arabic amidst Israeli zionists, Palestinians feel A LOT of discrimination.
What are some ways that people from the U.S. are able to help with the situation in Palestine right now?
It’s really important to keep yourself informed about the Palestine-Israel conflict. There are some big-name corporations in the states that support Israel and even give a portion of their sales in support to Israel. Staying informed and supporting the thousands of other businesses who don’t support Israel could be one small and very doable way. There are also a lot of people on social media that live in Palestine and have daily updates on what happening. How many people got shot, their names, and their history – all of the people that got attacked by Israeli forces. They don’t only cover the bad stuff, they also show the communities, the beauty of Palestine, including trips to Jerusalem. Especially now, in the month of Ramadan, there are a lot of updates about our land.
What made you want to start a fashion brand tied to Palestine?
Right when I graduated high school, I decided I wanted to start a business and I wanted to spread awareness. I love my country, Palestine, and I wanted to get Palestine’s name out there. I was always creative and wanted to make something that was easy for us Palestinians to represent our the fact that we will not back down.
Did you start with any support?
I started all alone. For weeks and months I would grab a journal and just draw and make designs for shirts. I asked my friends and family: “Do you like this design?” “Would you wear this?” “Is this spelled right?” All of these questions. My family was also financially struggling so I was motivated to start a business and support my family. I started by making an Instagram and Twitter. My friends supported the social media and we went global. I met Dunia a little later after she reached out to me asking how she can help and I asked her to join me in running the business.
Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
A lot of it is inspired by incorporating traditional Palestinian attire. For our graphic attire, we were inspired by phrases that were strong and made a statement to really represent Palestine. Inspired by embroidered thobes (traditional Palestinian women’s gown) and kufeiyas (traditional Palestinian scarf), we’re coming out with a few new designs in our new line called “Palestinian King.” We’re hoping to launch this line before the end of the year.
What is something you would like your audience to take from WestBankStyle48?
We want to inspire our supporters to always stay true to Palestine and never give up on this fight. We want to remind and inspire them that Palestine will get justice.
Do you have any words for fellow young Palestinian entrepreneurs out there that want to start a business in the name of Palestine?
Do it. Ignore all of the hate. Even if it comes from your family and friends, ignore it. If you want to serve your country, if you want to sell anything like scarves or wristbands – just do it. It’s not going to be easy. There have been many times when I just wanted to give up. But I thought of the reason why I want to do this, to benefit my country – it kept me going. You have to really be confident and you have to want it so bad. You really have to believe in yourself.