Breaking the Bias One Design at a Time

Meet palestinian designer gina barjeel

Image: Gina Barjeel

‘They told me, in a very professional way, that Australians wouldn’t understand my accent.’

The theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. Individually, we can take responsibility for changing our own thoughts and actions. Collectively, we can imagine a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

At Welcome Merchant, we elevate and support refugee and asylum seeker entrepreneurs. Many of these people started their own businesses because they could not find work. One of those women is the owner of Gina Barjeel. This Ethical luxury fashion brand creates handmade pieces made in Australia by women. Gina is inspired by different cultures and places in every collection. She ads her signature touch of traditional Jordanian and Palestinian embroidery to her modern and innovative designs.

Gina is a shining example of what women can achieve when forced to overcome the bias they experience as newly arrived job seekers. Gina has a degree in business administration and spent five years working in banking, before she and her husband relocated to Australia in March 2018.

‘I studied Business Administration for my bachelor. I worked as a banker for five years, but my dream was always to be a fashion designer since I was a little girl because my aunt in Jordan is a dressmaker and she lived next door. So, all I thought about in my childhood is the sewing machine and the fabrics. It gave me so much joy looking at her making the clothes.’

Gina studied fashion sketching, pattern making and evening gowns before she came to Australia. She hoped to land a banking or fashion retail job. However, while she was applying for jobs, Gina began volunteering with Illawarra Multicultural Services. She helped out as an interpreter in English classes for women who speak Arabic.

Gina applied for many jobs but couldn’t get an interview. Finally, when she did get one with a major fashion retailer, they told her Australians wouldn’t understand her accent.

‘I went home and cried myself to sleep.’

The next day Gina woke up as if nothing had happened. She decided she was going to ‘keep going and be stronger.’ Her husband suggested she start a fashion business and support the women she volunteered with.

When she first met the women, they told Gina they couldn’t find jobs because they were still learning English. After that awful interview, she knew exactly how they felt, so she initiated a women’s fashion project with the organisation. The project provides vulnerable women of refugee backgrounds the opportunity to upskill their sewing and fashion techniques.

Gina employs some of the women in her own fashion business and supports others to find employment in the fashion industry. For the women who aren’t interested in fashion, she can support them by providing references.

Gina has some words of hope for women who have recently settled in Australia:

‘Australia is a country of opportunities. And I always had the mindset that this is home. So, if you come to Australia, this is home. Try to adapt to the culture. Australia is one of the most diverse countries in the world, and that’s wonderful because you can learn so many different things from each community. And one more thing is to be so proud of yourself and your culture. You have to be very balanced between holding on to your culture, keeping it and passing it to different generations, as well living in and respecting the Australian culture.’

You can find more refugee powered businesses and events supported by Welcome Merchant here

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