Sustainable design that employs refugee women near the Syrian border

Syrian refugees in Sanliurfa, Turkey

A Finnish company employs Syrian refugee women in Turkey to create sustainable chair covers. They are made by hand out of knitted rugs, which are produced from the surplus of the local textile industry.

Entrepreneur Martta Leskela and designer Tuula Poyhonen joined forces to launch the production of RAGAMUF chair rugs in Sanliurfa, Turkey, not far from the Syrian border in January 2017. The funding was raised through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.

“Because the Syrian situation was escalating, there were a lot of people left without work and income opportunities,” Poyhonen told Strelka Magazine. 

Currently the business provides employment for nine women, she says. “The technique is so easy, it can be done anywhere, and it doesn't need any machines.”

Poyhonen and a group of Finnish designers came to Moscow for the opening of the exhibition 33 Beginnings – 100 Years of Finnish Design at the Multimedia Art Museum last week. The RAGAMUF chair cover is displayed there along with iconic work by Alvar Aalto, Eero Aarnio, and Eero Saarinen. 

RAGAMUF chair cover
RAGAMUF chair cover
RAGAMUF chair cover
RAGAMUF chair cover

The designer says the idea came to her while she was living in Scotland as an artist-in-residence and decided to drape the faded couch in her apartment. “The idea was that there are so many ugly sofas and they are quite expensive objects to throw away. I wanted to cover them in a new way to give them a second life.”

Poyhonen went to a draper’s shop, where she found a roll of flexible fishnet, and decided to combine her expertise in carpet textiles and sportswear materials to create a chair rug. In early 2016, she had her first prototype made in Morocco.

Owner and founder of RAGAMUF, Martta Leskela used to live in Turkey and was looking for ways to aid the refugees who fled the war in Syria. She liked Poyhonen’s concept as it was a hand-crafted product, was easy to produce, and could provide employment for those in need.

Tuula Poyhonen

The knitted rugs are produced from leftover textiles, which are available in excess in Turkey. Every chair rug cover is unique, as the person who makes it gets to choose the design, colors, and shapes.

Since the outbreak of the war in Syria, Turkey has become the largest refugee host country, with 3.4 million Syrians currently staying in the country. About 90 percent of the refugees there remain outside of camp settings, with limited access to basic services.

Text: Timur Zolotoev
Photos by Timur Zolotoev, Ragamuf / Facebook