The Women's Courtyard in the Port, which opened a few months ago at the refurbished Jaffa Port, offers an eclectic mix of clothes and accessories. A long list of designer items and brand names are scattered throughout the boutique - Dorin Frankfurt beside Topshop, and Daniella Lehavi next to Gertrude and Naama Bezalel. The varied collection offers up a number of surprises - but the biggest surprise of all is that the items there were donated by the designers or company managers and sell at discounts of up to 70 percent off the original price. The reason: The boutique was established by the Women's Courtyard, a nonprofit organization striving to empower Jaffa women and girls in distress through activities and support programs. Half the boutique's profits are used to finance its activities; the other half goes to Dualis - Israel Social Venture Fund, which was a partner in the project.

"We manage with whatever comes in," says one of the boutique's employees, pointing to the filled shelves, racks and displays. One corner features casual clothing and beachwear by companies like Gypsy 05, Lee Cooper and Billabong, alongside a selection of more or less elegant T-shirts by Dina Glass and Alef Alef, among others. Next to them is a full display of evening wear designed by Ido Recanati, Tali Imbar, Mirit Weinstock and others, and beside that is a selection of tailored blouses from past collections by Bikel, Sigal Dekel and Nata. In the center of the boutique is a selection of colorful bags by The North Face, and a separate display that features dresses by Roni Kantor, which the designer earned thanks to her generous donation of samples.

"It's an enchanted world where customers are surprised to discover designer labels," says one employee, speaking about the concept behind the display.

This employee is one of the young women aided by the Women's Courtyard. One of the boutique's primary objectives was to create a place to train and employ young women who have a hard time integrating into the job market and who show an interest in fashion. The idea emerged from a long-standing practice of the Women's Courtyard: their annual sales of surplus items from local and foreign clothing companies, where the women could go to buy clothes for a symbolic price.

Still, why did the organization opt for a boutique as a social venture? After all, a potentially elitist hierarchy, and one that focuses on outward appearances, is inherent in the concept of fashion. Surely this is the last thing these young women need. Leora Kessel, who founded the Women's Courtyard a decade ago with Mirit Sidi, says she was aware of these considerations, but believes the boutique creates an opportunity of equal access, because it challenges the upper class's need to distinguish itself through symbols of prestige, including expensive clothes.

"One of our goals in the first weeks of the boutique's opening was to build a complete wardrobe for each of the workers that would boost their self-confidence," she says. "From then on, they continue building it on their own."

Powerful enticement

Kessel says that for the boutique's customers, familiar designers and name brands - coupled with low prices - are a powerful enticement. She tells of shopping sprees by women who come to the cash register with five items and are surprised to discover a total bill of several hundred shekels, which is what they would have paid for a single item at these designers' boutiques.

She speaks warmly of the designers, most of whom gladly agreed to donate designs to the boutique. "Everyone was patient and courteous, even though they are approached by many other equally important organizations requesting donations," she says.

The recompense she hopes to give them is exposure to a new clientele. "Quite a few women come in and are interested in items by designers they were previously unacquainted with, and they ask where their boutiques are located," Kessel says.

Designers weren't the only ones to cooperate. The heads of design departments at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design and Studio 6B also enlisted in the effort and volunteered to give enrichment workshops to the young women involved in managing the boutique. In addition, a photo shoot of items sold at the boutique was recently held, featuring celebrities such as actresses Ronit Yudkevitz, Liron Weizman and Ania Bukstein, model Amit Machtinger and fashion critic Dafna Lustig. They and their teams (including fashion photographer Goran Ljubuncic, stylist Sivan Himi, hair stylist Roy Daniel and makeup artist Shiran Friedland ) all volunteered their services. For the next photo shoot the Women's Courtyard is already planning to feature the boutique's employees as models.

 

Prices: Blouses - NIS 30-130; slacks - NIS 80-200; skirts - NIS 50-150; dresses - NIS 80-270; bags, shoes and jewelry - NIS 50-300. The Women's Courtyard in the Port, Hangar 1, Jaffa