The people of Syria are suffering from a decade-long civil war that has killed over half a million people and driven the largest refugee crisis in the world. Economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. government contribute to a shortage of basic materials, and Syrians also experience lack of access to electricity, gas, water and WiFi. On top of all this, inflation has caused prices to surge. According to the UN World Food Program (WFP), the price of food in Syria has increased by 222% in one year, and over 12 million Syrians — 60% of the population — do not know where their next meal is coming from.
In response to this upheaval comes the social enterprise Mint+Laurel. The LA-based company sources from Syria its handmade, organic and environmentally-friendly products, including soaps, balms, textiles and clothing. Mint+Laurel recently earned a fellowship from Nest, a nonprofit supporting the responsible growth and creative engagement of artisans in support of greater gender equity and economic inclusion.
“Every product we make carries a story,” says Kinda Hibrawi, who cofounded Mint+Laurel with another Syrian American, Rama Chakaki. “What is more, the logistics of getting goods from Syria to Los Angeles is complex, to say the least.”
Through Arabic Whatsapp messages and voice notes, Mint+Laurel communicates with Syrian artisans based in Aleppo, Hama and Damascus. Inflation has driven up the cost of their raw materials, forcing them to increase their rates. Sudden and constant cuts of electricity and Wi-Fi hinders communication, making it a challenge to establish stable contact. Another dramatic obstacle is the wildly fluctuating exchange rate of the U.S. dollar with the Syrian pound. Unlike many international companies, Mint+Laurel does not ask its artisan partners to work on commission. Rather, the company buys the products from the artisans and pays them immediately.
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Once the artisanal products arrive safely in Damascus, they are flown to Beirut, Lebanon, then sent to France, and only then delivered by air to LA, where they must clear customs. The journey usually takes about three weeks to complete.
Originally from Syria, Hibrawi studied Arabic calligraphy art in her hometown of Aleppo. She is intimately familiar with how the ten-year Syrian conflict has negatively impacted many local artisans and their families. At the same time, she hopes to share some of Syria’s rich culture with the world, which mostly sees images of disaster and crisis in her home country on the news. “Our social enterprise aims to tackle these issues by helping with preservation of and sharing of Syrian culture, raising awareness of the current crisis, and selling handcrafted products that give back by helping to support artisans,” she says.
Rather than seeking your “life purpose,” which she feels can be daunting, Hibrawi encourages people to ask themselves the question, What brings you joy? “If you follow your truth by pursuing joy and surround yourself with a good team as well as mentors, this will help you discover your purpose while having fun along the way.”