Somewhere along its evolution from traditional Arab male head dress to iconic symbol of revolution, someone in China took notice of its growing trendiness. Chinese factories started mass producing keffiyehs and making them available to fashionistas around the world for a fraction of the cost of actual Palestinian made keffiyehs. And the ironic result of the keffiyeh’s popularity is that all the traditional keffiyeh manufacturers in Palestine have had to shut down because they simply cannot compete with the cheap Chinese knock offs. Thanks hipsters. Thanks a lot. I personally really appreciate a quality keffiyeh. It’s a great multi-purpose garment. But I hate the cheap Chinese versions. They suck, like most things made in China.
Haaretz recently wrote an article about the last keffiyeh factory in Palestine. Located in Hebron, Gideon Levy regales us with some maudlin, somewhat over-the-top prose about the factory:
Lying on a faded couch in the nearby manager’s office is the elderly owner, wearing traditional garb, a kaffiyeh and galabiya, themselves tattered. For nearly 50 years he has been producing the national symbol, the kaffiyeh, and now his machinery has ground to a near halt. The looms stand still; there are no buyers for his kaffiyehs. He, too, shoots silent, sad looks at his life’s work, at the dying production hall … The factory’s splendid output is displayed on the walls of the office: shelves full of kaffiyehs in plastic packages – for which there are no buyers. Kaffiyehs in many colors to be sold as souvenirs to tourists, as well as the traditional black-and-white ones for the locals, and no one is buying. There’s tea and rice in China, and now kaffiyehs, too. Who will buy a Palestinian kaffiyeh for NIS 20 when there is a Chinese model for NIS 10? … The factory has been around for half a century, and now the time has come to close shop.
Levy chatted with factory owner Yasser Hirbawi, 76, and his sons, and everything was very, very sad. Just as sad as it was in 2008 when the New York Times wrote about a keffiyeh factory that had already been shuttered for two years. It was also located in Hebron. It had also been a victim of globalization. And it’s owner? Why none other than… Yasser Hirbawi – who was also 76 years old 2 years ago:
For five decades, Yasser Hirbawi was the only Palestinian manufacturer of the national black-and-white keffiyeh headdress, the symbol of Palestinian nationalism worn most famously by the late leader Yasser Arafat. Now, he wipes dust and cobwebs from an … old weaving machine in his small, dark textile factory in Hebron … “Two years ago I had to close down my factory because I couldn’t compete with Chinese-made keffiyehs that sell for 40 percent less,” said the 76-year-old, who himself wore a keffiyeh.
Now I don’t know what kinds of shenanigans are at play here, and I won’t even attempt to hazard a guess. According to the Haaretz article, Hirbawi’s factory is still capable of producing keffiyehs. Thus I’d like to take this opportunity to urge Mr. Hirbawi and his sons to not give up hope and to keep the factory running. Why? Well, it seems that the next big thing is upon us already and its name is Chullo.
Hailing from Peru, the Chullo is a hat made of llama or sheep’s wool worn by Andean natives. It’s a really ugly hat with ear flaps but it keeps you hella-warm in the winter. I think the Chullo, whose only political statement is that comfort and practicality is more important than fashion, is set to become mad popular. So popular perhaps that Chinese factory owners may decide to manufacture more of them and less of the very soon to be passÃ© keffiyeh. If that happens then maybe the Hirbawis will be able to compete again!