Krizmah: Designer bags with a conscience

Published: March 16, 2011
Sporting motifs from traditional legends and folklore, each bag takes up to six weeks to complete. DESIGN: AMNA IQBAL

Sporting motifs from traditional legends and folklore, each bag takes up to six weeks to complete. DESIGN: AMNA IQBAL

Sporting motifs from traditional legends and folklore, each bag takes up to six weeks to complete. DESIGN: AMNA IQBAL Sporting motifs from traditional legends and folklore, each bag takes up to six weeks to complete. DESIGN: AMNA IQBAL Sporting motifs from traditional legends and folklore, each bag takes up to six weeks to complete. DESIGN: AMNA IQBAL Sporting motifs from traditional legends and folklore, each bag takes up to six weeks to complete. DESIGN: AMNA IQBAL

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.

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Reader Comments (28)

  • Azaadi
    Mar 17, 2011 - 2:08PM

    This label is a copy cat of Polly and Me. The business concept is exactly the same and a large number of designs are also a rip-off. The artisans were initially trained by the two Australian girls who spent many months living in Chitral. A remarkable feat for anyone, especially foreigners. They love Pakistan and it’s people and tried to provide livelihood to rural Pakistani women. But typical of us Pakistanis we have shown our true colours by copying the exact tagline, the concept of stories behind bags based on everyday Chitrali lives, even the patterns on the owl bags and the patterns on the teacups and butterfles. Even the info on the business is almost exactly the same as Polly and Me.

    The ladies who run this copycat business claim that the work just uses one tanka that everyone does in Chitral. Well fine, but then why copy the entire idea, designs, stories etc. One should take pride in individuality and creativity. When will Pakistanis learn that. Recommend

  • Zoe
    Mar 17, 2011 - 2:12PM

    The bags are stunning; this much is true. Perhaps it’s the cynic in me, but unfortunately I can’t embrace this company without at least a hint of skepticism, because I’ve seen that more often than not, poor women are taken advantage of because they don’t have much bargaining power. I wonder if Krizmah will make their books public? Phrases like ‘socially responsible’ are often bandied about but seldom have real meaning when it comes to commercial enterprises. How much is each woman embroiderer paid? More importantly, what minuscule percentage is this amount of the $200-400 charged per bag?Recommend

  • Azaadi
    Mar 17, 2011 - 2:22PM

    This label can actually be sued for the amount of plagiarism.Recommend

  • rabiya mumtaz
    Mar 17, 2011 - 5:24PM

    I’ve just read the comments above, and I’d like to say a few words. Ulmulk and Malik set out on this venture because they were persistently approached by the women of chitral. Before starting this venture, their main reason was that although Polly and Me trained these women from scratch, they weren’t paying these women much. They set out on this venture with the intention of paying them more than them. As far as their designs are concerned, I’ve seen many a Polly and Me bags but never have I seen the designs that Krizmah has brought forth. So let’s not be skeptical of our own fellow countrymen and give credit where it is due. Its really not an easy venture specially if it entails jumping back and forth from lahore to chitral, given the current political and fundamentalist situation. .Recommend

  • ghazala Ulmulk
    Mar 17, 2011 - 7:28PM

    Enjoyed the article on Krizmah…I feel that this is not plagiarism as the designs are their own and none have been copied. Polly and me in my opinion are doing wonderful work themselves and they should be happy that more women of Chitral are getting exposure through their beautiful work and ofcourse money in their pockets..which is the idea! If they are not worried who are Azaadi and Zoe may i ask to object? The Ulmulks have the benefit of Chitral’s on the whole very close to their heart and no one can ever point a finger at their sense of fairness. Let’s encourage all who think of doing and promoting the poor of any area in Pakistan rather then being small minded! Keep up the good work Polly&Me and Krizmah, i am a big fan of yours!!Recommend

  • Fiona Clapp
    Mar 17, 2011 - 8:15PM

    Yes sadly these bags look a lot like Polly and Me. I have the owls one that I bought 2 years ago I think.Recommend

  • ghazala Ulmulk
    Mar 17, 2011 - 8:19PM

    Enjoyed reading the article on Krizmah. I dont believe this is plagiarism as this is completely their own original designs. I am an admirer of Polly& me they too are doing good work..the main idea is to empower the poor women of chitral behind the whole concept, so who are Azaadi and Zoe to object? Both the companies should be happy that they are providing a source of income to these ladies in Chitral. Is that not the whole point? their well being is close to their heart as they belong to the land No one can point a finger at the Ulmulks for their fairness to the people of Chitral. All said and done Polly&Me and Krizmah are both doing so well…keep up your lovely work! Stop criticizing and encourage them folks!! In Pakistan when will people learn to appreciate and stop demoralizing new comers. Recommend

