hile many members of Lebanon’s diaspora encounter feelings of identity crises, others try to make the most of their heritages and experiences.
One such example is 26-year-old Lebanese-Armenian Sarah Hermez, who grew up between Cyprus and Kuwait before completing a double major in Media and Culture as well as Fashion Design at New York City’s prestigious Parsons New School for Design.
Her initiative called The Creative Space, a design school for Lebanon’s less fortunate, aims to provide an educational space for those who have the drive but can’t afford the hefty cost of schooling, Hermez told NOW Extra earlier this week.
“Upon graduating, I didn’t just want to go into fashion, but [wanted to] combine it with my passion for humanitarian work,” she said.
After discussing her aspirations with veteran design Professor Caroline Shlala-Simonelli, who is also of Lebanese descent, Hermez decided to set up The Creative Space.
She traveled to Lebanon, where she said she still feels quite new, visiting non-governmental organizations, orphanages and Palestinian refugee camps among other locations to recruit her first candidates.
A couple of months later, The Creative Space was in full bloom with seven of Lebanon’s most aspiring designers seeing their dream come to life.
But rather than bringing the workshop to the students, Hermez made an active effort to bring them to Beirut so as they can have the chance to interact with people from different backgrounds.
Upon starting last summer, the workshop hosted an initial five students, three Palestinians and two Lebanese, aged between 16 and 22 from locations as varied as Saida and Bourj Hammoud. Two more students were added to the group this winter.
The three-month teaching term, which takes place five days a week for seven hours a day, includes training in all aspects of fashion from sewing, sketching and stitching to mastering the garment’s final touches.
But the real challenge was convincing her students’ parents to allow them to attend the workshop in the first place, noted Hermez, stressing the importance of breaking social barriers. “Looking for students was tough, and people are not very open…” she added, alluding to the highly divided and sectarian mentality of the country.
But the Creative Space concept does not stop there.
Upon the completion of their fashion collection, the young designers see their creations on display, which are then sold at a silent auction.
Last August’s exhibit took place at the Saifi Urban Gardens, while the second exhibition was set up at the Beirut Art Center. According to Hermez, all pieces were sold at a starting price of $300.
While the project came to life thanks to private funding, the last auction churned out between $10,000 and $15,000, which was split between the students and the organizers of the project. The Creative Space also received other types of support, some quite notable, such as garment donation by prominent American designer Donna Karen.
At the same time, a number of fashion-oriented figures volunteered to offer classes and share their skills. One such person was Lebanese-Irish-American textile artist Denise Maroney, who taught the group embroidery on a weekly basis.
“Embroidery is not necessarily for everybody, but they were very curious and receptive. I came back two weeks later and they had gone off and picked up all the skills and were just flying with them,” she said. “Their talent and eagerness are amazing.”
Twenty-six-year-old Palestinian-Lebanese Rania Dalloul, who teamed up with Hermez, helps co-direct and manage the project. She provides students with a more introspective approach to understanding their work through self-reflective interviews and journals. “Rania is like the challenger and the therapist who holds things together,” said Hermez of her partner.
“Somewhere along the lines, we’d even like to see some of these participants become teachers themselves,” added Hermez, arguing that the project is definitely on over the long-haul.
The Creative Space has recently opened its permanent space in Geitawi. For more information on the project and its latest developments, please click here.