After years working with the United Nations, Claudia Martinez Mansell founded Kissweh in Los Angeles in 2017 with the simple idea of creating a line of beautifully hand embroidered personal and home accessories that are made by skilled craftswomen living in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon.
Kissweh’s goals are to be a contemporary source of exquisitely designed and timeless products inspired by the rich folk art of traditional Palestinian needlework motifs; and to give refugees the opportunity to earn a fair living from their artisan skills by producing embroidered products with a contemporary twist.
Our products have an emphasis on meticulous and fine craftmanship, and carefully selected top quality cotton threads and linens. Love and dedication goes into producing these objects, with craftswomen taking an average of three weeks to embroider one cushion. A core belief in our work centers on the importance of giving women in refugee camps a livelihood and to recognise their beautiful artistry.
Key in our work is Beit Atfal Assomoud, a secular non-governmental organization carrying out incredible work for refugees. Giving back is central for Kissweh and a percentage of our sale revenues goes back to the refugee camps in Lebanon to support education programmes and skills training for these women, through Beit Atfal Assomoud and our own project Greening Bourj Al Shamali. In this way we aim to contribute to a different Middle East, one that values and honours its people and their rich history and crafts.
Needlepoint in Palestine
Women in historic Palestine traditionally embroidered their clothes and home accessories when preparing their trousseau, or kissweh (“covering” in Arabic). The traditional folk motifs used were passed down from generation to generation and were representative of the villages and regions where they came from, as well as of the dreams and aspirations of the women who embroidered. The motifs represented fauna, trees, gardens, precious objects, and religious beliefs, and reflected everyday village life, rural scenes and a respect and love for nature. Coming from a land of pilgrims and of spice and silk trade routes, these motifs have a rich history of symbolism and influences from around the world. It is an art and a craft we support and want to keep alive.