  • Asfandyar
    Mar 17, 2011 - 9:01PM

    Although one must give credit to Krizmah for also doing their part to empower the women of Chitral, but that does not justify plagiarism of some of the content and designs of Polly&me. I for one am disappointed by some of the activities of these copycats. One can visit the Polly&me website and see the facts and decide for oneself.Recommend

  • Sehr
    Mar 18, 2011 - 6:42AM

    Why is it that every time someone goes out to do something to promote our culture there are so many cynics?I’m sure Polly and me have been doing a great job but I also know that they don’t have sole rights over these womens embroideries.the disigns of krizma appear original and for me tell a deeper story which is evident as one of the partners is from the area and probably has a deeper and more realistic insight into these womens lives.furthermore as is true for any fashion businesss,nobody has rights on a certain type of embroidery and see so many clothing flaunting fashion outlets using using various styles of embroidery.many designers are going out to rural areas and getting work done,but as long as the finished product looks different it’s ok.I have seen krizma bags and they dontreplicate Polly and me sdesigns or style in anyway.I feel the more people giving work to these poor,talented women,the better.good luck krizma!Recommend

  • Fiona Clapp
    Mar 18, 2011 - 8:36AM

    I don’t think the first comments are discouraging women in business. They are pointing out some ethical issues which are valid. Its great to give more work to rural women and anyone doing it is commendable. But the fact is that a lot of the designs are too close to Polly and me and the business concept is identical. Also Polly and Me bags come with a story too. I would have appreciated the newcomers if they had been original. I wish them well and my intentions are not to put women down. I just cannot endorse a brand that is not original.Recommend

  • SM
    Mar 18, 2011 - 12:42PM

    ::azaadi totally agree.. this is the work of polly and me.
    nuthing original.Recommend

  • Shahista
    Mar 18, 2011 - 1:46PM

    Frankly ladies lets call a spade a spade. You saw a great idea and you were in a position to copy it and expand on it. It is irrelevant whether you are doing a good service to the women of Chitral, because you are doing a tremendous disservice to Polly and Me by plagararising their work. Not very noble actions from one of noble birth. Yet another example of how crooked Pakistanis can be. And I am also seriously questioning the journalistic integrity of the writer of this article, Ms. Hani Taha.Recommend

  • Shahista
    Mar 18, 2011 - 1:47PM

    You will be deluded to think people are not rolling their eyes at you behind your back.Recommend

  • Irfan Hussain
    Mar 18, 2011 - 1:58PM

    I bought 2 Polly & Me bags for my wife and daughter, because I thought they contributed to the economy of my country and I felt extremely proud of our crafts women and these Australian entrepreneurs who come up with this idea. Now I just feel angry and ashamed that some Pakistanis have plagerised their concept and design and top of it all trying to give it their own spin. My sympathies are with the women of Polly & Me who must be feeling terribly let down by the people of Pakistan thanks to you ladies.

    Copycat Zindabad.Recommend

  • gav
    Mar 18, 2011 - 6:50PM

    Krizmah and Polly & Me are obviously identical in more ways than one… but then so are Breguet and Patek phillipe, honda and toyota, louis vitton and gucci etc etc

    Polly and me pioneered the idea and Krizmah followed suit on what is obviously a sound concept both from a humanitarian as well as a business point of view. What is important is that the designs/motifs of the two brands are individual and represent the different style of the two designers.

    Instead of getting in a huff about copycat-ism and the fickle nature of Pakistanis – lets focus on the entreprenuerial nature of Krizmah. If they are able to produce a quality product which has a market and also provides help to the poor then good for them. If they are able to compete with the brand that pioneered the Chitrali handbag industry than even better. In fact the more people who enter this market will only serve to help improve prices and quality for the consumer. (remember Adam Smith???)

    The first entrant was Polly and Me, now followed by Krizmah, hopefully in the years to come maybe a brand pioneered by the craftswoman will become a possibility.

