In a part of the world where economically empowering women is not a priority, FanSina—located in the village of St. Katherine in South Sinai, Egypt—is a 100 percent Bedouin woman run enterprise that produces embroidered and beaded handicrafts, using traditional motifs and patterns that were revived from older generations.
Like many other societies, the Bedouin community is no stranger to globalization. Younger generations eschew local handmade garments and objects and prefer name-brand, mass produced goods from China. In 1996 FanSina, which translates to “Art of the Sinai” was started as a development initiative that was part of bilateral program between the European Union and the Government of Egypt for arranging protectorates in South Sinai that included St. Katherine. Initially, with the assistance of two anthropology consultants, the mission was to preserve local bedouin handcrafts and have them be put on display rather than be sold. But by 2000, the nature of FanSina changed due to a local marketing consultant’s vision who strongly urged that the products should be marketed and sold to tourists.
At first the organization was bare bones with only five employees, but as the demand for products increased the organization grew so that today FanSina employs 430 Bedouin women from four tribes. Since the launch of the organization, Bedouin women now work under the organizations’s three guiding parameters that include: reaching out to women with no income; focusing on preserving tradition and local handcrafts, but also teaching younger generations to continue with the trade; and maintaining fair trade principles and creating marketable goods that include shoulder bags, backpacks, cosmetic bags, home decor items like quilts, coasters, pillows, as well as beaded bracelets, and embroidered mobile phone cases.
But FanSina is more than just selling pretty beaded and embroidered handbags. The prime goal is to provide a means of employment and income to women in a society that nearly has no opportunities for them. Thanks to FanSina, average wages range from 60 to 150 Egyptian pounds.
Sales had quadrupled prior the region’s upheavals, but since the 2011 Egyptian revolution, tourism has been at an all time low–seriously affecting the organization’s sales. To overcome this difficulty, FanSina is working with the German government’s development agency, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, to develop access to new markets in Egypt and abroad. As part of this effort, FanSina recently began exporting to the United States, and to connect with wholesalers and retailers the organization will be attending Artisan Resource—a division of the New York International Gift Show—on January 27th through January 29th, located in New York City’s Pier 92.
For more information about FanSina and to view their catalogue, please visit www.fansina.net.