The Pashon Story
Marhaba! (This means “hello” in Arabic.)
It’s such a pleasure to begin to know you and the wider community here in the Cotswolds. My name is Randa and I’m the founder and Design Director of Pashon Jewellery, with stores in Cirencester and Stroud.
It’s hard to tell my story without telling the story of my family, my community, and my home. Today, I live in the UK but like so many who find themselves here, I am not from here. I grew up in Amman, Jordan and belong to a large family — I was one of six children and I have incredibly fond memories of growing up at home with my parents. My father was an accountant and my mother kept the house and focused on raising all of us. They were incredible parents, supporting each other and working hard to give us access to the best education, including making sure we all had the opportunity to attend university. Because of them and the sacrifices they made, I graduated from Yarmouk University in Jordan Amman with a degree in Public Relations — an experience I loved and really valued as it helped me learn to express myself, to communicate, to tell compelling stories, and to both notice the world around me and intensely question it.
That was an interesting moment, graduating university, ready to take on the world around me — but the choices I made as I left formal education were built on a lot more than having received an excellent degree. While I was growing up in Jordan it was very normal – it still is – that children, girls in particular, help their mothers in the house and I certainly had had my chores and skills I needed to learn from my family. But, I was buzzing as a young girl with ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit, and from my own work in sewing and embroidery at home I was beginning to notice the fine work and crafts my neighbours were doing — really amazing, skilled, artisanal work — traditional design themes handed down over the generations. I was about 12 when I struck a deal with one neighbour to sell at my school these beautiful, curved, handmade keyrings he was crafting. My neighbour made me up a sample keyring with my name on it, which I took to school to share with my friends; soon I was taking orders and working to fill those orders, tracking payments, encouraging repeat business for gifts. It was such a fun experience – I must have sold scores of those keyrings and I built a wonderful relationship with my neighbour through the process. Whoever would have thought little Randa next door would help expand their sales?! I knew I had some kind of calling to be a connector between artisans – makers – and the market for their goods. I knew I wanted in time to grow a business, but I always understood that I wanted it to be about helping the Makers.
And so, as I left university in 1994, I was full of ideas and interests, keen to focus as much on learning to build and manage a business as to tell good stories and promote initiatives that would make a difference in people’s lives. I took my first job with the Save the Children foundation in their Jordan River Designs showroom, which offered a selection of traditional and contemporary handicrafts created by women from local communities. I worked at Save the Children for a special initiative called the Jordan River Foundation, whose mission was to support local women in particular by providing special training and tools in both craftsmanship and entrepreneurial skills — in essence, to support local women in realising their full economic potential. In 1995 this project became a fully approved NGO chaired by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, one of the first of its kind. I couldn’t have been prouder or more thrilled with the work we were doing; it was the right work and I believe we carried it out with compassion, dignity, and a real enthusiasm for the potential of the people in these communities. I always look back on this as one of my most engaging projects, deeply connected to the core of what I want to give and who I believe myself to be.
About four year into this experience, I had grown tremendously and I began to understand that I could have a broader impact if I began working for myself. That year (2000), I decided to attend a Women in Business seminar in Amman, and I was surprised to find that most of the issues being discussed were how Jordan’s local women artisans could better sell their products to a wider market and gain greater financial independence. This was a Business Professional Women Association incubator project, and from this seminar, much of my life has turned. I knew this was a moment I had special skills for — I had relationships with women craftors and designers all over the country, I understood where the demand was for their products. I knew I needed my own working space and I could do something really exciting for the women I so believed in and wanted to support.
And so I opened Bawabet Al Sharq (The Oriental Gate)! It is a thrilling moment, terrifying for sure, but incredibly moving when you establish your own space from which to work, connect and build. Bawabet Al Sharq aimed to meet two distinct needs:
- To promote traditional, Jordanian handicrafts to a wider (soon to be global) market–crafts I had seen the importance for preserving and championing since I was 12
- To empower the local women’s labour force
And so I began Bawabet with a mission to reinvigorate the production of Jordanian handicrafts by modernising their design and function while continuing to use authentic textiles and techniques. I began selling these artisan-made handcrafts in most of the hotels gift shops and duty-free locations throughout Amman, along with providing corporate gift programs to local businesses.
In 2004, I took the brave leap to move to the United Kingdom and buy a business here – many in Stroud will remember Heartland Gifts & Interiors. I took on this shop, transforming it into what many referred to as ‘Aladdin’s Cave’, and because the artisan-made items in it represented everything that I was passionate about, I renamed the business to Pashon and soon opened a second store in Cirencester. It was been an incredible decade, building and transforming this business. Many people speak today about incubators, and of course I participated in a women’s business incubator back in Amman as I was getting started out. I think of what Pashon has become, though, as more of a crucible — a platform that brings in traditional, artisanal craftspeople, refines their production processes to help them scale their work for a much more global audience, and makes these historic designs available to you here in Britain, and to lovers of traditional crafts around the world. This is exactly my Pashon, and this is what I am dedicated to having Pashon be for you here in the Cotswolds.
Many people speak today about the importance of Slow Food, Local Food, know your where your food comes from, know your farmers. My work is helping you know your artists, and that the purchases you make in my stores sustain artisans who still make goods by hand, wherever they happen to be located in the world. I carry crafts and designs from British artisans, Danish designers, people working traditional crafts and modern jewellery in South Africa, as well as artisans from Jordan. In this case, it’s not that the items are Local, as in Local to your immediate area here in the Cotswolds. But they are Local in that they were produced by real people with real skills, not by machines in nameless factories overseas. There are as much imperfections in the work as a real desire to please and delight. The items I bring to you have stories, and soul, and history, and *this* is my Pashon!
Do drop in and say “hello!” Better yet, drop in and say “hello!” to me in Arabic for a 10% discount on your purchase!!
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