Zaatari Action evolved out of the project ‘Dress For Our Time’, a fashion artefact, which used a de-commissioned UNHCR refugee tent to create a dress to engage the public with the Refugee crisis and Climate Change, at key moments of global and social significance.
In 2016, Helen visited Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan (where the tent originated) in her capacity as an academic. During this trip she began conversations which would lead to the co-creation of 15 projects with those living in Zaatari and which responded to their direct needs, addressing educational, livelihood, and enterprise creation opportunities. There is a clear focus on women and young girls at the camp.
By the end of 2018, Helen and multiple teams from LCF and with corporate partners such as Unilever and Givaudan have forged a path that has led to the UNHCR creating a unique role for her in 2019-2022, as UNHCR’s first ‘Zaatari Designer in Residence’.
Zaatari Action continues to create new opportunities through reciprocal knowledge exchange and to research counter narratives for fashion’s use and for design to play an activist role in creating meaningful change to the improvement of refugee lives.
Zaatari Action: Example projects
Since Helen's first visit to the Zaatari in 2016, she has co created and delivered 15 projects with Syrian Women and girls. Through collaborative partnerships and informed by direct needs, they have together built upon existing talent and sought to foster increased opportunities for expert skills training, as well explore new creative approaches to enhance enterprise and education.
In an age of reciprocity, these projects are as much about what Syrians have to teach us, as they are about us sharing knowledge, training and opportunity.
Design for Humanity – A Living Curriculum
This project brings the learnings and new knowledge from Zaatari and its people into the curriculum and teaching and learning experience at LCF and UAL. It offers students and staff the opportunity to participate in experiential learning, which is highly responsive and explores human resilience and adaptability, as well as providing space for creative responses to the rapid changes and events of our times through our teaching and learning practice.
Made in Zaatari – 2019
‘Made in Zaatari’ brings together the learnings from working in Zaatari over the last 5 years. Designed as an inspirational camp based Centre with a Soap & perfume Making Lab (created by Givaudan), for training and production of products, crafts, a Hydroponics Garden, in collaboration with Sheffield University, a beauty salon, a crèche and a retail / gallery space, to sell produce to the camp and camp visitors. In March 2020, a second centre in District 1 of the camp was being built, serving a different group of women. A new Soap Making Lab has been created at the Princess Basma Centre, in the town closest to Zaatari, Mafraq and a fourth soap making centre, in Ruwaished on the Jordan/ Iraq border has opened also. This project helps contribute to women’s ability to continue to up-skill, remain dedicated mothers, create and sell beautiful products, create their own brands, explore sponsorship with Jordanian partners to sell outside of camp and to raise the level of money they can earn, seeking to lead to economic independence.
Seeking the Syrian Stitch
In collaboration with the fashion house of Elie Saab, The Tiger Girls and their Coaches, Deepa Patel, Helen Storey and LCF International office, IRD and UNHCR, this project aimed to create a new Syrian stitch by learning a unique form of embroidery technique taught by expert hands from the House of Elie Saab and to share this skill on going, by identifying the talented and gifted to pass it on after the project was delivered.
Other actions have included: multiple UAL short courses, including Advanced Beauty, a fourday course in camp, teaching in Advanced Make Up application and advice on skin care and skin health. A project with LCF’s MA Fashion Futures students to design spaces for the camp community. Exploration and training into soap and perfume making with Givaudan, to enable enterprise opportunities for women living in Zaatari. And ‘Love Coats’ a week long workshop for the Tiger Girls, to learn new skills through team work and then sharing them with others. The project sought to promote a culture of upcycling, develop creativity and imagination, to build stronger connections to the girl’s peers, and to give back to the community through the process of gifting the coats.
Innovation Lab at Al-al Bayt University (Jordan)
As an outcome of the PPE4REfugees Project, a new innovation lab has been created at one of our Jordanian partner Universities. THis Lab will provide training and livelihood opportunities for both refugees and students alike.
Aside from the actions noted above, the following outputs have come from Zaatari Action:
Carving Time – an exhibition in London of work by artist Tarek Hamden from Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan. Tarek’s work was on display in Hatton Garden from October 2019 until 31 January 2020.
Masks 4 Zaatari – Helen collaborated with Laura Baker, Technical Coordinator Print at Central Saint Martins, on a unique project to mark World Refugee Day, Saturday 20 June. Entitled ‘Masks 4 Zaatari’, the project shines a light on the refugee cause in a time of COVID-19, as well as celebrating London College of Fashion’s long-term connection with the Zaatari Refugee Camp on the Syria/Jordan border. Laura Baker is one of three founders of Peoples Masks, an initiative started by Central Saint Martins staff rallying the public to collectively make thousands of washable fabric face masks. In this collaboration with Helen, Laura has created a collection of eleven different designs for ‘Masks for Zaatari’.
Drawing Reality – An online project to teach animation to the children of Zaatari during lockdown – sharing the youth experience of COVID-19 in camp and 18 months without school. Read more about the project and watch the animation via our blog.
Venice Design Biennale – Through collaboration the work of Tarek Hamden, a sculptor in Zaatari, had his worked exhibited in Venice 2021, selling his pieces, for the first time, to a Swiss Art Collector.
Watch a series of films following this project from 2013 – to the present day:
Professor Helen Storey, Professor in Fashion Science, UAL
David Betteridge, Freelance Photographer and Filmmaker
Irene Omondi, UNCHR Jordan
Contact for the project
Professor Helen Storey, Professor in Fashion Science, UAL
Funders and Partners
The project has been funded by Unilever for 6 consecutive years and by a UKRI/GCRF Rapid response to Covid19 grant, together with Sheffield University, UNHCR and Jordanian partners -
Aug 2020 – March 2022 - PPE4Refugees - £800,000