With love from Chitral

Published: August 5, 2011

Polly&Me items are embroidered by Chitrali women. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY

Polly&Me items are embroidered by Chitrali women. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY Polly&Me items are embroidered by Chitrali women. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY Polly&Me items are embroidered by Chitrali women. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY
KARACHI: 

Australian national Cathy Braid came to Pakistan to attend a Chitral-based women’s weaving project called Shubinak in 2000. During her short visit she fell in love with Pakistan and moved here in 2003. Cathy spent the next three years in Chitral working with the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, a non-governmental organisation, and Chitrali women on a clothing and bags line.

Cathy launched the brand Polly&Me with her sister Angela Braid in 2007. According to Angela, Polly&Me “is a grass-root level luxury bringing together traditional skills and the best of Pakistani leather and manufacturing.” The two sisters are based in Islamabad and manage everything from designing to production to sales. Wallets are priced at Rs8,500, whereas handbags are priced from Rs15,000 to Rs33,000.

When asked why only Chitrali women were chosen to participate in the Polly&Me project, Angela said, “Traditional embroidery skills are passed on by the women to the next generation in the villages of Chitral. Since it’s a traditional community most women in Chitral observe purdah (veil), so few work opportunities exist outside the home.  We try to provide work in a socially acceptable environment.  All centres are village-based and artisans can walk to the centres and collect work. Whether they want to work in the local centre or take the work home depends on the artisans’ choice entirely.  This flexible work environment enables them to maintain their other roles within their home.”

In Angela’s words, the key objective of Polly&Me is “to create a platform for women to express themselves through their craft and designs and earn an income to give themselves and their community the chance to make a better life.”

While talking about her venture Angela adds, “A major shift in our design practice came in 2008, when we ran a series of creative workshops with the women artisans. The result was a sell-out show of 23 textiles, all designed and produced by the women. Our first non-profit project, Gup Shup: The Domestic, the Narrative and Cups of Chai, led to a wider artisan community supporting the project and allowed these women to develop small businesses within their local communities.”

Noorjehan Bilgrami allowed Polly&Me to be stocked at her gallery at Koel Cafe in Karachi because she wanted to show her support for the project. “I believe in the cause. The income that can be generated for Chitrali women — a portion of which goes directly back to their community — is a cause worth supporting.” This line can also be found in Islamabad and Lahore, at Nomads and Clayworks respectively.

Angela’s next project, Ramazan Diaries is a series of non-profit creative workshops at the end of which there will be an exhibition. “During Ramazan last year, we invited artisans to record their daily fast through pictures and words,” tells Angela. Fourteen women from three centres across Chitral kept a diary to record their daily activities during Ramazan, and this year, the artisans are using those diaries to inspire new designs. The Ramazan stories of these women are being embroidered on bags and wallets for the last three months, and one theme which is being focused on is the role of mothers in their households during Ramazan. Bibi, a Chitrali local, is one such individual who has shared her routine during Ramazan, from waking up every morning at 1:30 am to make food for her family while the rest of her household slept, till the evening meal.

Despite being uneducated herself, Bibi managed to tell her story by paying her 13-year-old daughter Rs5 everyday to record her fasts. The collection is expected to launch in October.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (42)

  • Shafaq Mustafa
    Aug 6, 2011 - 9:36AM

    A very Good idea for supporting the rural women and bringing out the creative work from them. But the prices are very high. I am sure these Chitrali women are also getting handsome amount as well.

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  • Naveed
    Aug 6, 2011 - 10:51AM

    we are thankful to the Braid sisters for their constructive work. they are true Australian Ambassadors in Pakistan.

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  • MysticSoul
    Aug 6, 2011 - 2:26PM

    @ Sadia the author…Please research and tell us how much the braid sisters pay to the local artisans for each purse which they apparently sell for Rs. 15,000!!!

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  • Musa Bajwa
    Aug 6, 2011 - 5:20PM

    May Allah Mian Bless The and The artisans with great success:) Sumo Illahi Ameen:)

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  • Laila
    Aug 6, 2011 - 6:13PM

    @MysticSoul the textiles on the bag are embroidered by village women who otherwise have no employment. They are paid a fair wage per textile. You can ask them yourself anytime you like. The rest of the bag is put together in a factory where again there is the cost of materials and labour. Then there is also the cost of transporting the threads to Chitral, supervision of the embroidery, and transportation of the textiles back to the city. When you add all of these up along with the rising cost of electricity on which machinery is run, then the percentage of profit given to the shops where the bags are sold, you will understand that the bags are a very reasonably priced designer item.

