World Refugee Day is on June 20, and according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are now over 70.8 million refugees around the world. In the biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War, 41 million people have been displaced inside their own countries, while another 25.9 million have fled across borders to escape persecution, violence, poverty and war. Of that, more than 12 million are children.
To mark World Refugee Day, UAE company NRS International kicked off its Bag of Hope project by challenging students at Dubai College of Fashion & Design (CFD) to create a series of bags that not only look good but also "leverage the power of fashion to talk about things that matter".
As a manufacturer of refugee tents and shelters for the United Nations and other agencies, NRS International is all too aware of the scale of the problem and how many people are in desperate need of help. Through its Bag of Hope project, it hopes to open a wider conversation about the need for more acceptance and understanding, as well as sustainable practices.
“At NRS International, we have a zero-waste policy in our factory," explains Wieke de Vries, senior marketing and communications manager at NRS International. “We aspire to upcycle the tent material offcuts, such as polycotton and mud flap PVC fabric, and turn them into something more useful and meaningful.”
It is precisely these offcuts that students were tasked with upcycling and repurposing into tote bags. As well as creating useful, practical item from materials many would see as waste, the students also had to help spread a message of tolerance and acceptance.
Following months of work, two students were yesterday declared winners of the project, with designs that were deemed to be the most impactful.
One winner is Amira Saif, from Yemen, who decorated her tote with the universal symbol of the peace dove placed inside a circle. The bird is made of the words hope, love and peace, and surrounded by more words, including joy, freedom and respect. Hand lettered, the roundel is framed by butterflies and sprigs of olive tree.
Sherifat Abubakar from Ghana was the other winner, and took a decidedly modern approach. Printed with the phrase "All I need is…love, peace, WiFi", Abubakar’s bag combined wit and optimism by using the three symbols across the bag as a repeat pattern.
Jessica Galeano, marketing manager at CFD, said of the project: “We believe that the fusion between fashion talents and humanitarian initiatives can contribute positively towards the community. We try and shape our students’ mindset on taking steps to reduce the environmental impact as well as positively impacting lives through their creativity. This challenge was the perfect blend of both.”