Golden Stitches

Zardozi: Market for Afghan Artisans

Take a look at the meticulous needle work and embroidery made by the women of Zardozi: Market for Afghan Artisans, and the first thing that comes to mind is how precious the work is and how much value it holds. Because of its inherent worth to consumers, it’s no surprise that the organization chose the apt name zardozi, which translates from the Persian as “golden stitches.”

Zardozi was launched in 1986 with the mission to provide employment opportunities to Afghan women refugees who had crossed into Pakistan at the start of the Soviet war. Nearly all the women are illiterate, but with the income they earn through their embroidery they are able for the first time to provide for their children and themselves with basic life necessities: housing, medical care and education. Most importantly, however, by giving the women the opportunity to work, Zardozi also gives them the dignity of becoming self-sufficient individuals who now have control over their lives.

The organization provides support to their team of women artisans and a handful of male tailors in numerous ways such as creating marketing opportunities for the unique handcrafts that are sold at the Kabul Zardozi shop, which caters to a large number of foreigners, and also exports the products. The shop employs women who live in rural areas in Eastern Afghanistan as well as refugee camps that dot the border. In addition, Zardozi provides fundamental business instruction and assists the women in starting their own small businesses that center on selling traditional handcrafts and clothing.

Yet, there are challenges. Because the region is still in the midst of conflict, the primary hurdle the organization faces is security. According to Tahira Afridi, general manager of the Peshwar, Pakistan office, “It has become very hard for us to visit the camps and villages to collect and distribute pieces to the artisans, but we are not going to give up and will continue our work. The other problem that we are facing is security related; our sales have gone down in the local market. Since we are a non-funded organization, we attend international shows to increase our export sales.”

American consumers can find products made by the women of Zardozi at Worldstock, Charity USA, The Khalid Hussaini Foundation, and a number of boutiques in New York City, as well as Zardozi’s online web store. On August 19-21, 2012, Zardozi will be exhibiting at the upcoming Artisan Resource™ that is presented semi-annually alongside the New York International Gift Fair® at the Jacob Javits Center and at Pier 92.

Artisan Resource is a “curated collection of overseas artisan enterprises offering handmade production resources and products, at export terms from country of origin,” says Allison Rober of George Little Management, the organizer of the show. This special section centers on these artisan enterprises from across the globe as a source for designers and retailers who are looking for one-of-kind items, as well as partnerships to keep artisan craftsmanship, traditional methods, techniques and cultural heritage thriving. The section will also offer programming on such topics as importing basics and customs.

At Artisan Resource, Zardozi will exhibit four types of traditional Afghan embroideries: cross stitch, puktadozi, kandahari and tarshumar, each from different parts of Afghanistan. Items include home décor and women’s clothing and accessories. For tech aficionados who want a touch of traditional design, Zardozi will be displaying computer sleeves and iPad cases. All items are hand embroidered or hand woven by Afghan women in Pakistani camps or living in the interior of Afghanistan. 

For more information about Zardozi, please visit http://www.afghanartisans.com.

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