How two Afghan fashion designers preserve the country’s heritage in their work

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When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan this month, it turned the lives of Afghans inside and outside the country upside down.

Some have fled the country while others, watching from the outside, wonder what will become of their homeland once the dust settles.

Among them are Anjilla Seddeqi and Hosna Kohestani, two fashion designers who incorporate their heritage into their work.

Seddeqi was 7 when her family fled Afghanistan – and the Taliban – for Australia in 1989. Although she never returned, her thoughts remain with the country she left as a child.

“I heard incredible stories about Afghanistan,” says Seddeqi The National. “I can’t wait to go back one day with my two children.”

Inspired by her own experiences as a child, Seddeqi studied international law before joining the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to work with asylum seekers. After years of working as a human rights lawyer, she decided to reconnect with her Afghan heritage, turning to fashion as a platform to bring the colors and patterns of her culture to a wider audience.

“I’m very passionate about refugees, given my background and experience, and it was my childhood dream to practice refugee law so I could help them,” says Seddeqi.

“My designs are influenced by my Afghani heritage and culture. I mainly work with rich fabrics like brocades with gold threads and embroidered silk fabrics, as well as vibrant colors, as this is synonymous with celebrations and Afghan outfits.

Shedding light on Afghan culture is an important part of Seddeqi’s work, to counter what she sees as a narrow view of her country.

“For too long, the narrative in the West has been that Afghanistan is perpetually at war and in conflict. But Afghanistan and its people are more than that and we are not defined by relentless violence. We are a proud, cultured and hospitable people and that’s what I want to shine on in my designs.

Blending traditional elements with a more Western aesthetic, Seddeqi’s pieces appeal to women looking for clothing beyond the standard fare, while helping to cement her own commitment to her country.

“It gives me a sense of connection to my roots. There is a lot to learn from our traditional Afghan dresses, [they are] a masterclass in mixing colors, patterns and textures.”

Khoestani also shares her culture with the rest of the world. With a boutique in Dubai, her colorful designs are known for their traditional cuts, dazzling tones and rich gold embroidery. Her dresses are often photographed against the rugged beauty of the Hatta Dam because, as she once said, it “reminds me of Afghanistan.”

With the return of the Taliban, however, both women have concerns for the future, especially for the country’s women. Seddeqi remains unconvinced by assurances that there will be no violence or retaliation.

“I think Afghans have a very good idea of ​​the Taliban after experiencing firsthand the terror they unleashed on the people when they took power in 1996. Most Afghan women are too terrified to leave their homes. In the end, women and children in Afghanistan will pay the highest price,” Seddeqi said.

This point of view is echoed by Kohestani. “It’s really a difficult time for all of us Afghans.”

The trimmings and embroidery that feature so prominently in the two women’s designs come from Afghanistan, providing a vital source of income for the women who make them, and a measure of financial independence. Whether this can continue under the Taliban remains to be seen.

While the long-term effects could be detrimental to the work of both designers, Kohestani’s thoughts are with her compatriots.

“It will definitely impact me as an Afghan designer,” she says, “but right now I’m more concerned about my country.”

Seddeqi, too, fears the rights have been swept away. Unable to reach her suppliers, she worries not only for their livelihoods but also for their safety.

“It’s been very difficult to get in touch with them since the Taliban took over. I will continue to explore different contacts and avenues to get in touch with them. I hope I can continue to work with them and support them in these dark times.”

To help raise awareness, as well as funds for UNHCR, Seddeqi helps sell Arezu dolls in Australia. Translated as “wish” from Dari, the most widely spoken language in Afghanistan, they are made from fabrics discarded by Afghan refugees in India.

“They are created with love, hope and wish for a better future for the women and children of Afghanistan,” Seddeqi said.

She says she feels compelled to act.

“As an Afghan woman living in the diaspora, it is my duty and my calling to raise awareness about the plight of my sisters in Afghanistan. I just can’t rest in this privileged position knowing how much they are hurting.”

Updated: August 25, 2021, 04:42

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