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Student Spotlight: Mona Rathi teaches refugees textile crafts in Jordan

Mona Rathi sitting in a field in Jordan
Mona Rathi sitting in a field in Jordan
Mona Rathi @monarathi58
Written by
Jesse Tilley
Published date
28 August 2019

Next in the series of 'Student Spotlight' we spoke to Mona Rathi, an international third year student studying BA (Hons) Fashion Textiles Knitwear. She recently undertook voluntary work in Jordan to help teach women and children basic textile crafts and we wanted to hear all about it.

What made you decide to want to study knitwear?

I come from a family with a textiles background, my dad is into home textiles. Growing up I have always seen printed and embroidered fabrics around me, and plenty of women crafting them with their hands. This sparked my interest and not only wanting to learn that but to take it forward and look more into knitting and weaving as coming from Jaipur the majority focus is on traditional block printing and embroidery techniques.

Can you tell us a little about the project you’ve been working on in Jordan?

This summer, I went to volunteer in Jordan in the middle east which has a refugee crisis as it share borders with Palestine and Syria. My initial aim was to help in overall community development: helping on farms, teaching children and training and refining women’s knowledge of crafts (namely: knitting and weaving). All this to make them self sufficient and promote sustainability through the use of locally available resources to create and sell. I started a GoFund me campaign, not to expense myself but to buy materials and tools for children and women. I raised £235 and managed to buy school supplies for around 30 kids which would last for up to 3 months.

I held art and craft workshops with children and teaching them how to make makeshift toys and tools for play so their mothers who generally take care of them can focus on work while children have a group of fellow kids to do activities with and share ideas. I managed to buy the women in the Safawi group a makeshift spinning wheel to fasten the spinning process from being able to spin 3kg of yarn a day to 7kg boosting their income by 50%.

After being naturally dyed with pomegranate, cochineal, madder etc this yarn can be used directly by them to make it into rugs, carpets, upholstery or sold as raw material. I taught them some spindle spinning, natural dyeing and learnt from them a few nicks of the craft and manual wool scouring, listening to their stories and challenges I decided to act on them.

For my graduate project I wish to go back and work with them and the local wool, design my collection knitting their stories in the pieces to spread awareness and show how little it takes to make a bigger change.

What encouraged you to take a focus on sustainability?

I identify myself as a more research based creative than design driven. I always believed in learning from the root of the issue, to know it inside and out - in fashion this being material sourcing and manufacturing. In my curriculum I used Cultural Historical studies as the medium to explore fashion production and used video documentaries on true cost of fashion. This with writing essays on how far fashion has come and now its ultra fast fashion and next is extinction. As we can’t go on producing and consuming at this rate.

It is not about what we wear and how we look anymore, its becoming about where its coming from and who is making it. It is important for people in fashion to now understand the immediate need to change from sourcing to designing and how manufacturing products work.

Do you find that LCF encourage education around sustainable fashion enough?

"LCF is one of the only prestigious universities to promote sustainable fashion, the CSF- Centre for Sustainable Fashion at LCF with the Kering involvement is the stand alone truth. I, myself took the Online Fashion Sustainability Course which is free and accessible to all students, it broadened my horizons of sustainability in fashion."

Aside from a design perspective, how do you maintain your principles as a sustainable consumer?

To be a sustainable consumer, first it's important to understand sustainability and pass the knowledge and awareness forward for others to follow, that's half the work done. I practice sustainability in daily life by ditching single use plastic, avoid buying polyester clothing and checking my clothing labels for manufacturing details. I discourage clothes produced in Bangladesh and similar smaller countries where more than half the manufacturers practice sweatshop pattern. I am also a vegetarian, which debatable, has a role to play in sustainability. Day to day basic practices as: always finishing your food, turning the lights off when not required and using adequate amount of water is also a step forward towards zero waste lifestyle.

What are your plans for life after LCF?

By exploring different things I love to do and care about, I have come to a conclusion that I am leader and not a follower. I believe change takes one person to start with. I realised this when I went to volunteer, now I want to influence the bigger picture and make this dream a reality at a greater and faster rate.

I would like to lastly say thanks to Basma Omar, she was the person who sponsored my stay in Jordan and took care of me. I met her in Paris in 2018 in one of the trade shows. She was working for United Nations that time and we became friends since, she welcomed me in 2019 and allowed me to have this amazing opportunity.