Three friends with some extra free time is not always a bad thing, Ashraf, Ala, and Suhaib are proof of that. The three twenty-something young men from Hebron started a craft initiative that’s turning into a popular business only two years after its establishment. The word is Jelld means “leather” in Arabic. They are producing handmade leather products in Palestine and, as Ashraf, one of the co-founders put it, “We’re not just selling a product, we’re telling a story.”
The three ambitious young men wanted to start their own business and coming from different backgrounds and expertise, leather design brought them together. Ashraf’s family has been in the leather industry since the late 1930’s and they have their own factory, so he had little background. The other two learned mainly thought internet courses and YouTube.
“We did not start from ground zero. It was far less than that,” Ashraf said, “We started with barely 45 Israeli shekels.” (About twelve US dollars.) They built a humble workshop space in the Ashraf’s. They relied on simple tools to create their creative designs such as nails, cardboard, and even put different tools together to create tools that they needed and couldn’t get locally. Now, they have weekly orders and shipments locally and worldwide.
But creating a successful business wasn’t quite enough for the three friends. They wanted to make beautiful products while building a collective community effort. And so, they included different groups of the Palestinian community, especially groups that are relatively marginalized, including, women from low-income families or widows who are now the sole breadwinners of their family; young men and women from different areas who help execute the designs or do the traditional Palestinian embroidery. For instance, the who work on the embroidery are from Beit Jala, Dura, and al-Taybeh, and each town has its own style of embroidery. The people who work with Jelld are from different faiths (Muslim and Christian), academic backgrounds, ages, and genders. Additionally, some of the employees are people with disabilities. They all work together to turn the product from a design on paper to the beautiful piece of art it eventually is.
The beautiful products that are the end-result of this collective effort are sold in many Palestinian towns and cities, as well as in Jordan, Ukraine, Spain, Italy, Germany, Canada, the U.S., Indonesia, Russia, France, and Brazil.
On my way to Jelld’s humble studio on a hill in Dura, Hebron, I had no idea I would walk out head over heels but that’s exactly what’s happened. When Ashraf stated that they’re not just selling a product but also telling a story, I thought it might be an overstatement. Yet ever since that day, I find myself sharing their story wherever I go, because when supporting Jelld you’re not only supporting a youth-led initiative but you’re supporting an entire community that makes every handmade product a story to share on its own. This way, when you buy a Jelld product, you’re also becoming part of the story being told. A story of love, hard work, devotion, and community.