Why would PUMA, one of the world’s leading sports brands, collaborate with an 18-month-old South African design brand, which has in turn collaborated with an NPO? Not Just A Comb recently launched a collection of trainers with embellishments designed by Hamzeh Alfarahneh and beaded by women in Cape Town townships.

So why would Puma be interested? Firstly, each pair of Not Just A Puma trainers is unique, which is great for discerning consumers.  Secondly, collaboration pushes creative boundaries and innovation. And third, collaborating partners help both parties reach new markets. But, for Alfarahneh, there was another reason to create a capsule range of objets using PUMA shoes as a starting point. He wanted to explore the question: In a world full of devastation can humans find a common ground? “In my opinion, the answer is love,” he says.

“The design of each shoe represents a theme that talks about the various types of love and how we can use the concept of love in order to build bridges and find our commonalities,” Alfarahneh says.  For the Love Rainbow pair, he designed a pattern made out of organic-shaped, hand-beaded patterns that mimic that of marble veins.  The design, he says, speaks to the various facets of love which includes motherly (teal), passionately (pink), brotherly (mango), romanticly (red) and neighborly (silver). The Pont des Art Et Tokyo pair pays tribute to two of the most iconic romantic landmarks in popular culture: the Pont des Art bridge in Paris and Tokyo during the cherry blossom season. There is a tradition of couples leaving locks on Paris’s love bridge to signify their everlasting bond. Tokyo’s cherry blossom season is romanticized both in literature and on the silver screen.

Alfarahneh launched his first beading project, Not Just a Comb, part design project, part outreach program, in November 2017. It is a growing collection of hand-embellished hair combs inspired by a conversation with Thierry Geoffroy AKA Colonel. The French artist curated a series of exhibition events, Emergency Room, inviting artists to consider themselves as emergencies, and to reflect on and exhibit an artwork about this, many using found objects. Events have been held in many cities across the world, including Johannesburg.  Alfarahneh says, “His work made me look past ordinary ways of manufacturing and to ready-made objects that can be repurposed. The comb came from a conversation I had with creative director Tammy Tinker, who at the time was looking for potential products for the GUILD design shop”.

For the beading, Alfarahneh works with the non-profit organization MonkeyBiz. Kate Carlyle, general manager of the NPO, says, “We’re always keen to take on new challenges and love working on Not Just a Comb. Standards are very high, and Hamzeh is very particular.”

Monkey Biz works with about 300 women for various beading projects, which find their way to countries across the globe. The organization helps its members open bank accounts and they are invited to join a burial fund. While the NPO empowers women financially, it also focuses on reviving the art of beadwork. Carlyle says, “We run workshops and encourage people to explore their creativity with beading: to do something completely off the wall.”

Inspired by Not Just a Comb, South Africa wanted to support Alfarahneh’s initiative. Alfaraneh proposed a new idea: turning an everyday item of clothing – shoes – into something with depth and a story. The capsule range of shoes consists of four embellished styles of PUMA Ignite, PUMA Ignite Netfit and PUMA Hybrid.

Alfarahneh was born in Jordan and raised in the Middle East but moved to Cape Town in 2011 after falling in love with the city while on holiday. After studying fashion design at Fedisa, Alfarahneh launched a brand producing high-end, limited edition accessories and bags made by third-generation leather craftsmen in Africa. He is currently working with Cape Town’s A4 Foundation, an NPO dedicated to the arts in southern Africa, where he will help provide “a platform for communities to interact with A4 Arts Foundation and vice-versa”.

His work, is not all about upliftment and empowerment: Alfarahneh loves designing. He especially loves “the conceptual phase because it is the most freeing and creative part of what I do. The sky is the limit in terms of coming up with ideas and exploring topics that intrigue me,” he says.

* For more information visit notjustacomb.com, follow @farahneh and #notjustapuma on Instagram. Part of the proceedings from Not Just A Puma will go to benefit Anna Foundation’s women empowerment program

*This article first appeared in the Sunday Times, Lifestyle section on 10 February 2019