Artisan work in Amsterdam

Among the asylum seekers coming to the Netherlands are plenty of artisans with ‘a pair of good hands’. A foundation called the Refugee Company is connecting them with Dutch students, artists, companies and organizations so that they can put their craft to use instead of losing these skills. You can read an article about it in issue 19. Below is an excerpt.

Stacy Denzel Janmaat of Denim City – a center for craftmanship and innovation in the denim industry in Amsterdam – was already interested six years ago in working together with refugees from the Middle East – although he prefers the term ‘New Dutchies’. “The respect you get over there when you have a measuring tape dangling around your neck is something you just don’t get to experience very often here,” he says. “I’m self-taught, and I really wanted to meet a tailor from the Middle East who could show me better techniques.”

Via the Refugee Company, he finally came into contact with Mahmoud Al Omar from Syria, who started training as a tailor at the age of nine. “In Mahmoud I have found someone who understands me, even though he doesn’t speak Dutch,” Stacy says. “I’m creative and I have wild ideas, but I sometimes find it difficult to turn these ideas into reality. I can’t draw and I cut, stitch and mess about for as long as it takes to make what I want. Now, when I explain to Mahmoud what I want to create – using my hands and feet to communicate – he makes it exactly like I want. You don’t have to understand each other. Mahmoud is illiterate, so he can’t read or write Arabic. But he’s learning Dutch and the funny thing is, sometimes I’ll use sounds to explain something, like psshhh to indicate something needs ironing, and he’ll say, ‘Not psshhh, strijken’, the Dutch word for ironing.”

Text Caroline Buijs Photography Caroline Coehorst Styling Anne-Marie Rem