2020 Reflections - Kannava

As 2020 draws to an end, we have caught up with some of the inspirational women behind our brands to find out how it has been for them and their businesses. This time we talk to Hayfa Hamdan, founder of Kannava.

Remind us who is the team behind Kannava?  

I am the sole founder of Kannava, but I work closely with a network of incredibly talented female refugees living in Jordan. I partner with local charities to distribute the work to artisans who are highly skilled in the art of tatreez, a traditional Palestinian hand embroidery craft. 

Our mission is to empower refugees, providing employment opportunities to those often excluded by society and forced to rely on overstretched charities, whilst preserving a traditional art.

 How has 2020 been for you personally, what are your reflections? 

It's certainly been a challenging year! 4 months into the launch of Kannava, Covid happened. I had to rethink much of the business, and although I have an incredible team of women who do the embroidery, I am the only person working on and funding Kannava. I was running successful pop-ups before March, showing people first-hand the incredible craftsmanship of Kannava and telling our story, but Covid meant I had to stop and rethink our entire roll out plan. 

Initially having to pause felt tough and dispiriting, I wasn't sure whether as a new business we would survive. But I realised that being new, and having a small team meant we could quickly shift our plans, adapt and learn - which has made us stronger. 

How has Covid affected your small business? 

I live in London and work in camps in Jordan and Lebanon. The inability to visit the camps and my team was quite a blow. I couldn't talk to them, I couldn't see them, and unlike other businesses that may be able to connect with video calls, the infrastructure and technology simply wasn't there for us. I'd set up Kannava to help our team of women and to provide support to refugee camps, so I felt a sense of responsibility to keep going no matter what. We had to adapt a lot of what we had planned in order to survive and continue providing employment. 

How have you had to adapt? 

We had initially planned to release a ready to wear line in addition to the hand embroidered scarves. We had samples made, shoots done, designs finalised, but due to the complexity of creating these during lockdown, we had to put those plans on hold. 

Instead, we decided to launch a line of unisex t-shirts using materials we could deliver safely to the camps, where the women could complete the work in their homes, without having to travel. They turned out so well and have been incredibly popular, we sold out of some within a few weeks of launching them, so we will definitely continue with those!

How about your workforce? 

They are a resilient and inspiring group of women. They have been through a lot in their lives and have always shown incredible strength. I've learnt a lot from them on navigating this period, and am incredibly grateful for their willingness to adapt and to help Kannava succeed. 

Social impact is an important part of your business - How has this been affected?  

We have had to scale back some of our operations, I was hoping to work more in refugee camps in Lebanon, but will have to delay this. But for now, we are continuing to work with our core group of embroiders so we can provide them with an income during a difficult time. We have also continued to support schools in refugee camps and donated a portion of our sales to causes we really cared about this year including the Lebanese Red Cross and Choose Love, an absolutely incredible charity that provides refugees and displaced people with everything from lifesaving search and rescue boats to food and legal advice. 

Lastly, some positive learnings from 2020?  

This year we've seen much greater interest in people supporting smaller businesses, especially where they see that their purchases have a positive impact on the world - I've certainly seen huge support for Kannava because of this. Its so fantastic that people are now more willing to support brands with a story, that are using interesting techniques, that are empowering their workforce and adopt sustainable practices. 

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