a week in bosnia and istanbul

November 18, 2010  |   column: WHAT'S NEW

in mid-october, katie hatch (design director, accessories) and myself, avani shah (manager, development and production), traveled to bosnia for a one-week discovery trip. in a nutshell, the trip was an amazing experience.

our reason for going was to source product to put into development for upcoming hand in hand collections. the trip was very productive and really put things in perspective in terms of what we can achieve in bosnia.

on a personal level, it was a reaffirmation of the reason why we at kate spade new york, put such effort into building this partnership. it was fulfilling to see firsthand what a difference we make in the lives of the women we work with, knowing that creating our products keeps them employed and sustains their households. it’s incredible to see.

the first couple of days, we were in sarajevo. it’s a lovely town, with a very european aesthetic: cobblestone paths are lined with little shops and outdoor cafes. churches and mosques are everywhere and the architecture is beautiful. but then you notice that the buildings are riddled with bullet holes and chunks of the facades are completely missing.

one evening, we were walking down a street and stepped right into a cemetery in the middle of the square. it’s easy to forget about the area’s history of violence until you’re confronted with a reminder like that.

we were traveling with a guide who, himself, had dropped out of college to enlist in the army. by the time he was in his 30’s, he had lost most of his hearing serving in the war. he pointed out certain streets that used to be deserted, as they were targets of the serbian snipers. for quite some time, the people of sarajevo lived their lives in the shadows between buildings. secret schools were held in basements because formal education was on hold.

the city itself is located at the base of a crater and when you look up, you can see very clearly the reason why it made such an easy target. however, despite the devastation of the recent past, the destruction in the town and the staggering unemployment rate, we were inspired to see how the community is coming together in their efforts to rebuild.

we attended one of the training sessions provided by women for women international. a room of women were being taught basic rights and healthy skills to put to use in their households—simple things we often take for granted.

later in the week, we traveled to nearby istanbul, turkey. there, we found several local yarn suppliers with shops in a few of the bazaars. most of them were family businesses, which seemed like a great addition to our program. we’re looking forward to bringing some of this yarn into development for next year.

we took an opportunity to be tourists, too—we saw the blue mosque, buzzing with people, but well worth the crowd. the architecture, the designs—all hand-painted. istanbul is a beautiful, vibrant and lively city. the homes and buildings are built on top of each other, and you can’t really figure out how that works, but it does. we’re no stranger to hustle and bustle in new york city, but the atmosphere is made of something else in istanbul—the turkish people are so full of life and energy.

the experience of this trip has shed a new light on our work with women for women international. it’s wonderful that we’re able to partake in rebuilding a community and strengthening the self-worth of these women, not to mention uncovering the amazing natural resources of these regions—from gemstones to cashmere. i’m really looking forward to the upcoming pieces that are sure to come from this partnership. check out the photo album in the next post for some snapshots from our journey—we hope that you enjoy it!

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