With a tape measure around her neck, and torn pieces of cloth and thread surrounding her, Ratiba Al-Hammouri might seem like your average tailor. But in Irbid, as a woman from a rural village running a successful small business, she stands out.
Ratiba Al-Hammouri, owner of Taj Mahal Tailoring Workshop in Irbid, started working from home in 1990 and by the time she was married a few years later, she had already opened her first tailoring shop in her hometown Hartha, a village on the outskirts of Irbid in the North of Jordan.
She developed a passion for tailoring and embroidery at a young age: “I can recall when I was a little girl, my mother used to embroider traditional garments for herself at home, using nothing but a thread, a needle and her fingers. Other women would see her Abaya (traditional robe) and ask her to make one for them. My eyes lit up every time something like that happened, and I knew I wanted to do the same thing my mother did when I grow up”, she said.
Despite getting married, having children and being responsible for household chores, Ratiba’s business remained a priority for her. The people around her loved her work, and in a small village like Hartha, word of mouth travels fast. Customers started going to her small shop from neighboring villages and cities, and it was only a matter of time before she started sending orders all over the country and overseas. She took many courses to expand her embroidery and business management skills, and the dream of expanding her business grew even more.
Ratiba sought financial support from the USAID Jordan Local Enterprise Support Project (LENS), with the goal of buying an advanced embroidery machine – the first of its kind in a shop in Irbid (Jordan’s second largest city) - and opening another branch in the city center; a male-dominated busy commercial area. And now, two years after being awarded the grant, Ratiba has provided work opportunities for 15 people, more than ten of which are women working from home and four men working on full time basis as designers and tailors; some of whom are from the displaced Syrian population in Jordan.
Ratiba might have started with making abayas only, but she is now making all types of embroidered pieces, and is able to increase her production capacity along the way. She was only able to embroider 2-3 outfits every month back when things were done manually, whereas now, Ratiba has the capacity to design and embroider hundreds of outfits every month as a result of automating her work.
“With the new machine and more employees, I can finally take big orders and have them ready in no time. I’ve also recently started dealing with merchants for the first time without worrying about time and production quality “said Ratiba.
No matter what time of day you walk past the Taj Mahal Tailoring Shop in Irbid’s city center, you will always find it busy with groups of women that walk in just to see what new designs Ratiba has displayed or just to sit with her to talk about a new outfit they want tailored. “Um Muthanna [Ratiba’s nickname] is one of the most well-known tailors in town, and she’s creating a positive change in the community because she’s motivating other women to follow her footsteps and work hard” said a customer.
“The growth of my business inspired my own daughter to start her own accessories business from home. We even started collaborating together where I make the outfit and she designs accessories that go with it”, Ratiba says.
When asked how she manages to run two tailoring shops that cater for different customers, as well as balance her responsibilities as a wife and mother of two young adults, she said: “I’m doing something I truly love. My eyes light up every time I walk into the shop; it just never feels like work. It’s a passion. For me, it’s art”.