    Also the Braid sisters do a project every year that is not for profit, meaning all the earnings go back to the embroiderers. This project is mentioned in the article as well. Under this the Braid sisters help the women design, make and sell textiles to foreign markets. The Braid sisters don’t get any profit from that project. Don’t you think it’s a great project? Both benefit the women and provide them employment. If one project is for profit, then the other is not for profit. I think it’s fair and more than most Pakistanis do for their fellow improvised women.

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  • Proud Pakistani
    Aug 6, 2011 - 8:45PM

    @ the author:
    Polly and me’s non-profit project of 23 tapestry pieces was a marvelous sell-out indeed, “designed and produced by the women”, but not even 50% went back to the embroiderers?
    The collection that followed the tapestry exhibit, was inspired by the “Gup Shup” collection, did the workers get extra compensation for sharing their designs?
    When will foreigners stop exploiting our local craftspeople with a promise of better livelihoods, when only their own commercial interests are at heart?
    Does giving back crumbs every now and then really make it all so noble, after all?

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  • Naila Iftikhar
    Aug 6, 2011 - 8:49PM

    Amazing work Polly and Me, just wish some Pakistani’s would have taken this initiative, that would make us all proud!

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  • MysticSoul
    Aug 6, 2011 - 10:48PM

    @ Laila and the author

    They are paid a fair wage per textile. Please tell me the actual amount of the fair wage paid to the local women.

    All the ancillary costs are called overheads, and believe me even in Zimbabwe (where inflation is about 70,000% p.a compared to Pakistani 16%) the overhead costs of one purse would not be more than Rs. 1,000. So out of the Rs. 15,000 revenue say Rs. 3,000 is spent on overheads, where the other Rs. 9,000 goe?? When you sell the purse as your business venture we don’t have an issue but when u market the purse in the name of women empowerment, women welfare, entrepreneurship of the women of an impoverished area like Chitral then, Mam, we believe the sisters are just exploiting the local artisans in the name of women empowerment.

    By the way let me tell you the same purse in a ready condition, with same embroidery and same artistic work on them, is available in the local market of Chitral for just Rs. 350.

    Please tell us the name and link of the website of the Non-Profit organization of the Braid sisters (might be registered in Pakistan under Section 42 of the Companies Ordinance 1984 as non-profit organization). And where can I find the last Audited Financial Statements ????

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  • Laila
    Aug 7, 2011 - 9:38AM

    @MysticSoul. The purses u r talking about that r sold in Chitral are not at all like the ones Polly & me make. Have you ever held the two side by side and compared? Obviously not otherwise you would never make such statements. Its like comparing apples and oranges.

    Also when a local shopkeeper sells a bag for 350, what do you think he gives the embroiderer? If you have any idea about how the traditional middlemen in Pakistan exploit our women? Everything you buy in any low or wholesale market in Pakistan is done at the exploitation of the labour force. So the bag being sold at 350 only earns the workers Rs. 20 or Rs. 30 at the most. Whereas when a person is paid a fair wage, that means minimum wage or more as dictated by the law of the land. The rate per textile depends on how long it takes a woman to make it and she is paid more than the minimum wage in Pakistan, which is far more than the majority earns here.

    I would definitely buy the bag that pays the women a few thousand rupees per bag, even if it costs me more. I would also buy Polly & me because their designs are original and the leather quality and finish superb. You cannot get a good quality leather bag with all the accessories made in Pakistan for Rs. 1000, you have your figures wrong.

    I think you and Proud Pakistani need to visit Chitral and speak to the women embroiderers before passing judgement with no logic. Ask them what they think.

    Well done Polly & me. I wear your brand because it’s a beautiful product of international quality made in Pakistan. Our Foreign Minister should have proudly worn one of your bags on her arm and not a Berkin!!

