Beirut architect designs bulletproof Kevlar keffiyeh

bullet-proof keffiyehPeople are often defensive when it comes to headscarves, which have strong links to specific religious and cultural beliefs. Now a Beirut-based architect has designed a headwrap that uses defense as the justification for wearing it: this updated version of the classic Arab keffiyeh (allegedly) deflects bullets!

Functional fashion takes a remarkable turn in the hands of architect Salim al-Kadi. His “K29 Keffiyeh 001” is made of Kevlar, a para-aramid synthetic fiber five times stronger than steel. Developed in the 1960s by Stephanie Kwolek, a chemist working at DuPont laboratories in Delaware, USA, its strength, durability, and water-resistance makes it suitable for a wide range of applications, including building materials, sportswear, and boat sails. It is also an ingredient in protective body armor – think bulletproof vests.

The architect brought some Kevlar to Beirut and hired a craftswoman from the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp to hand-embroider a traditional crisscross pattern onto the fabric. Al-Kadi debuted his scarf at this year’s Beirut Design Week, held in May.

Keffiyeh is worn across the Middle East as a protective garment in all seasons. It offers warmth in winter and on cool desert nights. It protects against harsh sunlight, and helps filter dust and sand during windstorms.

In the 1990’s the garment moved into mainstream fashion in the USA and Japan, a trend attributed to international media coverage of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who was never without his black and white version. It is commonly associated with Palestine and Jordan, worn by men and women, locals and expats.

There are different ways to wear keffiyeh. It’s a fashion choice, now with practical implications. “By wrapping it around one’s head, the weave’s performance is increased through the layering of material and multi-directionality of the weave,” al-Kadi told Dezeen.

He said the garment is designed “for our contemporary landscape”. In light of violent terror attacks happening – well, everywhere – that’s an unnerving concept that sent me digging into the comments sections of reports on this product to see if others shared this view.

Many posted that its practicality was doubtful. The scarf is thin, much thinner than a bulletproof vest which is made of more than just patches of Kevlar-reinforced fabric. One commenter suggested al-Kadi “spent more time picking out colors and patterns than thinking about utility”. Another agreed, saying that a bullet would simply push the fabric into your head, “You’d still be dead, it would just be less messy with no exit wound.”  Not something usually considered when shopping for a headscarf.

Al-Kadi is founding partner of Beirut firm APractice Studio and a co-founder of the design firm BAO, which hatched the K29 headscarf. There is no word as to whether he will produce them on a commercial scale.

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