‘The Irish are great supporters of this craft’
2007-12-20 15:54:10 -
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 In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Suha Khano, who sells woodcrafts from Bethlehem at many Dublin markets 

“My husband got a job here so we mov-ed over to Ireland,” explains Suha Khano, originally from Bethlehem in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. Wondering what to do with her own career following the move, Khano found the solution coming from home.

“My father and his four brothers have run a woodworking and carpentry business for generations in Bethlehem,” she says. “It is a family business for the past 40 years. They create beautiful cribs, mangers, figurines and decorations and ornaments for Christmas.

“All the wood is from olive trees in their area; they do not kill a tree to take the wood, it is very sustainable. To handcraft the sculptures they only use wood taken when the olive trees are trimmed.”

According to Khano, the business supports many families, and in the past depended on the previously flourishing tourist market in Bethlehem. “But since the break of the second Intifada, when the situation at home became horrible, there were no more tourists coming to Bethlehem,” she says. “My father was on the verge of closing this family business but we decided that we would try to get the woodwork crafts out to the world and not wait for the world to come to us.

“Since I was living in Ireland, in 2002 I suggested that I would sell the products here… I felt under a lot of pressure when I took the first shipment of boxes from the family back home. I really hoped that it would sell, for their sakes. But the very first day I started selling them well and I haven’t stopped. My first customers were at the Taney church market and I have been doing the markets ever since.”

Khano also sells the wood pieces at Blackrock Market, summer festivals and now the Docklands ‘12 Days of Christmas’ festival market.

“Irish people are great supporters of this type of craft,” she says. “Families in Ireland hold on to the traditions of every family having a crib under the Christmas tree. Every tree must have one.”

Khano’s family woodcraft cribs range from tiny representations to large handsome heirloom pieces that make a feature of the crib as a focal point in a room. Other items include rosary beads, intricate tree decorations, abstract style crosses and ornaments.

All are made from the tactile soft olive wood from Bethlehem, polished and lovingly carved. “These pieces are perfect as wedding gifts too,” says Khano. “They are made to be passed on from generation to generation.”

While her initial success was very encouraging, some pitches did not work as well as others. “As a craft trader it can be difficult to know where to trade,” she explains. “I have done the Ideal Homes Exhibition and that was a bad decision. It was not the right place to sell my stuff. I ended up paying a lot of money as the rent for that space was very high – it was something like 300 euro per metre per day, which was ridiculous. Traders should shop around before committing to paying rates like that to market organisers.

“This week I am at the ‘12 Days of Christmas’ market in the Docklands, just around the corner from the Connolly Luas stop. The organisers charge a reasonable rate for space and it allows the traders to actually make a small profit. The organisers do great publicity for the event and there is a sense of pride about [it]. This organiser is careful that traders do not have direct competition nearby and there is good variety. Other markets wouldn’t care. [Here] it is sustainable.”

From her market sales, Khano covers her costs, rental of space and shipping expenses (“All profits go back to the family,” she says). To supplement her income, she also makes and sells traditional foods such as falafel and dips.

“I do the market at the People’s Park in Dun Laoghaire on Sundays, Marlay Park on Saturdays, and I do the market at Leopardstown Racecourse on Fridays, so I am kept pretty busy.”

Khano is also selling her family woodcrafts further afield. “Germany is a good market as they are very fond of their Christmas markets over there and we do well there,” she says. “The cribs and decorations are popular. America and Italy are also starting to take notice and buy some.”
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