No Sweat: Organic Yoga Togs From Bethlehem

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Take a look at your Victoria Secret, Banana Republic or Gap underwear. See the Made In Israel tag? This TreeHugger knows that some of your knickers are made in Israel, because she enjoys rifling through bargain basement finds on Allenby Street, next to Tel Aviv's trendy Sheinkin Street. There, a seconds' shop sells less-than-perfect undies for less than a buck a pair (NIS 5). Lots of product that doesn't make it to the US and Canada is resold in Israeli markets and shops. That's because Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are important garment producers- especially when it comes to cotton and swimwear. Enter No Sweat, a Jewish-American philanthropist's company to help alleviate economic strain in the PA. Adam Neiman, owner of No Sweat has recently teamed up with a factory in Bethlehem to produce Palestinian-made clothes and accessories for sale on the international market. ::HaaretzNeiman, based in Massachusetts was recently in Israel where he came to discuss plans with a Bethlehem factory to produce organic and fair-trade cotton yoga wear for the American and European markets. According to Haaretz the line will be launched in Tel Aviv in December, in London in March, 2007, and then in New York next September.

According to Haaretz, Neimen says, "This is a project that protects the environment, safeguards the rights of workers and promotes peace and prosperity in the Middle East."

Union representatives in the West Bank have lauded his efforts. They are hoping his project will help jumpstart the stagnant Palestinian textile business, which has suffered significantly since the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000.

"That an American-Jewish person has come to us means very much," said Shaher Saed, from the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions. "Adam [Neiman] will provide jobs for Palestinian workers who are now unemployed."

Neiman apparently had never visited the West Bank when he decided to launch the joint business plan with the factory, which will make organic or fair-trade cotton clothing and market it internationally as "Made In Bethlehem."

4400.jpgIn Hebrew, Bethehem pronounced Beit Lechem means "house of bread"; in Arabic Bayt Laḥm means "house of meat"; Christians believe it is the birthplace of Jesus. Because Bethlehem is an important historical site for Christians, No Sweat plans on marketing its environmentally-friendly Bethlehem line to mainstream Christian clientele that are politically aware.

The factory, Arja Textile and Co., is owned by The Alarja Family- a Palestinian Christians that employs 120 unionized workers. Haaretz reports that since last year already, Arja Textile and Co. has been importing organic cotton from Turkey in order to make organic clothing.

model_pants.jpg Elias Alarja, a co-owner of the factory, was surprised that an American Jew approached the factory. He told Haaretz, "I never met anyone who thinks like him and who wants to use this bad situation to sell a product that will allow people to support us through this difficult time," he said.

Before the Intifada and the recent "situation" in Israel (that's our euphemism for violence and war), the textile business in the West Bank and Gaza employed some 37,000 Palestinian union workers. Today, the numbers have dropped to about 12,000.

Neiman, owner of the No Sweat label, works in 130 countries and says the "label is about sympathy for the working class - and not only about liberal upper-middle-class guilt."

In Israel, Neiman has also signed a contract with Green Action, an Israeli NGO that markets local and imported fair trade products. The company he projects will make $2 million in sales this year, up from $1.5 million in 2005. ::No Sweat ::Haaretz

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