Sitting among the audience awaiting the event to take place, I could not but have a smile on my face as I recalled the wording on the invitation. “Haute Couture” just did not sound right in this forsaken part of the world. Yet, I was there … the music began and models paraded out amidst the avid applause from the audience. What was most eye-catching was the use of Palestinian embroidery in the making of the gowns – an amazing way, I thought, to preserve Palestinian heritage.The fashion show is a result of the outstanding effort of Beit Sahour’s Fashion and Textile Institute (FTI), an acknowledged and premier organization that was established in 1994 and funded by the European Union. Working under the legal umbrella of the Latin Patriarchate, FTI’s main purpose is to support the garment and textile industry in Palestine and transform it into an independent industry through fashion design, education, and production.

The event itself is the culmination of the Institute’s two-year program that cultivates talents in fashion design. Upon completion of the program, students receive a certificate from the Palestinian Ministry of Labor that enables them to pursue work in this field.

Interestingly enough, FTI is the only educational facility in the PA and Jordan that concentrates exclusively on fashion and style. It not only aspires to develop highly skilled professionals but also aims to turn “Made in Palestine” from a mere label attached to the garments manufactured in its production section, FTI – UNITEX, into a globally recognized brand name. In fact, circular knits of medium/high quality are already being exported to the United States and Canada.

This organization is not an island, however: it is an integral part of the Union of Palestinian Textiles Industries (UPTI). It sustains close ties with textile companies to which it provides consulting services such as promoting export and assisting with production and design as well as solving productivity and quality issues.

Palestinians are not foreign to hardship; they have been standing in the face of unbearable adversities and oppression for generations. With its creative professional activities – textile-print designs for silkscreen, heat-transfer prints on T-shirts and fabrics, educational programs, and garment production and export, this institution is just an example of how Palestinians have learned to become experts in turning everyday struggles into everyday greatness.

By the end of the fashion show, the wondering smile turned into certain laughter … Palestinians will be ok.

Elie Walid Hanna is the executive director of FTI. He was born in Haifa and, after studying abroad, chose to return to Palestine to work. His experience lies in sales and financial management.