Fashion For a Cause: Brands That Stand with Palestine and the history of fashion as a form of Activism
by Oana-Maria Moldovan
For over two months, there has been an ongoing genocide war in Gaza.
To simplify a long and horrific issue, the situation that started, on a larger scale, around one hundred years ago, and has only become amplified since October 7th 2023. Taking place around the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Israel–Lebanon border, the armed conflict is between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian militant groups.
The problem is about “stolen” land. Said land is seen as an important holy part of both religions involved.
But really, how holy can we consider a land to be, if people kill other people for it?
It’s important to remember that this genocide is about three things: forced occupation, zionism, and religion. It’s also important to remember what ethnic erasure is.
This terrible expresion, also known as cultural or ethnic assimilation, refers to the process by which the distinct cultural or ethnic identity of a particular group is gradually diminished or erased, often due to external influences, social pressures, or intentional policies. This time, however, it’s happening by the hands of another ethnic group.
For us to really dig into what is happening right now we have to go back in time first.
Started with the Balfour Declaration, which significantly influenced the trajectory of events in the region. In 1917, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, expressing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
Throughout the ‘20s, tensions between Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine increased. Fuelled by disputes over land, immigration, and political representation.
In ‘29, these tensions erupted into widespread violence during what we know today as the Arab riots. The riots resulted in the deaths of both Jews and Arabs, and it marked a turning point in the relations between the two communities.
The Peel Commission of the ‘30s proposed the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. However, this plan was not implemented.
Instead, in 1948, a significant event occurred in (what used to be) Palestine, which is now part of Israel and the Palestinian territories. This event is commonly referred to as the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning “catastrophe”.
The Nakba occurred in the aftermath of the 1947 United Nations partition plan, which proposed the division of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem as an international city. The plan was accepted by the Jewish leadership but rejected by the Arab leadership, leading to tensions and conflict.
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, declared the establishment of the State of Israel. This declaration was followed by the Arab-Israeli War, during which some neighbouring Arab states intervened to support the Palestinian Arabs.
The conflict resulted in displacement and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes. Many fled or were forced to leave their villages and towns, becoming refugees. The creation of Israel and the displacement of the Palestinian population remain sources of ongoing conflict and tension in the region.
It can be argued that today’s Israel was created based on a non-consensual and imperialistic act of taking people’s land.
The history of fashion’s relationship with conflict
“In difficult times, fashion is always outrageous”, said Elsa Schiaparelli sometime in between the Spanish Flu and WW1.
She couldn’t have been more right. Fashion, like all forms of arts, is a statement. It’s a way to express both yourself and the way you view the world. Fashion can be “outrageous”, and it should be.
In today’s political scene, we see more and more every day that clothes can be a form of fighting against oppression. We have seen over the past two years both with Iran and Ukraine too, and now we see it with Palestine.
But this is not something new, it’s a phenomenon that has been happening for as long as people were in deranged situations – so, forever.
Take World War 2. It’s important to know that in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s there was a fabric crisis which, in turn, caused a fashion crisis. This was caused by the ongoing war.
As Germany wanted to succeed in dominating each and every major industry in the word they started “closing” – forcefully or in diplomatic/economical ways – factories and companies (and even small boutiques).
Apart from France (thanks to Lucien Lelong) most big countries and cities that were manufacturing a great amount of clothes and/or fabrics started to go in the direction of a downfall. This was most notable in Japan, the UK, and North America.
It may seem that in a war, the least important thing is clothes and fabric. That would be wrong. Due to the conflict, there was no fabric for uniforms, parachutes, tents and so on. It was quite an alarming event.
My favourite fact about the history of fashion: the army started using the fabric of bathing suites and tights for parachutes.
They needed enough elastic fabric for it to work. This is also how the two piece bathing suit was created – though this is not relevant, just a tidbit.
It’s not absolutely clear who came with the idea; different sources say different things. But people – especially women – were donating big piles of their clothes to the army to help with this. They also donated their free time and work to help make the parachutes.
Then the Vietnam War, another dark period in history where far too many lives were taken from us at far too young an age. The West (Center and West Europe and North America in this case) began to see the abuse going on in the East (Asia in this case), in the forgotten, doomed – as historians liked to call them – countries.
Those of the ‘60s and ‘80s wanted more than ever to have the ability and power to stop the oppression and aggression that was being held over the more “ethnic” countries but they couldn’t because many of them were teenagers, young people.
Instead, they found a way to protest what was happening through art, through music, and through fashion. Using these as their form of expression.
A large part of the history of fashion has been represented by horrific events. In tragic moments, humanity needs hope, light, courage to move forward. More importantly, people need other people; we are social beings after all.
While we discuss which brands we need to boycott, because money talks and people in Gaza don’t need more money used against them, it is equally important to discuss the brands we need to support. Whether Palestinian-owned or simply industry names that proceed to donate money in order to help the victims of Gaza, consider these alternatives as a replacement for the brands we’re avoiding.
As performative as it might sound, there is a way for us, the ones on the outside, to help, to maybe change something, through fashion. Here are actual fashion brands we can buy from to support Palestine:
Vela Scarves gained widespread recognition for their Free Palestine hoodies, broadening their range beyond hand-dyed hijabs.
