Artisans are invaluable to culture as they carry the knowledge of traditional arts and crafts that are unique to their communities. Spaces in which arts and cultural activity happen are often the pulse points of communities. At their best, they are places in which artists, tradition-bearers and cultural workers are in charge. These spaces can stimulate civic engagement, and affect economic conditions directly and indirectly. Unfortunately, in the fast-paced globalized world, preserving these artisanal values are becoming challenging as many of the artisans don’t have enough opportunities to improve the quality of life.
This is where we need companies that realize the importance of preserving the craft that exists in different communities, especially the ones that are marginalized. Artisan Links is one such socially responsible, fair trade business featuring products that contribute to a sustainable future. It is the only guaranteed member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) in Pakistan. Each of their products is intricately designed by their team of women-only artists, consisting of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and local artisans existing in the country. Artisan Links has taken this craft global by collaborating with leading fashion house – Chloé, among others.
Since its inception in Pakistan, the organisation’s motto has been to empower women in the marginalized communities by helping them gain economic security and encouraging them to exploit their artistic expertise. By translating traditional embroidery techniques into contemporary designs, they have developed exquisite hand embroidered apparel, home furnishings, gifts, accessories and more. The company believes in the importance of cultural preservation, hence keeping alive the intricate embroidery techniques – Kandahari, Pukta-Dozi, Tarshumar, Zangeera-Dozi and Graph-Dozi, in their pieces.
It remains the only organization that continues to work with Afghan women both in Pakistan and border regions of Afghanistan since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. The organization firmly believes in giving the impacted women work instead of one-off donations in order to provide them with continued financial independence and support.
“We are committed to making sure that we train, help in product development and market products made by these incredible women, playing a humble part in providing an income source for women who in most cases are the only source of income for their family. It is an honor for our work to be seen across some of the world’s most coveted runways and shelves. ” stated Tahira Afridi, Director of Artisan Links, on the issue.
The organization is also the official social enterprise partner for MADE51, a global brand created by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, which connects refugee artisans with local social enterprises to design, make and market home décor and accessories across the world. Chloé – a French luxury brand known for ethical craftsmanship and free-spirited femininity, is engaging refugee women to produce components that are incorporated into their products. Starting with their ’22 Spring / Summer collection, the Chloé x MADE51 collaboration is incorporating craftsmanship of Afghan refugee women into Chloé’s accessories range, including their iconic Marcie and Woodie handbags.
This collaboration is a massive feat that put the artistic talents of these women to be showcased to the world and is a great stepping stone in welcoming further collaborations from across the world. Artisan Links has provided employment, recognition and financial stability to the uber talented Afghani women, putting them on the map in hopes of a better future for them.
Their products have also been exhibited at the various museum shops like the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Western Australian Museum, Queensland Museum, Victoria Museum, Peabody Essex Museum, Field Museum stores, Palmer Museum of Art, Baltimore Museum of Art, Hammond Museum and British Museum. Before the pandemic Artisan Links were exhibiting at NEW York International Gift show, Dallas Gift Show, Import Shop Berlin, Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Through MADE51 these products have been showcased at Ambiente, Frankfurt and Maison de Objet as well.
Though it’s difficult to quantify the tremendous value – in both techniques and lore – of a community of craft, we do know that once lost it becomes very difficult to recover. A community’s ability to generate a livelihood through its artisan traditions generates far more pride and meaning than the all too common rural dispersion into crowded and polluted urban centers for day wages. It makes it all the more important to preserve their craft as cultural diversity makes us richer and more resilient in both our ability to express ourselves and collaborate meaningfully with others.
– A. Jafri