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81 Designs: A social enterprise that marries art with women’s empowerment

81 Designs: A social enterprise that marries art with women’s empowerment

DUBAI: It started with a desire to bridge art and humanity. Emirati art graduate Nadine Malouf always wanted to do something charitable and art-related. Being half-Palestinian, setting up an enterprise that helps women affected by the refugee crisis in Palestine seemed an obvious choice, so she founded 81 Designs together with her mother, Nesrine El-Tibi Malouf, in 2016.

The brand oversees a group of refugee women as they recreate the works of leading Middle Eastern artists in the traditional “tatreez” style of cross-stitching.
The results created using this painstaking technique are as innovative as they are beautiful.

“I wanted to modernize something that has existed for hundreds of years and its legacy was fading because of the commercial uses it is being applied for,” Nadine explained. “The way the craft is usually applied (in run-of-the-mill accessories and poorly made handicraft products) is a short-sighted approach.
But we are providing a wider platform for it.”

The first capsule collection debuted at Art Dubai in 2017, in partnership with renowned artist El Seed, and sold out. This year, Moroccan contemporary artist Hassan Hajjaj worked with the women to have 14 signature pieces from his funky, nostalgia-infused “Graffix from the Souk” collection recreated in the form of embroidery art. The collection was released at the 12th edition of Art Dubai to a very warm reception — each piece was uniformly priced at $8,000.

“I think the fact that we are able to give these women structure in their lives, that they have full-time employment in such a volatile environment, is something to be proud of,” Nadine said. “Plus, by giving them the opportunity to create something, be part of something — it gives them a feeling of self-esteem, a sense of joy.”

From allowing them to get medical treatment for their families to giving an autistic child the opportunity to secure meaningful employment, the impact 81 Designs has had is significant and far-reaching. And it continues to grow, as they develop their next collection with textile label Bokja by designers Maria Hibri and Huda Baroudi.

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