    Perhaps it would have helped ease the critical nature of the comments above if the article referenced Polly & Me as the brand that pioneered the concept.Recommend

  • TH
    Mar 18, 2011 - 9:14PM

    Actually there is some misinformation in the article as well. The crafts women making the bags for the new comers are not on their payroll. I did a little investigation and these are the same women who make the bags for Polly & Me. And yes some of the patterns are too similar to be reflective of the original styles of the new designers. Honda and Toyota do not copy each other nor do Gucci and LV, nor do they use the same employees. They compete with new innovations and designs to be market leaders. That is what a healthy business does and that is what true designers do. The conerns raised are not discrediting the business spirit of the new venture, but are pointing out the ethical issues which are 100% valid. Recommend

  • TH
    Mar 18, 2011 - 11:26PM

    One more thing, the statement by Rabia Mumatz that Polly & Me were not paying these women much is incorrect. In fact these crafts women have had their lives transformed due to the income and work provided by Polly & Me. Some have even bought land. So it’s quite bad to first copy someone but then to spread untruths about them is completely immoral.Recommend

  • Rabia Khan
    Mar 19, 2011 - 9:51PM

    I went to hear one of the girls from Polly&me talk at IVS in Karachi a few years back, and since then I have been a fan. I was so distressed to hear about Krizmah, and now to read the article and some of the comments. Let me get some facts straight:
    Firstly, Ulmulk and Malik did not create something original, they just copyed the concept of hand-embroidered bags, copyed the concept of stories on the bags, and were even so un-unique to copy words from the Polly&me website. Come on girls, where is your “conscience”??
    Secondly, the women who embroider the bags for Polly&me also created the designs behind their Gup Shup collection – these special bags tell the women’s own stories – real-life stories of exchanging food during Eid, their hopes and dreams, the seasons around them. These women are not listing royal type fairytales that Ulmulk heard as she grew up … they are telling their real-life stories, and then embroidering these stories. That puts Polly&me at such a different level to Krizmah. I know which one I would prefer to wear and talk about! Thirdly, how can anyone say the women aren’t being paid enough? Polly&me had a non-profit aspect to their work, where the foreign women braved all security issues and went and lived with the artisans and worked with them to develop their stories and art. The textile pieces the artisans made then sold, and ALL THE MONEY WENT BACK TO THE ARTISANS. I called some local friends in Chitral to check – it is true that over $40,000 went straight back into that hands of the artisans from this non-profit venture.
    It distresses me, as a Pakistani, to see my fellow country-women plagarise so badly. If they really wanted to “give back to their community”, why didn’t they think of employing other women who didn’t already have jobs (there are plenty), or training them in another craft?? And why are they (and the ill-informed author of this Express Tribune article) so intent on spreading untruths about others who are actually giving back to communities not even their own.Recommend

  • Zoe
    Mar 20, 2011 - 8:43AM

    @ghazala Ulmulk:
    How fitting that your last name is Ulmulk. I’m sure you’re really unbiased!

    I for one am going to spread the word about rampant plagiarism (how true that both the business model and the designs are almost identical to Polly and Me!) and exploitation (yeah right that this company pays women more than Polly and Me – how much do they get paid per piece, may I ask???) as far and wide as I can, until I receive concrete proof to the contrary.

    And I’m sure everyone is aware that in a place like Pakistan where only a small percentage of people can afford $200 bags, word will spread!

    Who’s with me?Recommend

  • Shandana
    Mar 20, 2011 - 12:30PM

    @ Zoe: We all are with you. Everyone should boycott this brand for plagiarism and spreading malicious untruths about the original brand.

    This Malik seems to have no clue about the amount of money Pakistanis give back to the community. Pakistanis give $1.6 billion in philanthropy every year, an amount that is more than the US aid we get per year. What bimbo world does she live in?? Someone who can be so clueless about the reality in Pakistan obviously has never given back to the community. Recommend

  • Nadia Khan
    Mar 20, 2011 - 5:34PM

    @ Zoe very good suggestion. I am sickened this behaviour.

    @ Ghazala, since you share the same last name then yes you probably are biased, but you cannot deny the truth the others are pointing out, nor object to them not liking this plagiarism. It’s a free world. If these ladies have felt free to copy, then the rest of us are also free to object to it. But I hope that somewhere in your heart you have the decency to admit that what your relative and her partner has done is really wrong. I would have thought that the royalty of Chitral would have had better moral standards.Recommend

  • ABP
    Mar 22, 2011 - 8:35PM

    Where’s the free market people? Can we quit arguing about plagiarism and Molly & Me vs. Krizmah? Have we lost the point in all this? It is to benefit the women of Chitral. I say, lets have more companies like P&M and K all over Pakistan. Art is art and has many forms and impressions. We are all ‘inspired’ by someone’s creations, so who is original here after all? P&M certainly did not come up with the designs; they are the work of the Chitrali women who have passed on their art from generation to generation. And while we are trying to open our minds, lets not get personal either; are we 10 years old? Grow up you critics. Good job Krizmah and please continue with your efforts. And as for P&M, you need to show us some proof of payment to the Chitrali women so that the rumors can be quelled. Recommend

  • TH
    Mar 23, 2011 - 12:16AM

    @ABP the designs Polly & Me make on the bags are their own original designs. They trained these women how to utilise an embroidery skill into this kind of art. These are not designs the women have passed from generation to generation. So please don’t spread more untruths. The women the newcomers are benefitting from have been trained by Polly & Me. Learn to give credit where credit is due.

