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Women in Afghanistan are using some of the country’s oldest traditions in an effort to rebuild its global image.
April 12, 2010 4:59 by Helena Malikyar
An old Afghan proverb goes something like this: “He who is proud of his fine clothes gets his reputation from his tailor.” But can a tailor rectify Afghanistan’s modern-day reputation as a hub for internecine conflict and misery?
Enter a group of entrepreneurial Afghan women who, in spite of deteriorating security conditions across the country, are working to breathe new life into Afghanistan’s centuries- old cultural heritage, producing garments infused with elements of traditional Afghan dress that appeal to contemporary fashionistas. The “National Development Framework” of 2002 – the post-Taliban blueprint for Afghanistan’s economic development – highlighted the potential of the wide range of tradable goods produced in Afghanistan. The framework recommended the promotion of labels including “Made in Afghanistan” and “Made by Afghan Women.”
Although the government has not taken significant steps toward facilitating export for local traders, the private sector has already honed in on certain Afghan-made products to assess their global marketability.
Zolaykha Sherzad, an Afghan-American architect, returned to her homeland soon after the fall of the Taliban regime to check on the school that her New York-based NGO, School of Hope, had been funding since 2000.
She also had hopes of working in the field of architecture, but was soon dispirited by the politics and economic inertia. Eventually she came up with a pilot project to test the concept of reviving traditional material into a modern expression.
“The cultural identity of the country has been greatly affected by decades of war, from its architectural expression to its clothing,” says Zolaykha, who opened Zarif Design in Kabul in 2005 after obtaining a degree from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.