The Last Factory


For those who are yet unfamiliar, the Hirbawi Factory is a factory that produces Kufiya or Keffiyeh, which are the quintessential patterned scarves they wear in the Middle East. Once, the thriving production of kufiyas in the region is almost non-existent due to heavily import-dependent oil economies, which affected local manufacturing. 

Hirbawi Factory is the only place where you can buy authentic products firsthand. Known for being the only and last authentic producer of Kufiya in Palestine, this factory contributes to society by providing your favorite fabric. It is considered a landmark and essential staple within the Palestinian community.

Located in the city of Hebron (also known as Al-Khalil), the largest city in West Bank, Palestine, the Hirbawi Factory stationed in an area that has been rife with ethnic conflict for quite some time. On top of that, frequent power outages and lockdowns affect daily operations as well. Given this fact, it is considered a testament to the tenacity, work ethic, and determination of the Palestinian people. Nevertheless, it has been able to remain to stay afloat for many decades.

Hirbawi Factory Making of Black and White and Mar Elias kufiya

 

What is a Hirbawi Kufiya?

Black and White Hirbawi Kufiya

A traditional Black and White Palestinian scarf or headdress made from cotton, the Kufiya comprises almost 1.5 square meters (over 15 sq. ft.) piece with tassels sewn onto the sides. On the most basic level, the Kufiya represents the following three elements:

  • Livelihood: In Palestinian culture, the Kufiya resembles a fishnet, a symbol of the livelihood of the people of Palestine.
  • Trade Routes: The lines cutting through the fishnet are symbolic of the various trade routes that pass through Palestine.
  • Resilience: Lastly, the olive leaves are symbolic of the strength of the people of Palestine.

Traditionally made in black and white checkers, they now come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Moreover, although they are most often worn on the head, they have also been known to be used for the following purposes:

  • Face Cover
  • Shemagh
  • Symbol of Cultural Solidarity
  • Protection from the Sun
  • Hiking accessory: blanket, pillow, bandage or arm sling
  • And more

Kufiya used to be a political and cultural statement but now also used as a practical fashion accessory. It has the practicality of a scarf and too easy to match to colors of your outfit...or not. Commonly called a "desert scarf" or "Arab scarf," once celebrities such as Kanye West and David Beckham were pictured wearing these scarves, they became an edgy fashion symbol...too bad they weren't wearing Hirbawi, but you can!

Kufiyas can be traced back to the Sumerians and Babylonians in Mesopotamia. They were first used as a status symbol and used as a symbol of importance. Then by outside workers and farmers who were seeking cost-effective methods of being protected from the elements, as well as wiping sweat off of their faces. Today it is often worn to show solidarity and to protest the political/ cultural injustices the Palestinian people continue to face. This practice began in 1936, during the Arab revolt, to protect Palestinian rebels and help them avoid getting arrested. Once they were officially banned via a British mandate, all Palestinians began to wear these scarves to show solidarity and make it harder to identify rebels. Moreover, it was further cemented as a part of Palestinian culture by the late well-respected, late Palestinian President, Yassir Arafat, who rarely appeared in public without wearing one. This practice continues to this day.

What is a Shemagh?

For those unfamiliar with the shemagh, it is essentially a Kufiya that is worn by soldiers and outdoors enthusiasts to protect against sun, wind, and cold. This essential accessory is considered a must-have for those who may be dealing with conditions where they are exposed to the elements for prolonged periods of time. Hirbawi Olive shemagh is one of the best on the market, thicker than most of the lineup is durable and will keep one warm. Shemagh is so practical that many special forces are issued one with their kit. 

