Meet ARAK, a social enterprise and resort wear label making a difference
Based out of Jordan, ARAK is a regional force to be reckoned with. Both a social enterprise and a resort wear label, the hybrid brand was born out of the vision of Abla and Raneen Kawar. This vision focuses on preserving traditional motifs from the Levant, all while supporting disadvantaged communities locally in Jordan. In practice, this looks like resort garments featuring traditional cross-stitch embroidery done by hand by refugee and disadvantaged women, partners the team says are crucial to empower and support. With those involved getting back 100% of the embroidery cost, ARAK hopes to imbue a drive for social uplift with pieces that reflect the cultural legacy of the Middle East. Their latest collection Digital Blur blends textiles, motifs, and patterns, a reflection of the blending digital and physical worlds we increasingly experience.
JDEED caught up with the ARAK Studio team to talk all about their process, their drive for social change, and looking to the future.
By Ethan Dinçer
Hi, ARAK! Thanks for speaking with us. Getting started, what were the driving forces behind starting ARAK Studio, as you say – “social enterprise first, and resort wear label second”?
The driving forces behind starting ARAK Studio as a social enterprise first, and a resort wear label second, were many. Our upbringing instilled in us a strong sense of civic and cultural responsibility. We were taught to preserve our values and heritage not just within our community but on a global scale. Our grandparents were passionate about community service and charity and always emphasized the importance of empowering others to be self-sufficient.
At ARAK, we are committed to giving artisanal women in Jordan a chance to earn a living using the skills passed down through generations, empowering them to be economically independent. Our core purpose is to create value and raise awareness for the MENA region, all through fashion. We firmly believe that fashion can be a powerful tool for social change, and we are dedicated to using our platform to create a positive impact.
Talk to us a bit about the disadvantaged communities you work with to produce ARAK’s sustainable and ethical garments. What is so important to engage vulnerable communities locally in Jordan? How do ARAK’s pieces directly support their creators?
ARAK’s sustainable and ethical garments are produced in collaboration with disadvantaged communities in Jordan, such as local artisanal women and refugees. This partnership is integral to our commitment to invest in human capital and align with organizations that prioritize treating workers well.
Working with these communities is vital for Jordan’s economy, which faces high unemployment rates and has several vulnerable populations. At ARAK, we provide growth opportunities to these communities, enabling them to create a sustainable livelihood.
The artisanal women and tailors we work with have the flexibility to work from home, allowing them to balance personal needs with the production process. Each piece in our collection is hand-embroidered by these women, who receive 100% of the cost of the embroidery as compensation for their hard work. This enables them to contribute to their household’s income rather than relying solely on their male counterparts.
We respect every set of hands involved in producing our garments, valuing our creators as much as those who wear the pieces. By engaging with and supporting vulnerable communities in Jordan, our garments directly contribute to the livelihoods and well-being of their creators.
Most of ARAK’s pieces feature traditional cross-stitch embroidery famous throughout the Levant area. Why is this motif so central to the brand’s visual identity?
At ARAK, our pieces prominently feature traditional cross-stitch embroidery that is famous throughout the Levant area. This motif is central to the brand’s visual identity for several reasons.
Firstly, cross-stitch embroidery is deeply rooted in Levantine culture and has been passed down through generations. Each embroidery design originates from a different area in the Levant, holding countless motifs. That being said, the embroidery found on traditional dresses was used to tell a story and differed from one occasion to the next. Therefore, we celebrate and preserve cultural heritage by incorporating this traditional embroidery into each garment.
Secondly, cross-stitch embroidery is a versatile motif that can be used in various designs and color schemes. At ARAK, we use this embroidery in unique and modern ways to create timeless and contemporary garments. Unfortunately, this type of craftsmanship is fading; with machine embroidery and fast fashion trends, appreciation for intricacy and detail is being lost. Therefore, the prominence of this craftsmanship in our garments is central to pushing our mission of reviving our fading culture with the new generation by wearing our culture on our sleeve.
Lastly, cross-stitch embroidery is an intricate and time-consuming process that requires skill and precision. By using this embroidery technique, we are demonstrating our commitment to quality craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Overall, ARAK’s use of traditional cross-stitch embroidery is a testament to our dedication to celebrating and preserving Middle Eastern culture, showcasing quality craftsmanship, and creating unique and versatile designs in an effort to conserve a fading culture.
“ARAK’s sustainable and ethical garments are produced in collaboration with disadvantaged communities in Jordan (…) Working with these communities is vital for Jordan’s economy, which faces high unemployment rates and has several vulnerable populations.”
ARAK just released the new collection ‘Digital Blur’ a few months ago. Can you speak a bit on the inspirations behind the new collection, one that features a lot of wavy stitches and fluid patterns?
ARAK’s SS23 collection ‘Digital Blur’ is inspired by the world we live in.
We live in a time where the lines are blurred between both worlds; they have become inextricably linked, and one cannot exist without the other. Our collection was inspired by this new way of living, with a desire to bridge the gap between the two. We are interlacing the elements of the meta world into our physical world, specifically through fashion and our culture. Recreating what we see in the digital world on a physical canvas.
In this collection, we are pushing the boundaries of our new designs by experimenting with unique textiles, materials, and techniques reflecting the theme of this collection: Digital Blur.
What have been the challenges of ARAK Studio? How would you describe the social and creative platform in the region to support such a venture?
Like every startup, our challenges at ARAK studio have been challenging and challenging. One of the biggest challenges we face is the lack of suitable quality materials available in Jordan, so importing raw materials each season has been a struggle.
We also try to work with as many artisanal women as possible to spread our impact to more women here in Jordan; however, this is a challenge as each item will be different from the next as it is produced with a different set of hands. Which causes challenges in making top quality for each garment.
Our production process has also been a challenge. To produce the best quality pieces with the cleanest embroidery, we have to go through a three-step process: cutting the material, embroidering it, and then piecing it back together. This lengthy process and the time-consuming craft of embroidery have caused some challenges regarding our lead time and how quickly we can produce a collection.
In recent years, the creative industry in the region has really excelled. So many new ventures, publications, and organizations, existing and new, have supported creatives in the arts industry. That being said, the region has been very supportive of our creative venture; they are always excited to hear of a new fashion venture arising from their culture and are proud to see their heritage and culture on their sleeve while wearing ARAK outside of Jordan.
What is upcoming for ARAK Studio?
Upcoming for ARAK Studio is a sea of ideas. We’re still playing around with different silhouettes and materials and seeing how embroidery plays out on each fabric. We like to create a distinct collection each year based on our environment and what’s happening around us, with an ode to our culture at its core. We’re hopefully looking to grow outside the Middle East; although it has been a great opportunity to have people from our culture who recognize traditional embroidery, our next stop is the West.
Photography/ Zaid Allozi
Discover more about Arak Studio, right here