Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iraq's Demand for Hello Kitty Keeps One Aleppo Factory Open as Others Close Doors

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iraq's Demand for Hello Kitty Keeps One Aleppo Factory Open as Others Close Doors

Article excerpt

In opposition-controlled Aleppo, once the economic heart of Syria, few businesses have survived the war, which has reduced entire neighborhoods to rubble amid fighting, scud missile attacks, airstrikes, and artillery bombardment.

Most of the factories here that survived are unable to resume operations because they lack enough electricity to run the machines, the supplies to make their goods are no longer available or too expensive, or the owners don't want to risk reinvesting when everything could be destroyed again without warning.

And yet in the middle of all this destruction, at least one factory survives. On the lower level of a multi-story building, young men and some children work diligently at embroidering baby blankets with images of Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty. The survival of an off-brand embroidery factory manufacturing knockoff images of famous cartoon characters is both a testament to the randomness of war and a small ray of hope that Aleppo's economy, now as ruined as the city itself, might be able to rebuild.

The battle between government forces and the opposition remains undecided in Aleppo, with government forces controlling about a third of the city, according to rebel estimates.

The owner of the embroidery factory lives in the area still under government control, so he's entrusted his senior foreman, Abu Abdu with running the entire factory. The two men still communicate by phone during the brief moments when Aleppo has cell service.

When fighting broke out in Aleppo last summer, the factory closed for about two months, but then reopened. Since then the factory has survived with only a couple minor scares.

"This building has been hit with two mortar rounds, but they didn't damage the factory," says Mr. Abdu. "The lights went out and our machines stopped, but that was it."

To keep the factory up and running, they've had to switch to all generator power and fire half the staff. Before the war, the factory ran 24 hours a day, divided into two shifts. Now it's just one daytime crew.

Above all else, the factory has been kept afloat because the majority of its clients are Iraqi. They have continued to buy, and the route between the two countries has stayed open.

"It would be hard if I had only Syrian clients. I do have some in Homs and Damascus, but it's hard to communicate and they buy about 50 percent less than they did before the revolution started," says Abdu.

A handful of other factories and workshops have managed to reopen throughout Aleppo, but businesses like Abdu's remain a rare exception. Stories like Abu Aysa's are much more common.

Before the revolution started, he ran a successful kitchen utensil factory that earned about $2 million in annual profits and employed 20 people - or supported 20 families, as Mr. Aysa likes to say. …

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