Karma taps local talent in beach towel craft

BEIRUT: When Ghina Arslan is not working as a finance associate at the United Nations Development Program or taking care of her family, she is working on what she calls her “baby project.”

From the well-established and influential Arslan family, Ghina inherited an interest in helping others from her mother, an activist with a history of contributing to political and social causes. Following in her footsteps, Ghina started a business manufacturing handmade towels from which all the proceeds go to charity. Through it, she expresses her passion for design and commitment to helping others. 

“I have always been interested in this kind of work,” she said. 

From the age of 12, Ghina watched her mother organize exhibitions and open houses to sell crafts made by poor women. “My mother used to gather the works of talented seamstresses across the country and organize handicraft exhibitions for them … The charity part of my work is very important to me.”

Speaking to The Daily Star from her residence in Ramlet al-Baida, Arslan talked about her reasons for starting the project, the different facets of her work in design, and her latest collection of towels. Decorated with butterflies, flowers, lucky charms, and cultural symbols like the Hand of Fatima, she draws inspiration from a wide range of sources. 

Ghina designs towels and baby sets, which are then crafted by a group of tailors from across Lebanon. “Those who execute the work are talented women, with expertise in artisanal handicrafts,” she said.

Although her main workshop is located in her hometown district of Aley, the five regular seamstresses on her team also work from home. 

“They usually come two to three times a week to work in the atelier, and to see the new designs I bring for them,” she said.

In order to keep up with demand, Ghina introduced sewing machines. “In the past, everything was handmade,” she said. “But to save time, cost, and effort, my work is mostly machine-made, although some things can only be crafted by hand, like the sophisticated Breton lacework we used to get from Deir al-Qamar.”

Ghina has provided a machine for each of her seamstresses to facilitate their work at home. 

“That way, each can work at her own convenience, working from home and taking care of the family at the same time,” she said.

According to Ghina, the best part of her work is helping tailors invest in their own talents.

Fabricating a piece from scratch takes four to five days, but an urgent request can be accommodated in just two. Prices range from $10 to $300 depending on the complexity of the design.

She started her project after meeting women who made beachwear, beach bags, and everyday accessories. “But I decided to become a designer of beach towels mainly because I noticed that many women had so much potential, and the only thing they needed was an opportunity to gain exposure for their work.” 

Already an avid follower of fashion trends, Ghina researched new and stylish designs for her first collection, launched last summer. 

“The beach collection was my first,” she said. “Then I launched my second collection in the fall, for Christmas, which included bathroom towels and baby towels.” 

She said such items are very useful to moms, who form the majority of her clients. “As a mother of two, I knew that the baby gifts I received when I had my first child came in handy.” 

“Now I am working on some Easter designs and planning a new summer collection of big towels, in addition to working on some bespoke designs,” she added.

In December, Ghina participated in her first exhibition, the “Sista Brown’s at Knock Design,” a pop-up store that united artists, painters, chefs and interior designers in a friendly and welcoming space. She said she received a lot of positive feedback and encouragement.

Everything is an inspiration for Ghina. “I follow many big designers, and I like to stay up-to-date on the latest fashion trends and styles. I also welcome suggestions,” she added. “My best-selling design, the Hand of Fatima, was proposed to me by one of my friends.”

The designer believes there are always new ideas to be found. Towels with butterflies are her favorite. “It’s a cute and nice item for little girls,” she said. “A set of matching colorful butterfly towels would make a great gift for a teenage girl.”

Ghina named her brand Karma after her baby girl. “I strongly believe in the Indian meaning of the term, ‘what goes around comes around.’ It is my brand’s slogan.”

“Creating the brand means a lot to me, because it’s a progression of what my mom started,” she added. 

“And because I like fashion, I am satisfying and challenging myself through this work, which I consider to be my passion. I always find time for it in parallel with my work at the UNDP,” she said.

“I feel like if you really want something, you will always find time for it. And I consider myself really good at multitasking.”

Project Karma is something Ghina would like to leave for her daughter in the future. “I want my children, Nabil and Karma, to engage in charity work, because I believe it’s our duty to help others.”

To see more of Ghina Arslan’s work, interested people can follow her at Karmainstag on Instagram and KarmaKimi on Twitter.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 01, 2015, on page 2.




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