This small-scale sustainable fashion brand, comprising only 10 individuals, collaborates with female artisans throughout India to craft their products. The proceeds from the Free Palestine hoodie contribute to the Healing Our Homeland initiative. The brand is also mostly considered as being a modest one.
Established in 2021, Adala Apparel was founded with the mission of advocating for meaningful causes.
Presently, the brand is dedicated to supporting victims in Palestine by generating funds through collections inspired by the region’s symbols of resilience, such as the watermelon and the keffiyeh – a traditional Middle Eastern headdress typically worn by men and has cultural significance and is commonly associated with Arab and Palestinian identities.
Hindhilal stands as a Palestinian design studio and atelier that combines contemporary tailoring with traditional artistry. Founded in 2019, The brand is dedicated to seamlessly blending heritage craftsmanship and premium materials with modern cuts and silhouettes, presenting a timeless collection of essential wardrobe pieces.
Trashy Clothing is an “anti luxury luxury label from Palestine”, blending satire, kitsch and even a little bit of wit. Offering a commentary on political circumstances, the brand aims to question Western power dynamics and aesthetic norms in order to change perceptions, tackle societal issues and tell stories, with the help of traditional motifs.
Every garment crafted by nöl collective is meticulously handmade in Palestine, a collaborative effort with family-owned businesses, artisan groups, and women’s collectives. The brand embraces traditional and ancestral techniques, drawing inspiration from Palestinian and Levantine designs.
WATAN APPAREL beautifully embroiders Arabic words and slogans on shirts, hoodies, totes and much more. The brand has developed a Palestinian collection and are determined to donate 100% of their proceeds from all purchases to help with Medical Aids for Palestinians.
UK based brand Rula Couture has created a HEWA 3-piece Abaya – a traditional, loose-fitting robe-like dress worn by some Muslim women, especially in parts of the Middle East and North Africa - in the hope of helping Palestine. All the money from the purchases of the garment is donated to Palestine.
Muslim Breakfast Club
Maybe more known as other brands on this list is the Muslim Breakfast Club online shop. The brand has been very vocal since the war in Gaza started and is quite keen in supporting and promoting Palestine.
They have a multitude of crewneck designs dedicated to Palestine and are also donating 100% of their profits from these products to the cause. They regularly post either on Instagram or Tik Tok the clothes that are sold in the hopes of helping Palestinians. This is also a brand that is mostly considerate as being modest.
Another modest apparel to shop from is Bella Hijabs. This brand also has conceived a Palestinian collection, with crewnecks that have Keffiyehs and Keffiyeh inspired motifs on them. They are donating 100% of the proceeds from this collection to help Palestine.
Recently dropping a Palestine collection, ArabCollective mostly creates hoodies and long sleeved shirts. The pieces have arab slogans and words on them in the Palestinian colours (red, green, white and black).
The company donates 100% of the money from the said collection towards emergency aid in Palestine.
If you wish for something more subtle, or from a more well known brand, CHNGE (collaborating with Anise) is the way to go.
They created a T-shirt (which looks really cool and I want it for Christmass) that promotes the idea of both peace and freedom. All the profits of the purchased piece will go to PCRF (The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund).
This Palestinian owned brand is donating warm meals to children of Gaza from their profits. They have really cool and modern designs for shirts, hoodies and even keffiyehs inspired looks – or just keffiyehs in general. The brand is also – once again, mostly – considered to be modest for all genders.
The Palestinian, French-Algerian artist – you heard his songs on Tik Tok a few months ago – has released his own T-shirt that says “From Gaza, with Love”. All the money he makes from this piece is going to PCRF.
Nails by Kumi
While not a fashion brand, Nails by Kumi creates hand sculpted gem nail press ons. As an ode to Palestine, 100% of the proceeds from those nails go to PCRF.
The brand also made a Free Palestine (the slogan of the movement) T-shirt featuring the national flower of Palestine. Once again all the profits will and are already going to PCRF.
This one is also not a fashion company, but is still important to remember since it’s both Arabic owned and a popular name.
Huda has been a very big advocate for Palestine in the last years, saying many times that she does not want “blood money” when being threatened by people online in not buying her products anymore if she does not drop her activism.
At the start of November the owner, Huda, announced via her social media that Huda Beauty made a $1 million donation for humanitarian aid to Gaza. In the post, she encouraged her followers, stating: “Please do not give up! You ARE making a difference! Your voice is powerful, and the children of Gaza & Palestine need your help!”.
These are not the only ones. There are more. There are so many more brands like the ones already talked about. All we need to do is to search for them (there are at least seventy of my knowledge).
Politics should not be separated from art, but neither should social from culture. We learn by doing, we go back to early styles and materials, we rework and reuse them. Art (and fashion being a form) never ends, not when you create it the way it was meant to be: as a statement.
This is not really about fashion. More so, it’s about people, victims and survivors – there are no victors in a war, it’s about helping, in any way we can.
Fashion represents both a statement and a state of mind. This is not an ad with pretty dresses, it's a way to support humans in need.
I’ll leave you with this, while researching for this article most of the Palestinian and Arab owned websites, sources, and even social media posts (with the exception of one for now) were taken down or put under maintenance before I had the possibility of finishing the piece.
This could be a coincidence, but I will let you form your own opinions.