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EYE CANDY: Israel Fashion Diary

Having just spent ten transformative days in Israel, I opted to extend my birthright trip and participate in Israel Outdoors’ Fashionating Israel program.

As a fashion student, I was curious to see what kind of design climate had evolved from the complex cultural atmosphere of the young country. Throughout my time as a program participant, I learned that Israel is host to a range of activities within the fashion industry which weave tradition and modernity into a harmonious tapestry. The most valuable insight that the program gave me, however, was into the role of sustainability as a priority amongst Israeli fashion organizations, both in their overall missions and daily practice.

My desire to contextualize Israeli fashion from an academic context was satiated immediately by our visit to the archives at Tel Aviv’s Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art. We explored the history of Israeli fashion through the region’s traditional fabrics and styles, discussing everything from Bedouin embroidery techniques to the crucial versatility of denim and lightweight cargos, linens and bucket hats.

The two key takeaways of quintessential Israeli style were the importance of both sandals and simplicity. We explored the contemporary influence of  these aesthetics through a visit to the college’s weaving room, where students learn to craft original fabrics for their creations.

When we left the city for the Negev to participate in a dance workshop, the instructors from a local Israeli dance troupe performed a piece inspired by the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza factories near Dhaka, India. The plaza’s labor supplied merchandise for well-known labels such as H&M and Primark, sparking global outrage surrounding human rights violations committed by the fashion industry.

After discussing the ethical pitfalls of the fashion with a critical eye, we were introduced to Co.Co: Israeli’s first sustainable fashion collective. The company’s two female founders, Tsafra Perlmutter and Dalia Kapuza, created a unique business model which crowdsources designs from students and professionals alike, giving everyone a fair shot at pitching their ideas. Consumers vote on which products should be produced, helping to reduce the excess production and fabric waste generated by the contemporary fast-fashion industry.

The next time we saw the sands of the desert we were led to the Bedouin tents in Lakia, where we received a course in traditional Bedouin embroidery from the leaders of The Association for the Improvement of Women’s Status. By teaching young Bedouin women these embroidery techniques and giving them a platform to sell their work, the association provides women with personal income as well as the education that they are typically denied. Through these endeavors the association gives Bedouin women them the ability to manage their own finances, use public transport, and live a life independent of their families.

In Jaffa, a gorgeous ancient port city just south of Tel Aviv, we paid a visit to Israel’s only Haute Couture fashion house: Maskit. Known for their iconic Desert Coat, the brand is home to an unconventional history, which we learned about while getting an eyeful of the delicate embroidery and fine fabrics of the atelier.

While Maskit’s glamour was effortlessly impressive, the golden moment of the trip gleamed at me from the Yemenite Jewelry Workshop and Museum which we visited shortly after. We were treated to traditional Yemeni coffee and perused the historic tools used to create elaborate bracelets, rings, and accessories. The intricately shaped gold filigree gleamed like none other in the world, as it was worn to transport as well as showcase one’s wealth. I noticed that much of the jewelry was inlet with Eilat stones, and lost myself in the sweeping spirals engraved delicately within a bead.

Our final day was filled with fascinating seminars. The first was led by Maayan Keret, an Israeli model who has graced the pages of ELLE, Vogue, and Harpers Bazaar throughout her career. After many years of work, she abandoned the industry to form her own company in response to fashion’s wasteful practices and ethical injustices. Changing Model aims to promote positive body image within communities of women through traveling lectures and workshops. In sharing her story with us, she gave the young women in Fashionating Israel the opportunity to discuss the sizeism, ageism, and racism perpetuated by the fashion industry.

A much lighter social media workshop was followed by a free-for-all photoshoot on the beach. Testing our Instagram skills while basking in the final sunset of our trip was an idyllic way to end a week of adventure.

On our final day we were treated to a parting brunch with a view of the coast. Throughout just five days we had acknowledged a past steeped in as much travesty as history, and looked towards a future of action and responsibility; we had seen all the colors of the earth unspooled across the bustling city streets and the tranquil desert sands, and it was beautiful.

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