What a great time it was talking to Dana Kandalaft, founder of Tight Knit Syria, and her lovely volunteer Flavia! At a glance, if you see us dancing in these soft knitted vests, you might think they are just any other piece of clothing. But, if you look closer and feel them, you can tell that they are way more than that. These pieces carry many stories. Read more for the full interview.
Tight Knit Syria is a non-profit organization that sells intricate and beautiful handmade products by Syrian Refugees.
TKS provides Syrians refugees across Syria, Lebanon and Jordan with paid work that allows them to do something they love; giving them hope for a better future.
MEET DANA KANDALAFAT
founder of Tight Knit Syria
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am Syrian Canadian born in Canada. I used to spend family vacations in Syria for two months every other year. For some reason we stopped making those family trips to Syria. I studied Environmental Sustainability at York University. That’s something I was passionate about so it was only natural that I do something related to International Development, but how close was it really to home I didn’t know…
Did you always feel connected to Syria?
In March 2011 the Arab Spring started and it was hard not to start paying more attention to Syria. I realized that I am not just Canadian, I am Syrian as well, and this is part of my identity that I wasn’t paying attention to for almost a decade. People in Syria were fighting for Universal Rights that we have here available in Canada. We are privileged to be living here! For a year I was confused, disconnected and depressed. Something inside of me was telling me to do something but I didn’t really know how or what. I can relate to so many Canadians that want to help but feel intimidated by the scale of the crisis, that you almost become uninspired and more separated from what's happening.
Where did it all start?
In my last semester I got to travel to Turkey for a course and this is where things were changing. The first day of the trip, we met a refugee who escaped from Syria to Turkey. He was selling scarves, and he talked to us, the students, about his experience. We all sat in a café when he started telling us about his escape. Then, he started crying. It was hard to see a grown man cry! Somehow he tapped into that Syrian part of me, and it made me more emotionally available to listen to more stories.
Another time I met this lady that started an underground newspaper inspiring women specifically to get involved in the revolution. I also met teenagers who were coming up with creative ways to resist the government in a non-violent way. So, when I got the chance to hear these stories, I realized the revolution is not just about weapons and rebels and terrorists. It's also a bunch of regular people like us trying to have a positive impact on their country for the future of the country.
What made you think of the idea behind TKS?
It might've been pure luck or a coincidence, but my mom bought me a knitted purse that I took along with me. It was practical so I was wearing it in the camp, and this little girl pointed at the bag and started yelling out “SOOF SOOF” (yarn in Arabic) and at that time my Arabic was broken, so I asked her to show me what "soof" is. She took me to her tent; which was in really bad condition. There was mud to my shins, no food, no water, no electricity. Nothing. She disappears for a minute and comes out with a beautiful purple knitted dress, and I was so fascinated by how intricate it was. I was so amazed by this dress, and she was obviously very proud of it, and I said: "wow how did you do this?" and she said: "my mom taught me." And, before you know it I had girls from all ages coming to me and showing me all the knitted items they made. Later I learned that someone has donated yarn for all these girls. These young women were expressing themselves so creatively and were so happy and proud of what they were doing. They literally did everything from cellphone cases to water bottle sleeves, from dresses to skirts, scarves and jackets. So, I had this light bulb moment; maybe my role wasn’t to bring in water and shelter, maybe what I can do is bring yarn and find a way to support them. Prior to this trip I had done a 6 month internship at Fashion Takes Action, where I learned about fashion designers, making clothes for change, and this is what really helped me, because I thought what if we could give these Syrian refugees yarn to knit and help them get income. I realized maybe my role is to connect Syrians and Canadians, and it's been an ongoing adventure ever since.
The yarn is sourced here in Canada. The yarn we get here is 70% bamboo. It's got a really soft texture. In winter, we have heavier wool yarns that we are able to source from the middle east.
Anything specific you are currently working on for TKS?
Recently I spent time in Lebanon for 7 months to learn Arabic. I also developed relationships with Syrian refugees in Shatila camp in Lebanon, which is where the women will be creating the new evil eye collection. And we are still working with women in Northern Syria and in Zaatari camp (Jordan).
If someone wants to donate, where can they go?
|Zenobia Side Bag|
Are you a non-profit organization?
Yes we are a registered non-profit organization in Canada. At least 50% of the sales go to Syrians, the other percentage is split between administration costs. The administration costs are usually kept low because most of us are volunteers.
Do you have any favourite memories in Syria?
Because all of my memories of Syria are from my childhood, they consist of the smell of the lemon trees, the pet turtles and playing in the garden. It's simple things in my memories. It's such an exotic place with so much history.
What are the most popular TKS pieces?
Mostly the vests. They are versatile; the fit can never be wrong. They are great for festivals. We want people to wear our pieces to celebrate human values and life; such as music, music festivals, socializing with less focus on the political stuff.
Who would you say is your biggest role model?
The most solid role model is my cousin Nousha, who I went to camp with. She started an organization, Project Amal Ou Salam, Project Hope and Peace. It’s a peace camp for kids to instil their childhood and values of tolerance and creativity, peace and teamwork. Nothing will stop her. She demands respect and she is just amazing! She's always telling me to get over my fear and that it's not about me it's about the women that we are helping.
Here is a little more of our TKS fun...
Flavia is holding the Zenobia Clutch! It's one of our favourites. She's also wearing a knitted TKS scarf.
The beautiful Zenobia Bag.
and some pre-interview BTS fun...
Keep up to date with Tight Knit Syria's journey!
You can also make a donation by visiting the website, or even better, make a purchase that you are able to wear and enjoy while it also goes to the working hand itself, a Syrian refugee.