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  • Aug 7, 2011 - 10:27AM

    Hat off to Ms.Cathy and Ms. Angela Braid for their great idea in promoting the Chitral Women making earn and pride for their skills. In Europe and other parts of Western world people loves hand made utensils. There is a great potential to grow, all one need is to make this project known every where and find fair distributers. Our suggestion is to contact the Fair Handle organizations who are the supporters of this kind of projects. We wish you all the success.
    Paderborner “SJ”, Germany
    sjpaderborn.wordpress.com

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  • Shahzad wali
    Aug 7, 2011 - 2:12PM

    @Proud Pakistani:
    Commensts like that of the “Proud Pakistani” is part of the rhetoric of some people do by blaming and creating suspicion against a noble cause done by civilised people. Those false Pround Pakistanis, actually never dare to visit far flung and backward areas for any noble cause but they do only to exploit young girls in the name of marriage. Chitralis are gradually realising the fact and I hope they will not prey victim to such rhetorics of nationality, faith, language or else in future. And thumps up to Ms. Cathy and Angela.

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  • Mona
    Aug 7, 2011 - 2:39PM

    I want to know how much is actually being paid to these poor Chitrali women. These foreigners are taking total advantage of them. A friend of mine who was travelling in Chitral said that she came across a number of women who complained of Polly people paying very very little for so much work. I also heard that sometimes the money is given to them YEARS later!!! That is ridiculous. ‘ Not for Profit’ what rubbish….. Its all for their own self interest. I would never carry a Polly bag.

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  • MysticSoul
    Aug 7, 2011 - 3:30PM

    @ laila and Shahzad.

    You know the saddest part is you think you are right…!!!

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  • Masood
    Aug 7, 2011 - 7:39PM

    I am from Chitral and very proud of Polly & me. I personally know some of the women who embroider for this brand and they are getting a good pay and on time. Yes there are some people spreading rumours in the cities about not being paid. But after I investigated it turned out that rumours were by a new competitor in this field.

    To those of you who question what the embroiderers are paid should come visit and find out for yourselves. It is easy to sit in luxurious cities and pass judgement on others. When none of the complainers writing in have ever lifted a single finger to help the women of Chitral get an employment opportunity whereby they can feed their families. What may I humbly ask have you done to help the less privileged? Living in Chitral is a tough life and furthermore working here to teach the women new patterns and designs even more challenging. Us Chitralis thank the Braid sisters for making this noble effort. Now the work of Chitral is known the world over. God bless.

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  • Syra
    Aug 8, 2011 - 8:53AM

    @Laila:
    ”Also the Braid sisters do a project every year that is not for profit, meaning all the earnings go back to the embroiderers.’ … can you please elaborate your above statement ?
    providing all the supply chain management doesnt yet clears the ”non-profit” margin of the Brand….

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  • MysticSoul
    Aug 8, 2011 - 11:18AM

    @Masood:
    Don’t just imagine things brother, I am also Chitrali and know the plight of Chitrali women, but that is another debate not relevant here. If you know these women and have done some research then you are the best person to tell us the answer to the million Dollar Question. How much these artisans are being paid for making the art work on these purses?
    I request you and Laila not to beat around the bush and tell us the exact amount one women gets. Ms. Laila told us about the fair wage according to the law of the Country which is Rs. 7,000 per month (minimum wage of a labor), Do you endorse that amount or your research leads you to some other figure.

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  • Laila
    Aug 8, 2011 - 6:34PM

    @MysticSoul are you sure you are a Chitrali? Cause if you were one then you would already know that the bags being sold for Rs. 350 were nothing like the bags pictured above. And also you would not be asking us this question because you would known the answer. Thank god you at least researched what minimum wage means. Now all you need to do is figure out how long it takes to make a textile on average and then you will have an approximate idea of what an unskilled worker will be paid. Now you should go and research what the minimum wage is for skilled workforce and apply that:-)).

    Why are you so bitter that someone has started a business that gives previously unemployed women an opportunity to start earning? Also maybe you are not aware that a business has the right to sell their products at any price they like. And even better if they create new employment and give jobs to women who previously had no earnings of their own. What is sad that you feel that you have the right to lecture others who are doing a good thing and have created a fantastic product. Even more sad that you want to promote a bag that pays only Rs. 20 or Rs. 30 to the embroider. I am also curious why you are going after this company with a vengeance. Why don’t you go and create income generating projects for rural women and tell us about your experience.

