Please tell us about Salaheddin.
In 2000, French native Jean-François Vaillant and Isabelle Jouglard decided to move to Damascus, Syria, where they attended the University to learn Arabic. They spent hours hanging out in the Abu Ahmad glass factory, located in the outskirts of the city. There they would sip tea and watchthe artisans make beautiful glass products. Jean-François and Isabelle eventually developed friendships with all of the working families. The same happened when they moved to Aleppo and met families of soap makers. Many of the artisans Jean met were living in extremely challenging economic situations.
When it was time to return to France, Jean-François asked himself how he and Isabelle could keep the ties they had built in Syria. The answer was to create Salaheddin, a fair trade company of Syrian craftsmanship. Our primary goal was not only to create new markets for master craftsmanship from Syria, but also to give artisans the appreciation, fair price, and true value they deserve for their work. They also respect the environment by using production technologies that reduce energy consumption and using recycled materials, and dispatching by sea whenever possible.
What are the products Salaheddin offers and who are the artisans you work with?
We produce glass, ornaments, pendant lamps, carafes, and vases, all made using recycled glass from Europe, apricot trees, silk (for scarves), and recycled tires. When the load arrives, one person divides it by color and breaks it up into little pieces so it’s suitable for working. We work with Abu Ahmad et Sa Famille, which is among the best glassblowers in the Middle East. Ten families work at this factory and their expertise has been passed from generation to generation. We also produce felt and wool carpets used as mattresses by the Bedouins. Lebbad artisans use traditional patterns with rare expertise and a high artistic sense. Both natural and modern dyes are available.
Being based in France, how do you oversee production from afar?
As of now, it is too dangerous to travel to Syria. My parents are getting older, so they need me quite a bit and I don’t want to stress them with my international travels. I can handle the production from France because these people are part of my family, in a way, and we have built strong relationships based on trust.
How has the war in Syria affected production and the artisans you work with, and how will it impact things moving forward?
Syrian people are incredibly strong, and it is important that they keep a sense of hope for their future even if the present is extremely difficult. I feel deeply concerned for their lives and am afraid of what could happen to them. Over the past few years, life has become difficult and half of their production warehouse was destroyed. Recently, they had to move because the rent was too high and have begun talking about leaving Syria for Europe to flee the war. As for the soap producers, they already left Aleppo and have settled into Antioch, Turkey. I was recently there to help them get settled and finance the goods that allowed them to restart production.
You mentioned you have also been housing some of the artisans in your home in France?
Yes; I met two of my friends in2001 at the Turkey/Syria border, where they used to work for the local tourist office. They used me as an intermediaryto keep in touch with some of the copper and Lebbad artisans. Two years ago, I helped them and their families relocate to Carhaix, France, where I live now. Moving forward,I really hope that many of the artisans are not forced to relocate, but if that is the case I could help relocate and build a furnace in Brittany to create some work opportunities and sustain these vulnerable craft traditions.
Who is your ideal clientele and what are your production capabilities?
We work with wholesalers, retailers, and direct customers. While some recycled items are very limited in supply, we currently have a good stock of glass and cake pans, and around 15 large felted carpets. We accept any orders with a minimum order of $500. We can deliver within two weeks and we ship from France. Larger orders that fill a container will ship direct from Syria.
Any new collections for 2016-2017?
We’ll be adding some new colors in our cluster lamps and glass for our 2016-2017 collection, but the models will be the same.
For more information, contact Jean-François Vaillant: firstname.lastname@example.org