The brand Two Neighbors produces items of clothing which are the product of regular meetings between Israeli and Palestinian women who choose the design, embroidery and crafting of the dresses together. The motto of the project is: ‘Peace through the eye of a needle’, and it is one of the most interesting and admirable examples of peace-building through fashion that I have come across. I am fascinated by the possibility that fashion might play a role in reconciliation and conflict-resolution between two profoundly divided populations such as the communities of Palestine and Israel.
The clothes and accessories designed by Two Neighbours consciously visualise encounters between two cultures. There is pride in each community’s individual cultural history, with the embroidery of the dresses and purses inspired by traditional designs. But while the team seamstresses carefully replicates historical styles and embroidery techniques, they also complement that with more modern designs and shared inspirations. This creates a positive continuum between the past and the present of both Israel and Palestine’s cultures, seen as complementary, rather than opposed.
One thing I find particularly interesting is that the process of coming together and reconciliation happens on multiple levels. While the customer only sees the final product, with cross-cultural exchange visible in the clothing’s beautiful aesthetics, there is a long process of mediation behind it. Simply setting up a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian women can be a significant challenge, given the restrictions on border-crossings which are currently in place. Sewing together – and incorporating each other’s techniques into their sewing practices – is also an embodied form of exchange and peace-building.
Two Neighbors also has feminist goals. They recognise the importance of social justice and economic independence to wider peace-building efforts:
‘Two Neighbors is a social business. In addition to inspiring peace and becoming profitable, it is designed to improve social conditions of those involved in it. We empower women now to improve their economic condition, hoping to have better lives for their children’s future.’https://www.twoneighbors.com/social-innovation-peace-through-commerce/
Two Neighbors thus takes a holistic approach, designed to achieve financial success for the brand while also having wider economic, social and political impacts. The very existence of this initiative and of the brand is a political message, making a visible effort to promote more peaceful encounters. It is important and inspiring especially because it moves away from conventional ideas of peace-building, which are centred around high-tier politics, and instead favours a local approach that is more reflective of the individual experiences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is also incredibly empowering for women, as both the armed conflict and the discourse around it are dominated by men. Through Two Neighbours, women find a way to create a safe space where soft power counteracts the violence of the conflict, and unity is found in female solidarity.
What do you think?
- What does this example of peace-through-fashion teach us about grassroots initiative and the ‘local’ turn in peace-building?
- How sustainable do you think this kind of peace-building is compared with, for example, the negotiation of formal peace treaties or the presence of peace-keeping forces?
- How wide can the impact of this kind of peace-building initiative be?
- How gendered are different peace-building practices, and how inclusive can they be of other genders?
If you enjoyed this item in our museum…
Federica Consiglio, May 2022
 From their website (https://www.twoneighbors.com/a-meticulous-craft/): ‘The embroidery, all handmade, is a meticulous craft. It begins with carefully attaching a mesh cloth to the fabric, creating a perfect grid. Within the grid, tiny unified cross stitch embroidery is done in traditional motifs and symbols of Palestinian culture. Once the embroidery is complete the mesh is carefully removed literally one thread at a time! In the spirit of Israeli contemporary innovation, our fashion designer experiments in changing some of the colors and the traditional materials. The sewing is done by professional Israeli seamstresses. We are constantly looking for new threads and fabrics. Many different dress patterns are developed to find the right contemporary design that will showcase the embroidery in a modern exclusive way. By balancing between the embroidery and dress cuts, we are able to combine tradition with modern fashion.’