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  • syra
    Aug 9, 2011 - 5:26AM

    @Laila:
    my question is still waiting to be replied .. please …

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  • Laila
    Aug 9, 2011 - 8:30AM

    @Syra why r u so sure that there is a profit margin in the non-profit work? Secondly, why are you so bitter that someone has enabled our women to earn a huge sum by a project? Also why will you not allow the people running a project to take a salary for their efforts? Do you generally work for free? It’s petty how you question the good work of someone. Tell me which other projects in Pakistan has enabled each embroiderer to earn around Rs. 50,000 from one textile?

    I think you guys should go talk to the Braid sisters like I did and visit the embroiderers to learn the truth. But also open your narrow vision to the fact that a company has the right to retain some earnings from any project it engages in. You also probably don’t know that there is another local organisation in Chitral that supervises these women, and they also need to earn a share, no one works for free. I think you should start a non-profit porject and then share with us the costs and issues.

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  • MysticSoul
    Aug 9, 2011 - 10:09AM

    @Laila:

    from Rs. 7,000 per month (min wage) you have just jumped to Rs. 50,000 per embroider..WOW..wata jump..you are fighting for a lost cause my dear sis. dont talk to the braid sisters, Talk to the embroiders and just tell them that there emboridered purses are being sold by these GORIS in Islo and Karachi for Rs. 15,000 and then just see their reaction!

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  • Mona
    Aug 9, 2011 - 3:44PM

    @Laila
    For embroideries that are sold for upto Rs 1200000 ( Rs 1.2 million ) are you telling me that all the lady earns is Rs 50000!!!! There is something really wrong here. Paki women are being taken for a total ride by these Australians.

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  • Laila
    Aug 9, 2011 - 4:33PM

    @MysticSoul that is how much the embroiderers actually make from the not for profit projects. Isn’t that amazing! I have met with them. Some of them have even been able to purchase land from their earnings, a first for Chitrali women from this segment of society. And the ones I spoke to knew the selling price for the bags. One even said that sale price of the end product doesn’t matter, what matters is what they are able to earn from it, what the working hours are like and the attitude of the people who they work for.

    Do you know of any business that will determine it’s selling price by the opinion of it’s workforce? It seems that you have a personal dislike for foreigners that you are using inappropriate language to talk about them on a public forum like this. Or you have a personal problem with the Braid sisters.

    Btw Rs. 7000 was mentioned as minimum wage by you. I had told you that an international standard fair wage is based on that and some more, which means that fair wage is usually more than minimum wage monetarily and it also encompasses a lot of other benefits. The minimum wage for a skilled worker a lot more.

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  • Laila
    Aug 9, 2011 - 4:35PM

    @Mona I was there at the exhibition of these textiles and the price was no where even near what you have written. So kindly stop making this amount up. I even bought one so I do know what they cost.

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  • Rabia
    Aug 9, 2011 - 9:29PM

    Amazing. I love the Ramzan Diaries concept. What a wonderful and innovative idea. I also saw the 99 names of Allah textile. Beautiful. Well done.

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  • Tauseef
    Aug 9, 2011 - 10:59PM

    Just bought a Polly & me for my wife after reading this article. The quality is excellent. In Pakistan usually most things are lacking in finish. But this is excellent. And my wife loved it and loves me even more for gifting her a Polly & me.

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  • MysticSoul
    Aug 9, 2011 - 11:43PM

    @ Laila
    Hey, i think I made my point with some logics and as Voltaire said I will disagree with you to the my last breathe but I will give up my life for your right to disagree with me. And as concluding remark here is a tweet in my Timeline for you, “One of most embarrassing and ego hurting incidents of life are when you scream and shout on a cause to discover the cause was wrong “. Khushan hal bos!Recommend

  • syra
    Aug 10, 2011 - 6:45AM

    @Laila:
    thanks for your all the above comments , but the statement of yours still remains unanswered …
    please answer it specifically ..
    regards
    ”Also the Braid sisters do a project every year that is not for profit, meaning all the earnings go back to the embroiderers.’ …Recommend

  • Laila
    Aug 10, 2011 - 2:15PM

    MysticSoul & Syra I think you are the same person and your sole objective seems to be to vilify. You guys don’t even have the sense or sensibility to recognise a good deed, such is your personal vendetta. Your loss. It seems that you just want to try to make less income for Chtirali women. A selfish pursuit.

