A win-win for Jordan and Syrians alike

4 July 2022
ITC News

Jordan fashion company employs Syrian refugees with unique handicraft skills

Dima Azzeh, a fashion designer from Amman, creates luxury couture wedding dresses and apparel, while employing Syrian refugees.

Since 2016, Azzeh’s brand Marcela de Cala made its name with its dresses, high-quality products and detailed handcrafts. Syrian refugees played a crucial role in creating these opulent dresses.

“Before COVID, I used to have ten Syrian refugees working in the sewing and handicraft production process,” says Azzeh. “They have very specific skills and previous experience in the garment sector, with techniques that are not very common to find in the Jordanian job market.”

They’re especially skilled with a technique known as French Canva, highly appreciated in the fashion world.

“They have the expertise and are getting good job opportunities in Jordan. Everyone wants to work with them. It is high competition, and I intend to keep them working with me.”

In the wake of World Refugee Day on June 20, hers is a success story. According to the UN Refugee Agency, Jordan hosts 760,000 refugees and asylum seekers, nearly all from Syria.

Under the Middle East and North Africa Textile and Clothing (MENATEX) project in Jordan, the International Trade Centre provides technical support to improve the international competitiveness of 21 businesses, including factories in rural areas and satellite companies located close to refugee camps.

The apparel industry is one of Jordan’s largest employers, but currently relies on migrant workers from South and South-East Asia.

However, there are challenges to employing refugees. The government requires companies to hire two Jordanians for each Syrian refugee.

“As a micro enterprise, it is difficult to cope with the government requirements,” Azzeh says.

COVID’s impact on micro enterprises

In 2020 and 2021, local demand crashed due to COVID-19. The pandemic affected the entire supply chain, leading to a decline in production and increased costs. Some companies could not pay their workers, while others cut back salaries.

“My brand was blooming before the pandemic,” says the designer. “Even though I was new in the sector, the exports of the wedding dresses were growing.”

After COVID, orders were cancelled and buyers stopped paying. “I had to stop the production in 2020. For a year I closed my business and sadly had to dismiss three Syrian refugees.”

Since last year, business has slowly picked up again. “My team currently includes seven Syrian refugees, two women and five men. They are helping me to re-establish my business.” Azzeh also explains that she has provided her Syrian employees with further skills, hiring a pattern-making expert from Lebanon to train them.

Opportunities with ITC support

The entrepreneur learned about MENATEX while her company was closed.

“Other colleagues in the sector informed me about the benefits of joining the MENATEX project, such as learning about and engaging in e-commerce, social media management and attending trade fairs.”

 “As businesses re-open and physical trade fairs are back, being part of MENATEX will help my company recover from the crisis, find new markets to explore and provide more work opportunities to Syrian refugees.”

Eman Beseiso, the MENATEX project manager for Jordan, acknowledges the importance of integrating and giving job opportunities to Syrian refugees: “The Jordanian Government granted over 62,000 work permits to Syrian refugees in 2021 – the highest number since the permits were introduced. Working in fragile settings to align interventions with market needs is an essential part of ITC’s work, especially with young people and women,” says Beseiso.

“ITC recognizes the knowledge and skills of displaced people as valuable resources that empower them to become economic actors in their new environments,” Beseiso says. “Equipping them with skills and linking them to markets means generating income, creating and improving jobs, and fostering sustainable economic opportunities.”

This year, MENATEX plans to increase its support in Jordan’s textile and clothing sector. The project has been extended until the end of 2023, and recently received new applications from companies and designers interested in joining the ITC project.

About the project

The Middle East and North Africa Textile and Clothing Programme (MENATEX) covers four countries in the MENA region: Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. The International Trade Centre, with support from the Swedish Government, implements the programme.