At a time where hand bags have suffered immensely from the herd mentality of fake designer bags with gauche logos to bags big enough to fit a doberman in, two women have gone to other extreme and produced something so original, you have to be an ‘original’ yourself to be able to carry them. Tough task that is, but Zainab Ulmulk and Nadia Malik of Krizmah aren’t shy of taking this risk. Graphic design graduates from the National College of Arts, these young women decided to put their design prowess to use when Zainab, who hails from the royal family of Chitral, was approached repeatedly by the women of her village to utilize their craft creatively. Thankfully the duo didn’t step onto the ‘designer clothes’ bandwagon and frankly admit, “We probably don’t have a sense for clothes any way” in a casual tete-a-tete with The Express Tribune.
The name of the brand has an enthralling history and is not a funky twist on the word charisma, as one would normally think, but instead is the name of a type of flower (in the khowar language) that grows in Chitral around Ulmulk’s ancestral fort. “As children we would weave things out of the krizmah that grew around our home in Chitral. But it also has a special significance since it used to be my grandfather’s official seal,” explains UlMulk of the choice of name for her brand which is as much a commercial enterprise as it is an effort to be socially conscious. “There is no concept of giving back to the community,” bemoans Malik who wants to dedicate a percentage of sales to be invested back in Chitral. At the moment the women are salaried employees of the brand but work according to their own schedules and household commitments on the fabric sent to them. Which is why, it takes up to six weeks to complete one bag on average. “They are filthy when they come back to us to Lahore,” confides Malik who says that they have to give each piece a thorough scrub before they can use them. So for those clients, who feel that a tapestry bag may be impractical because it could get stained, have no fear; the fabric can be cleaned with the usual cloth cleaning mechanism.
A unique pairing of leather and fabric, Krizmah carries an unconventional collection sporting motifs from traditional legends and folk lores such as ‘Butterfly Chai’, the ‘Vanishing Pordoom’, ‘Tree of life’ and the immensely popular ‘Hashim Begum,’ which was auctioned at the English Ballet Gala. So in a sense not only are these bags a vehicle for one’s personal belongings but also a vehicle of our cultural mores. Immaculately finished with the krizmah motifed lining, each piece is a fascinating work of art, with no negative space in the embroidery, it appears as a tapestry has been sewn onto the leather. And like a prized collection of art it is priced relatively high when compared to the general accepted ceiling for accessories; ranging from USD 225 to 400 (for local sales they accept both rupees and dollars), which is quite a steal for a bag with personality and heritage in comparison to the bland designer wares (and those darn ubiquitous Louis Vuittons and Birkins) that every society begum is sporting to show off her thousands of dollars investment in them.
Realising that finding true connoisseurs of art and style in Pakistan may be nerve wracking, the designer duo have opted instead to sell their bags online and target the international market. “We want Krizmah to become an international renowned name and are working towards gifting the bags to celebrities abroad so they become brand ambassadors for them in a way,” shares ulMulk whose family runs the hotel Hindukush Heights in Chitral.
The hotel was awarded for being amongst the top hundred hotels in the world by Harper’s Bazaar and has been visited by the likes of Robert de Niro. Given UlMulk’s association with Hollywood stars, it perhaps isn’t as farfetched as it seems to get a celebrity endorsement for their brand. Stars like Angelina Jolie who possess true style and have visited Pakistan more than once, might readily agree to promote a fashion initiative linked with the revival of crafts in a remote village.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2011.