„Respect, love and compassion for refugees!“



London. The place where Hayfa Hamdan founded her own slow fashion brand in 2019. Kannava. Many slow fashion brands are currently flooding the fashion market, but her brand is different. We all know about the dark side of the fashion industry. We know that there are bad working conditions. We know that ethical behavior is not on a high level. And we know that the fashion industry is primarily not a socially engaged industry. This is why dissidents like Hayfa are so important.

Founder Hayfa Hamdan meeting partners in a refugee camp in Lebanon

Hello Hayfa, you live in London, tell us your favorite place in this huge city …

Maybe it’s because we have been in lockdown for so long, but I’d say my favorite place is Greenwich, where I live. I feel very lucky to have the river and a beautiful vast park on my doorstep with incredible views over London. Almost everyday I’ll go for a walk along the river, and sunsets on warm evenings are so beautiful to watch. Otherwise, one of my favorite things to do around London is just walk around, taking in the architecture, the culture, food, galleries, friends and mostly the vibe – it’s what I miss the most.

With Kannava you are anything but a mainstream fashion company – how does it feel to run against the current?

I think we have an obligation to run against the current, especially when we are aware of the impact the industry has on people and planet. I really do love fashion, I think it is beautiful, an art, the psychological impact it has on the wearer is fascinating, I love looking at fashion magazines, being on shoots, seeing what people are wearing. But the industry is broken. Overproduction, unethical labor practices and greenwashing are no longer tolerable.

The fashion industry, like many others, has a duty to make a change, and it means a lot to me to try and be part of the solution rather than the problem. I love seeing so many new brands emerging now that are strong champions of sustainability and ethical production. I think more and more its what people want, they want to look good, and do good. I think the tide is turning and I’m excited to be part of the movement.

„I’m originally Palestinian.“

Hayfa Hamdan

You write that you yourself come from a refugee family – where are your roots and where does your connection to Jordan come from?

My grandparents were refugees who experienced heartbreaking hardship, and went from being quite wealthy and well settled to losing everything – their land, home, belongings, social circle, support network. A story that sticks out to me is how my grandmother went to grab a coat as they were leaving, and my grandfather said there was no need as they were coming home in a few weeks. They were never allowed to go back and had to restart life with the very little they had packed. My grandfather always carried the key to the home he could never visit. I’m in awe of my grandparents – of their incredible resilience and strength to start over with nothing, whilst trying to look after young children. They moved a lot, but eventually settled in Jordan, where we used to spend long Summers visiting them. Most of Kannava’s work is in Jordan as it has a huge community of refugees that have been living in camps for decades. For me it is important to try and shine a light on those forgotten refugee camps, I know that the only reason I haven’t grown up in one is down to luck. Nothing else.

For us, Kannava feels like an incredibly beautiful medium for raising a voice. What’s your strongest message?

Respect, love and compassion for refugees. They are the strongest, kindest people I have ever met with huge hearts. They are incredibley skilled, with fascinating cultures and traditions. I want to showcase these to everyone, so they can see beyond the label of refugee. I want to celebrate them and give them a chance to tell their story through their craft. I hope people take the time to learn about our makers and understand the challenges refugees face all around the world. And, where they can, help change the negative attitudes towards them and challenge the terrible political decisions that force them to spend their lives in horrific conditions in camps.

How did you first come into contact with Tatreez craftsmanship and what fascinates you about it?

Tatreez forms part of my culture, so I saw it everywhere growing up, on traditional clothes, on trinkets, cushions, linens, shawls, you name it. But I’d say the time I was really inspired by tatreez was when I was given my grandmother’s old dress featuring her stunning embroidery a few years ago.

What most fascinates me about traditional tatreez is the meaning behind everything. You were able to find out so much about a woman just by looking at her dress – each region has its own colours, motifs, threads and style of embroidery. Before I started Kannava I tried to track down as many old dresses as possible so I could study them and learn about the different styles and stitches. The level of craftsmanship is incredible. I’m in awe of how the embroidery withstood the test of time despite heavy wear, of the incredible detail and colour palettes. Everything was designed and made by the wearer using only nature as the reference point. In Kannava we use traditional motifs so you can see the strong influence of nature in our designs, for example the rooster, cypress tree, flower motifs.

„I want to give refugees some power back.“

Hayfa Hamdan

Now we use the last piece of the puzzle – what gave rise to the idea of ​​founding your own fashion brand? Whats your connection to fashion?

Seeing the refugee crises unfold, the negative media in Europe about a perceived threat, the hateful language and the mistreatment of people facing the worst circumstances was heartbreaking and frustrating. I wanted to try and do something to change the dialogue around refugees and help people see the human behind the label.

Opportunites for work in the camps are non existent, meaning that they are often forced to rely on severly overstretched charities with little hope to prosper. With Kannava, I hope I can provide a way for people to use their skills to earn a fair income and gain some economic independence whilst preserving the art of tatreez.

I don’t have a background in fashion and have never worked in the industry before, but I did want to try and create a sustainable model that can support the refugee communities and preserve the craft. Tatreez is part of my identity, history and culture. Unfortunately, as any other art, it is expensive and time consuming to create. It has been taken over by machine mass production which creates cheap replicas and a loss of skill. With Kannava, I’m trying to go back to the artisan led, slow fashion model that can preserve a historic skill.

You describe fashion as a force for social change – what do you think is this force?

Every item from Kannava is a piece of history, a piece of art, it provides an income to a woman and provides funds to school in a refugee camp. Everything we sell has a tangible impact on someone’s life. That is why I believe fashion can be a powerful force for social change.

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