Two Jerusalem-based Jewish immigrants, an Israeli-Arab factory owner in Abu Ghosh and Palestinian seamstresses from the West Bank – this is the intercultural supply chain for Skye Green, a clothing line targeting religious teens and tweens.
Born out of personal necessity, the company is an extension of a line of scarves created by London-born Sophie Sklar in 2004.
“It reached a point where it was difficult to dress my daughters,” explains Sklar, who made aliya in 1997 after finishing her education at University College London, where she studied Semitic languages. She was looking for clothing that would fit both her taste and that of her daughters.
“I wasn’t finding modest clothing that was acceptable to me and that my children liked.”
The self-proclaimed “momtrepreneur” discovered that her friend Dinah Kraus had been sewing since elementary school and was already enjoying making her children’s clothing. With seven daughters between them ranging in age from three to 14, the pair ultimately decided to join forces and rebrand Skye Green to the existing fan base that Sklar had built through her scarf enterprise.
“We try to make clothes for everyone and to make young girls feel good,” she says, noting that their appeal is broader than just the Jewish community. “We want to give many different sectors – Mormons, Muslims, Modern Orthodox – a voice.”
Their choice of business partners also stretches beyond the Jewish community. Directed by a friend to a sewing factory in Abu Ghosh, near the capital, they entered the address into Waze and drove right into their newest venture.
When they arrived at the factory, these former Bnei Akiva girls entered a world where bolts of fabric lined the walls, surrounding tables of apparel in various stages of completion. With a nod to tradition, it was immediately apparent that the owners kept things low-tech and relied on their well-honed craftsmanship to produce a variety of clothing products and accessories.
Sklar’s first words to factory owner Youseff Ibrahim were, “We want to make and sell dresses.”
What she and Kraus received in response was advice based on decades of experience about how to properly cut patterns, select fabrics, where to purchase zippers, and other inside information about creating well-made clothing.
“We weren’t clueless,” Kraus says, “but we were still learning.”
Having historically positive relationships with Jews, in part because it was one of the few Arab villages surrounding Jerusalem that allowed supplies through its roads in 1948, the area is now famous mostly for its hummus. It even earned a coveted spot in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2010 for preparing the world’s largest dish of the Middle Eastern staple.
Ibrahim’s factory is also an integral part of the neighborhood’s history.
The third oldest of nine children whose family, he says, has lived in Abu Ghosh for 500 years, Ibrahim’s oldest sister knew how to sew and opened the factory in 1975.
What she didn’t know is how it would change the economic landscape of their home.
“It was like a revolution,” Ibrahim says with pride. “They needed 12 women and 60 came in. My sister felt she could bring money to households and change how women viewed themselves.”
THE FACTORY owner, who doubles as the deputy mayor, realizes that his ability to broker work for Arab seamstresses is due, in part, to lower wages business owners pay in the Palestinian territories but says, “In business, there is no divide.
If these businesses weren’t here, there would not be many jobs and it would be difficult to find work.”
Some, like 28-year-old Fatma, must work. A seamstress for three years, her husband is ill and they are without insurance. Ayisha, 22 and divorced, who also must work, says, “I like the work and there is nothing else I can do except sew,” adding that she thinks God wants peace in Israel.
The result of this unique collaboration is a fusion of what Sklar refers to as “modesty and fashion.” Skye Green combines often-seen solid black fabrics with bold prints and adds a fresh twist on designs that are inspired by popular culture.
The clothing adheres to customary modern Orthodox elements, such as skirts and sleeves that extend past knees and elbows. Despite this, Kraus, a speech therapist by training whose family arrived in Israel from Sydney in 2012, says that they “want to change the face of beauty.”
“We want to instill confidence and tell young girls that they don’t need to aspire to unrealistic expectations.
They can feel good about who they are,” she says.
Wanting to spread their message to the masses, this dynamic fashion duo created a video campaign based on #beyourownbeautiful. Living up to their social media slogan, they showcased as models young girls who were short or had Down syndrome or a face full of freckles or wore braces.
Currently relying on grassroots marketing to mothers of daughters, the clothing line is sold in people’s homes, online, and through “popup” shops – meaning businesses that announce they will be at a certain location for a certain amount of time and then close down again. In addition to having a local presence throughout Israel, the enterprise’s international presence is growing, with shipments heading to New York and “pop-ups” in London.
Despite their success, the owners steadfastly believe they have only begun to tap into the business’s potential and envision a day when they will have “a store in every mall.”