The History of the Hirbawi Factory

What was once just a small factory that manufactured only a few of these scarves and sold them on a local level, eventually became a factory that is symbolic of everything the people of Palestine take pride in. Created in 1961, in a time in which Kufiya factories were plentiful in Palestine, the Hibawi Factory is now the last factory of its kind in the country. Founded initially by Yasser Hirbawi, who has since passed and left the business to his sons, he originally got into the market by importing traditional headdresses from Syria. Much more than a business venture for him, Mr. Hirbawi created the factory during a time when displaying cultural pride became a central part of Palestinian culture. By the 1990s the company employed 25 employees, who were taught to operate the company's 15 machines. Producing approximately 150,000 Keffiyehs annually, the Hirbawi Factory was, at one point, a massive force in Palestine. Although business was booming in the 80s and early 90s, things began to cool off once other companies started to manufacture and import cheap replicas that allowed them to become a fly-by-night trend in many areas. Sadly, by 2010, only four machines were in operation. Although they once sold around 150,000 of these scarves worldwide, by 2010, the company was only selling about 10,000 Keffiyehs annually.

Moreover, exportation mainly came to a screeching halt since the cheaply made versions were circulating and dominating local and global markets. Additionally, this was also during a time in which the Palestinian economy was shrinking and an abundance of Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks, which further hindered production and trade in the area. To this day, one can even find Hirbawi branded knock offs locally. A part of a much larger conversation, although the factory was created as a means of offering high-quality Kufiya to the people of Palestine, it eventually evolved into being a symbol of staying strong in the face of various adversaries.

The business had been declining for quite some time, but with the help of Hirbawi European partner and HirbawiUSA (patting ourselves on the back, yes), things once again began to pick up. More and more people started to demand better quality and appreciate the value of authenticity. Currently run by his sons, the company still places a high value on authenticity and history. They have embraced the new age by providing more vibrant colors and designs to make them more appealing to people from all walks of life. However, it is still very culturally significant to the people of Palestine.

Inside the Factory

White threads fed into looms. Making of Black and White Kufiya

On the inside of the factory, there are 15 (both functional and non-functional) looms that create a constant roaring noise whenever they are in use. Even so, these high-speed machines make a distinctive noise that adds to the shop's uniqueness overall. Because business has been on a steady decline since the 1990s, only half the looms are needed to meet demands and stay on top of orders. Brightened up with the help of fluorescent lighting, although things have been somewhat bleak for a while, the overall lively feel of the factory fully encompasses its winning spirit. Complete with a small room backroom shop in the back, the shop not only creates these scarves to be shipped, but they also sell directly to consumers.

The Redemption

Although the Hirbawi Factory factory has had its share of ups and downs, things seem to be, once again, looking up. In addition to the fact that the new managers, Yasser Hirbawi's sons have taken efforts to make the Kufiya more modern and more appealing to the masses, there has also been a recent resurgence of national and cultural pride in the area. Moreover, starting in 2010, many news media outlets begin to write about the factory to alert the people of Palestine that the original Palestinian Keffiyeh may soon disappear. This prompted Palestinians to start once again to buy these scarves to show cultural pride and also to support this landmark company and the Palestinian economy. Given the widespread cultural issues that are presently plaguing the world at large, many people are more aware of the importance of being respectful of cultures and raising awareness in terms of the preservation of different cultures of all kinds. Given that Palestine has had such a tragic past, many people are rallying behind the Palestinian people in their efforts to restore their economy and gain more power and respect on a global scale.

Moreover, because the entire world has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, people across the globe are looking for a way to come closer together. Since Kufiya has been a symbol of cultural pride for quite some time, more and more people are taking to these scarves as a way to come together and show solidarity. Since we are all forced to connect in ways that are more digital than physical, the Kufiya serves as a physical symbol of Palestine's resilience. Moreover, given that the Hirbawi Factory is the last factory of its kind in Palestine makes this factory all the more important to people as a whole. Still supported by all Palestinian politicians and celebrities alike, the re-emergence of this factory's success shows how culture can remain vigilant and stand together during tough times to overcome them.

Although this delves into the complex history of the Hirbawi Factory, this is only the history of the company so far. Even though many people believed the company was on its way out, it appears that with global support, things feel better now. Either way, no matter what level of business the company does, it is clear that the new and improved Hirbawi Factory is a landmark that symbolizes not only the strength of Palestinians but the legacy of Yasser Hirbawi, himself.

Yasser Hirbawi at the factory