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  • BagLover
    Aug 10, 2011 - 2:20PM

    Love the bags and the initiative. Simply gorgeous!! Also love that they are made in Pakistan!! I went to your Facebook page and loved the pictures of the morning chai & sewing circles. I was especially happy to see you use women and not child labour like the other brand making similar bags. Kudos to you.

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  • M
    Aug 10, 2011 - 3:41PM

    Thank you for this wonderful article. Good research and very informative. I own 6 Poly & me bags because of the good quality and beautiful patterns. Haven’t bought a designer bag on my trips abroad ever since I discovered Polly & me.

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  • omer
    Aug 12, 2011 - 4:23AM

    @Laila:
    Loved the way you are doing PR for the Brand, and avoiding the questions created by your own staments , very smart ma’am :)

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  • Laila
    Aug 13, 2011 - 6:18PM

    I think you Omer and Syra have not been able to comprehend the answers provided nor do you understand finance:-)). Love it how you guys all seem to be doing Chitrali women a favour by trying to take away work from them. How patriotic and charitable:-)

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  • B
    Aug 14, 2011 - 12:08PM

    Lovely write up. Am a big fan of Polly & me bags and wear them with pride cause they are Made in Pakistan. Everywhere I go people always admire my Polly & me, my bag always starts a conversation. Just yesterday a friend who also makes leather bags for export, really admired and appreciated the quality and attention to detail and finish of my Polly & me. He said that this is the quality standard to follow. Way to go ladies, job well done.

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  • Saqib
    Aug 15, 2011 - 9:03AM

    @Laila:
    all comments are good, liked the way every one is doing their bit , but still one comment needs to be cleared by the commenter ; ‘meaning all the earnings go back to the embroiderers.’ ‘- HOW ?

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  • Laila
    Aug 15, 2011 - 10:09AM

    @Saqib, I think you actually are Omer, Syra, MysticSoul. You still haven’y answered my question as to why you girls are out on a personal vendetta? Are you girls threatened by the business of these Australian sisters that you have to make up stories and issues that are lies and post them here? To me it seems you ladies doth protest too much:-)). Maybe you girls are jealous of the success they have achieved and you haven’t.

    Remember it is better for you and for Pakistan if you focus your energies on positive endeavour, instead of spreading lies about others.

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  • Scute
    Aug 15, 2011 - 10:53AM

    @Laila, i appreciate your effort to support and promote a good cause but i wonder why you are hesitant in answering how all the earnings go back to the embroiders…..

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  • Zahra
    Aug 15, 2011 - 11:08AM

    Hello, I just bought my first Polly & me after reading this article. Thank you for making such beautiful bags!! OMG they are amazing. I have never seen such pretty and well made bags from Pakistan. Best gift to myself on independence weekend.Recommend

  • Laila
    Aug 15, 2011 - 12:02PM

    Dude read all of the replies above and the answers are provided. Stop imagining I am hesitant:-)). You girls are really funny. Talk about active imaginations.Recommend

  • MysticSoul
    Aug 16, 2011 - 1:32AM

    @Laila:
    lady wy u are obsessed wth the idea that I am a girl and write with different names…grow up, i m not a kid of 10 just playing with you. and for god sake dont paint my whole objection to the cause as if I have some personal grudges with the sisters…Initially you started well but your later stance is really disappointing..!

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  • amir
    Aug 17, 2011 - 8:51AM

    @Laila: you know it sounda that the statement as created, by purpose to create a hype and then left it unanswered like politicians, and bring the conspiracy theory of one person impersonating as many, really enjoying it , and hence appreciate this controversial promotion of Brand :D
    Kudos to Laila and her questioners….
    p.s : Laila please never answer them what they want to hear, we’are supporting your all the way ! :D

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  • B
    Aug 18, 2011 - 5:29PM

    To all the critics above: You can see Polly & me’s receipts of the payments made to the women, the prices the textiles have sold at and the cost of production. I have seen them. So I suggest all those who are creating this bad air, to please contact Polly & Me via their Facebook page and ask to see the receipts instead of spreading incorrect information and speculations.

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  • omer
    Aug 19, 2011 - 1:59PM

    Well said B,now this will stop the commenting over a sense less comment made by one of the reader above that She couldn’t prove hence started coming with conspiracy theories!

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