Help Maha and Hikmat give secondhand clothes more sparkle

Happy January! Welcome to Clean Start week.

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

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By teaching sewing skills to women like this participant in their fall workshop, Second Chance hopes to provide economic independence to women in rural areas of Lebanon. (photo courtesy Second Chance Facebook)

Meet Maha and Hikmat

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Maha, left, and Hikmat
(photo courtesy Hikmat Al Khansa)

Sparkle jeans. Dip-dye. Metallic piping. Maha Mrad’s got more style in her manicured little finger than many of us have in our whole closet.

Maha’s obsession with fashion started when she was about 10. Her cousin was drawing pictures of dresses in her sketchbook and they caught Maha’s eye. Though her cousin’s interest turned out to be more fleeting, Maha’s been designing interesting outfits and patterns ever since.

As a student at Haigazian University in Beirut, Lebanon, she found a way to connect her passion for fashion with her studies in social entrepreneurialism.

With a partner, friend and fellow student Hikmat Al Khansa, she’s laid the groundwork for a new social good business, Second Chance, which will revamp secondhand clothing into eco-friendly recycled and upcycled fashions.

“I put together the idea and sent it to Hikmat with a feeling that she’s gonna laugh about it,” Maha says. “Surprisingly she liked it and we went through with it.”

Maha, Hikmat, and eight other student collaborators at their university have been working on the model and marketing plans for Second Chance. After they finish their degrees, Maha and Hikmat plan to go into business together to make their idea a reality.

“She’s the best partner I could think of,” says Maha.

The intention

While thrifting and DIY fashion may be commonplace in the US, in Lebanon and many other countries around the world, buying new and designer clothing remains a status symbol that makes shopping for and buying secondhand clothing unpopular.

Because of this, Hikmat explains, “It’s hard for Lebanese people to admit to buying used clothes even if they do it frequently.”

Second Chance hopes to make over both the clothes themselves and the reputation of previously-owned clothes by upgrading outdated garments with stylish twists. With help and training from a well-known designer, Maha and Hikmat plan to hire women from rural areas around Beirut to do the sewing and redesigning.

“We’re trying to show people that it is okay to wear secondhand clothing,” Maha explains. “Wearing such clothes can be trendy and helpful to both community and environment. It’s not something to be ashamed of.”

Obstacles

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Some of the custom designs created for Second Chance’s 2013 pilot exhibition (photo courtesy Second Chance Facebook)

In fall 2013, Maha, Hikmat, and their fellow student collaborators launched a pilot program of Second Chance and organized a 10-day training workshop for seamstresses.

The result was a fashion exhibition featuring over 70 unique designs. While reception was good, the students sold fewer clothes than they were hoping to.

Maha takes the lack of sales at their initial exhibit in stride, saying, “The biggest lesson I learned is to be more patient and not make an obstacle of myself. It’s all about the attitude.”

As students, Maha and Hikmat are still learning about business management and intend to get Masters degrees in management before they launch Second Chance.

In addition to finishing school, they also need to find partnerships with more established fashion designers or brands to help build their reputation. For their pilot project, they enlisted the help of a local tailor to train the women (rather than a famous designer).

When Maha and Hikmat make a real go of it, they’re hoping to get a big-name designer involved to help increase their visibility.

“People here are all about appearance and prestige,” says Maha.

How you can help

  • Do you know of similar projects in the US or elsewhere around the world that Maha and Hikmat could learn from?
  • Are you connected with a well-known fashion designer or existing clothing brand that wants to get involved in a social good project in the Middle East?
  • Are you or do you know a lawyer in Lebanon who can offer advice to Maha and Hikmat as they set up their business?
  • Do you know of a potential marketing or advertising firm that could offer professional branding services to Second Chance?

Reach out to Second Chance through their Facebook page.

Are you a practical dreamer with an idea that’s just starting to take shape? If you’d like to be a part of this series, or know someone else who would be a good fit, email rebecca@idealist.org.

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