Dubai: How a local brand is bringing people together to show support for Palestine

James Hamilton and Jeetu Balani on how their unique charity-driven initiative of Keffiyeh shirts with watermelon motifs is bringing people together to show solidarity for Palestinian people

by

Somya Mehta

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Alanoud Badr, founder and designer of Fozaza
Alanoud Badr, founder and designer of Fozaza

Published: Thu 7 Dec 2023, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 29 Dec 2023, 6:49 PM

Inspired by a casual chat between father and daughter, CPTN shirts originated as a family project amidst the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. A small venture by James Hamilton, a New Zealander based in Dubai, it initially comprised happy-go-lucky shirts, also called ‘Happy’ shirts, with loud colours and striking prints placed on fabrics procured from local markets in the UAE.

In 2021, a transformative encounter with a textile owner in Dubai, Jeetu Balani, owner of DIA textiles, blossomed into a splendid partnership, propelling the brand beyond its initial Hawaiian shirt-inspired roots to embrace a Dubaiian identity — a fusion of colour, style, and premium fabrics.

James Hamilton and Jeetu Balani
James Hamilton and Jeetu Balani

From Hawaiian to Dubaiian

“The concept of Dubaiian emerged because globally, everyone tends to label these shirts as Hawaiian. People look at it and automatically say, ‘Oh, it's a Hawaiian shirt’. We wanted to challenge that perception. We wanted individuals, when they visited Dubai, to proudly say, ‘I bought this in Dubai,’” says Balani, an Indian expat born and raised in Dubai.

Headquartered in the heart of Bur Dubai’s textile souk under the umbrella of DIA Textiles, the brand has a concept kiosk at Time Square Centre, where they specialise in customising clothing, retailing fabrics, and showcasing their trademark shirts, amid various other spots in the city where you can find their ‘Dubaiian’ shirts.

However, what started as a feel-good side hustle in the pandemic has now metamorphosed into a powerful uniting force, bringing people together from different nationalities, to show solidarity in the face of human suffering. Recently, adding to their collection of funky shirts, the co-owners introduced a unique ‘Keffiyeh Watermelon Shirt’ in support of Palestine, which is now being purchased by people across the country and abroad.

“Stepping out of my house one fine day, a gentleman noticed my shirt and said, ‘I love your shirt. Where did you get it?’ I proudly replied, ‘We made this shirt’. As he continued to look at it, he expressed his desire to support Palestine, suggesting, ‘Can you add a watermelon?’ Without hesitation, we created it for him, just a single piece initially. He wore it, loved it, and encouraged us to make more,” recounts Hamilton.

Radio host Helen Farmer
Radio host Helen Farmer

A design for Palestine

Little did Hamilton know that an idea inspired by a family friend would take over social media, with influential figures now wearing CPTN shirts to show solidarity with the humanitarian cause.

Among the prominent personalities to wear the shirts were Helen Farmer, a UAE-based radio host and Alanoud Badr, founder and designer of Fozaza, which sparked a chain reaction, leading to an influx of orders.

For every shirt purchased at Dh250, CPTN shirts contribute Dh100 to charities and relief campaigns supporting people affected by the war in Gaza, including Tarahum for Gaza and the Palestinian Children’s Refugee Fund. The watermelon symbol, which has long been associated with showing support for Palestine, stitched on the shirt serves as a visual representation of solidarity, with proceeds being directed towards supporting organisations and initiatives that aid the Palestinian community.

Already having completed their first payout to the charities, the co-owners also stress upon the need to maintain full transparency when it comes to their charitable contributions. “We’re operating this line exclusively online because we don’t want to be perceived as the face of it. It’s not about us; our goal is to find a way to offer support. So, it’s all online, where the funds can be segregated directly and we can emphasise that this is a charity operation,” says Hamilton, adding that information regarding their payouts will all be available on their social media.

The co-owners, who have already sold hundreds of shirts to people not only in the UAE but also abroad, are struggling to keep up with the growing demand for the shirts. “This cause is uniting a lot of people. Especially, in a city like Dubai, which has people from all over, there are Lebanese expats, Egyptians expats ordering the shirts. We’ve got orders from probably every ethnicity in Dubai. In fact, we’ve also got orders from the US for these shirts,” says Balani.

Dina Ibellini with Bassem Youssef, Egyptian comedian and TV host
Dina Ibellini with Bassem Youssef, Egyptian comedian and TV host

Clothing as a language

Fashion acts as a dynamic and versatile form of self-expression, allowing individuals to communicate their identity, values, and mood through the language of clothing. The wardrobe becomes a canvas, and personal style serves as a brushstroke, reflecting one’s unique tastes and preferences. Beyond aesthetics, clothing in this context also serves as a non-verbal language, expressing emotions, beliefs, and personal narratives, enabling individuals to articulate who they are and how they perceive the world, without uttering a word.

At times like these, fashion can help people communicate what words cannot. “Fashion is something that speaks for itself,” says Balani. “Clothing can allow people to communicate their silent struggle in a powerful manner.”

As human beings, there’s more uniting us than dividing us, adds Hamilton. “One of the most remarkable aspects of being in Dubai is the diversity of the place. I’m originally from Australia and my business partner Jeetu is from a completely different part of the world. Despite our different backgrounds, both of us are driven by a shared belief.”

“There are people suffering — children, families, women, the elderly, pregnant women — the list goes on. If two individuals, hailing from completely different places can align their efforts towards addressing global concerns, why can’t others? Even if we’re able to help a tiny part of the population, it’s a huge achievement,” says Balani.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com

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