As a contributor and participant in western fashion culture, I am well aware of how is easy it is to develop a lens which crowds out the importance of reviewing and understanding modes of dress in non-western countries, and how those modes of dress relate to fashion, culture, and personal style. Our own perception of what fashion means in the west may be completely different than what clothing means to another culture. In the case of Afghanistan, years of war, years of being stuck inbetween the convergence of the British and Russian empires, and years of consequent suppression have all lead to an interesting matriculation of resultant cultural clothing options.
The first designer I am going to cover, Nawed Elias, grew up in the village of Zazai in Kabul, Afghanistan. Here he finds his inspiration for his later designs. He ends up in Amsterdam at the age of 14, where he finds a meeting ground between the western culture in Amsterdam and the beautiful village he grew up in. The two angles are conflicting, but he marries the two and creates beautiful and inspiring garments. This proves how a designer can successfully receive credit for appropriately disbursing his culture to the fashion world in an authentic way. This is so important when considering all of the unique cultures which are underrepresented, undervalued, and often times appropriated and assimilated into western culture by western media sources and fashion. Nawed’s way of creating with Zazai has allowed for his brand to have a serious and authentic voice in the western fashion world while staying true to himself and allowing for the western world to digest other cultures in a respectful and truthful way. Designers like Nawed give me hope and are incredibly inspiring. His designs do not aim at being overtly political, rather they aim at warning away today’s generation from the suppressive war lords or forces of evil that persist in Afghanistan.
Link to his website: http://zazai.nl/
He uses “eyeliner” on the male models who walk his designs down the runway. This “eyeliner” perceivedly thought so by western culture, is actually not eyeliner used in the traditional sense as we know it for beautification purposes. Rather, it is a crushed rock mixture which possesses healing powers for one’s eyesight. The application of this substance around the eyes is a religious one, and is oftentimes thought to bring religious benefits when worn on Friday’s. This practice is done throughout Afghanistan with both men and women, but most men in cities discontinue the practice after the age of six while the men who live in villages decide to continue it for the rest of their lives.
The next designer I want to cover is Zolaykha Sherzad. She is the founder of Zarif, a brand which has made similar commentaries on past and present tragedies and turbulence in Afghanistan, but takes a different angle in the sense that she seeks to empower the 60% female workforce she works with in hopes of dignifying and reviving their Afghan heritage. In doing so, these women assume a certain amount of risk in using their actions to make statements about pursuing independence and professional lives in order to create stability for themselves and their children. Zolaykha sees no reason for why there can’t be a mutually beneficial relationship much like what the silk road brought to so many countries and their economies between western countries buying and selling each other’s goods and creating a subsequent respect for each other’s cultures as the west buys more traditional, stylish clothing from Afghani artisans, Afghanistan can afford to invest in more technological advancements provided by western countries in return. It is this kind of symbiosis that design labels like Zarif are trying to achieve, which could prove to be vital to economies via something as “trivial” as fashion and design.
Link to her website: http://www.zarifnyc.com/