Ethical Fashion, Pakistan and The Dhurrie Project

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In 1966, Spanish designer Paco Rabanne partnered with the Scott Paper Company for a publicity stunt. He designed the famous paper dress, which the company would market as a tongue in cheek fashion must-have. About his creation, Rabanne is reported to have said, “it’s very cheap and the woman will only wear it once or twice. For me it’s the future of fashion.”

It is difficult to know whether Rabanne, known for constructing apparel out of metal and plastic and stitching dresses right onto the model’s body, intended for his statement to be taken literally. However, his words were a strange forewarning.

While the paper clothing fad didn’t last (albeit it definitely had a moment in the late sixties) yet throw-away fashion has certainly become a staple of the times.

 

Fast Fashion Frenzy

Fast-fashion has become a phenomenon. The idea, which centres around trends moving from the runway (or ramp, or catwalk, or whatever you want to call it this week) to the store rapidly, has given us brands like Zara, H&M and Mango.

In her acclaimed anti-capitalist book of fashion, Tansy E. Hoskins linked the business of fast-fashion to environmental damage and worker exploitation in the most impoverished parts of the world.

In Pakistan, fast-fashion has also stagnated our rich cultural heritage. Practices that were one commonplace have been relegated to variety shows, with few giving techniques like hand-weaving and block-printing the same status as is afforded by international attire. Attire which may have in fact been manufactured in a Chinese factory, using cotton grown in Pakistan.

This is an aspect of the glittering business that few discuss, or are even aware of. Yet, the impact of fast-fashion is noteworthy when climate change continues to ravage the planet, and garment industry workers in Pakistan struggle for fair wages and safe working conditions.   

 

Ethical Fashion and The Dhurrie Project 

As with most dissent, the resistance to this is an indie phenomenon often initiated by stand alone entrepreneurs. Some brands have built an identity around preserving cultural crafts, and providing an alternative for the big business of global fashion.

When Nihan Karim and Anam Rani met each other, they knew that such a brand would be their future.

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As undergraduate students at the National College of Arts, they found that despite belonging to different departments (Nihan studied product design and Anam textile) they’d often partner up for projects, touting, “we knew that if we teamed up for something later we would be able to do a good job.”

For their thesis, they worked on a U.S. Aid sponsored project that focused on rural artisans, and quickly identified a gap in the market. Add to this the fact that Nihan hails from Gakhar, a small town famed for dhurrie weaving, and the seeds for The Durrie Project were sown.

Weaving the cloth is often a familial trait, passed on from generations. However, as the duo soon discovered Gakhar’s famed art was at the risk of disappearing, “the younger generation of these weavers are not very interested in carrying on this craft as they think it has no future,” recount Anam and Nihan, “hence they do not learn the weaving styles from their elders and most of this amazing technique is not passed on.” At the heart of their brand then, was an attempt to convince both the public at large and the weavers themselves that coupled with the right marketing strategy, traditional techniques could be in vogue.

 

Craft and Culture

To quote the duo, “A craft represents a part of the culture it belongs to,” and by creating a demand for the craft, The Dhurrie Project was in essence initiated to preserve the culture itself.

However, practices cannot be preserved in the same vein as pieces of art. Hanging an ancient dhurrie rug in a gallery might look pretty and invoke nostalgia. But it can’t prevent the practice from dying out. And so, right from the very start, the team behind The Dhurrie Project wanted to strike a balance between style and substance. “We wanted to bring forward this forgotten craft as something refreshing,” they chime. “We wanted to put forward a product that gave a good user experience, and not just aesthetic value.” The best way they discovered to do this was to focus on something else that needed diversity; accessories.

“A craft represents a part of the culture it belongs to” – Anam and Nihan

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Few local brands have focused on accessories entirely. Handbags in particular allowed allowed them to “look at the constrains of the material we were using and find the best application for it.”

The result of this labour of love was twofold.

The budding young brand boasts a retinue of beautiful handbags that are both inspired by and give back to tradition.

And perhaps more importantly, the business end of things takes the artisans on board every step of the way. The duo calls the weavers, “the most important members of our brand”. And are careful to take their opinions into account up until the very last step of the process. They are sensitive to the fact that weaving traditional dhurrie is time consuming and exhausting. Hence they ensure that there is a connect between the designers and the weavers.

What frustrates them the most about the local fashion scene is the lack of importance afforded to tradition.

 

How Inspired is Inspiration?

But wait, you might protest, many a big brand has claimed to be inspired by heritage.

Well, according to Anam and Nihan, this in itself might be part of the problem. “Putting up a single collection with colours inspired by a craft is not a very effective way to represent it. They could actually put the makers forward and work with them. As said craft represents culture. Hence it would be a good step if our fashion industry actually took interest in and worked on local craft.”

 

“Putting up a single collection with colours inspired by a craft is not a very effective way to represent it.” – Anam and Nihan17103565_1848586012088107_1340207289623029735_n

 

In a strange turn of events, they point out that their most ardent clientele isn’t local. They were quick to seize online opportunities. And ventured into social media with a vibrant dhurrie laden presence, which caught the eye of the international market.

However, this also represents a strange dichotomy where the country that produces the craft is not inspired by it. Little by little, the team behind The Dhurrie Project aim to change this. And for anyone who doesn’t share their love for all things local, the young entrepreneurs have something to say. “Instead of looking for inspiration in far off lands, try looking around the local landscape. We are pretty sure that the inspiration is waiting here for you.”

For updates about the brand or to order a bag, click here and like their Facebook page.

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