    What is most off-putting in this article and the defence of Krizmah is the lies you guys are spreading about the pioneer brand. If the article and the comments defending hadnt spread so many incorrect things then there would have been less criticism.

    Take a trip to Chitral and ask the women who embroider how much they earn from Polly & Me and how their lives have changed over the past few years.Recommend

  • Shahid Butt
    Mar 23, 2011 - 12:15PM

    This is ridiculous. I manufacture for many US retailers, and the blatant way they rip off designs from each other is hilarious. No one criticizes them, instead like zombies we rush to their stores to pay inflated prices for status symbols. Here we have a localized cottage industry which is benefiting the WOMEN of the area and people are attacking these two women. Do we not need women in business in our country? Do we not need women providing women employment? Instead we as usual are showing our inferiority complex. We need to stick together and encourage our fellow Pakistanis. I am sure they are taking inspiration from all the various designers of the world, so does EVERYBODY.
    And just because someone shares the same last name it does not mean they cant comment. You may call Ghazala Ul Mulk biased, but have you devoted your life to the betterment of the people of Chitral? Maybe you should GO TO CHITRAL and you will see the Ul Mulks on the ground there, living there, providing people jobs there, being community leaders and giving the poor hope and guidance. We are the Pakistanis who are holding the damm together and living here, pushing back the Taliban and risking our lives. We have the means but have not run away to the west. These girls have every right to conduct buisness. And dont forget my first point, the US and European retailers are the master of stealing eachothers designs. Recommend

  • Rabia Khan
    Mar 24, 2011 - 3:43AM

    ABP – you are doing your countrymen and women a disfavour by misrepresenting the truth.

    What would have been more beneficial to the women of Chitral would be to use their embroidery (or even their weaving skills) for another (non-copying) medium. Or even – revolutionary idea though it is – to invest in other women WHO DONT ALREADY HAVE JOBS. Go up to Chitral, and you will see there are plenty of those.

    While you are up in Chitral, you might want to check out the Commerce College, where one of the sons of a Polly&me artisan is now attending. He is the first one in his family to go to higher education. Or speak to the artisan who is about to become one of the first female land-owners in Chitral. All made possible with embroidery money from the Gup Shup project. Do you seriously think the women would continue working if they were not being paid???

    Please get your facts straight before you comment next time.Recommend

  • ABP
    Mar 24, 2011 - 7:59PM

    TH and Rabia Khan thank you so much for pointing out the “truth” to me…i.e. examples of 2 Chitrali women who have allegedly benefited from Polly & Me’s work in 2 + years. Wow…I am impressed and stand corrected.
    Fyi, I am an attorney and in my world, we need to disprove allegations with real proof, not just words. How about showing some pictures, pay stubs, testimonials etc. (or web links to such information) to show that there really are more than 2 Chitrali women benefitting from P&M’s work. And while you are at it, please show us how P&M “taught” Chitrali women how to use their skills in something as revolutionary as…gasp, a handbag! It would actually be interesting to see P&M’s tax returns (if they did pay taxes) vs. the total income of their local workers. Proof is after all in the pudding.
    This is where I am ending my side of the argument. You guys can continue to argue till the cows come home (like you have been with the other commentators), but until I and the other pro free market supporters see some actual proof, your argument is just one thing: words (and talk IS cheap). Recommend

  • Nighat R
    Mar 25, 2011 - 1:42PM

    @ Shahid Butt: Thank you for admitting the designs are a copy.

    @ ABP lets see the tax information, pay stubs of the new company as well. And lets see also if the workers they use are actually on their payroll as they claim.Recommend

  • Zoe
    Mar 30, 2011 - 5:05PM

    @Shahid Butt:
    Hardly. Like the earlier example of comparing Toyota to Honda (or whatever ludicrous comparison it was) – your argument is flawed, and to be frank, completely unfounded. American and European designers compete – and compete aggressively. Moreover, they take accusations of plagiarism seriously, and are always trying to outdo each other by showing exactly how different they are. To compare a blatant ripoff to international designers just because they’re Pakistani is ludicrous. The Krizma women are hardly marginal Pakistani women – they belong to the landowning, exploitative classes that have made Pakistan the corrupt, poverty-stricken country that it is today. As for helping the Chitrali women, I’m still not convinced that Krizma’s ‘help’ is the answer. If it were, they would give a (large) portion of the $200 per bag to the women in question – which they don’t. They are simply exploiting the skills that were provided by Polly and Me to their own benefit – how exactly does that help? Recommend

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