2019 has been quite the year in fashion for Pakistan; successful showcases, models Mushk Kaleem and Alicia Khan strutting down the runway at Milan Fashion Week, and in what was perhaps the biggest fashion moment for Pakistan in recent years, Mahira Khan walking for Karl Lagerfeld at Paris Fashion Week.
It doesn’t stop there though. Mushk and Alicia didn’t walk the runway in just anything; they donned pieces crafted especially for Haitian-Italian designer, Stella Jean, high up in the mountains in Pakistan.
How Chitral stole the show at Milan Fashion Week 2019
Jean showcased her Laboratory of Nations collection at the Milan Fashion Week this year, drawing inspiration from embroidery and craft, indigenous to the locals of Chitral, Kalash and Hunza. How did that come about? Enter 22-year-old Karishma Ali, from the district of Chitral in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Instrumental in bridging the gap between Italy and Pakistan, Karishma collaborated with Jean to make her vision a reality by bringing Chitrali artisans on the world map.
Karishma is no ordinary woman. The young entrepreneur is the first woman from her home-town to represent Pakistan at an international level as a part of the National Women’s Football Team. Not just that, she has also managed to land on the Forbes list of Asia’s 25 Most Influential People Under 25.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Karishma relays how her historic collaboration came to fruition. “I was introduced to Stella Jean by a mutual friend of ours, Zahir Rahimtoola,” she said, referring to the CEO of ECOM who was also deeply involved in making the collection a reality.
Establishing the Chitral Women's Handicrafts Center to provide a platform to local artisans, Karishma’s vision with her NGO seems to now have taken flight. “With the first email I sent to Stella, she won my trust and let me lead this project in Chitral,” said Karishma whose NGO fashioned 400 meters of embroidery for Stella Jean’s collection.
“The motivation behind this handicraft Center was to empower women in the area,” she shared, and by taking their work to the runways of Milan, that’s exactly what she has managed to do. She feels it was the biggest achievement for these women who, despite lacking knowledge of international standards made their mark on an international scale.
Mushk Kaleem gives shout-out to Italian designer for 'paying homage to Pakistan'
“Since my childhood, I have seen them (the artisans) hold this skill and make beautiful pieces of embroidery to give it out for free or almost nothing. I wanted to monetise this particular skill in order to empower them,” she added, going on to share how, because of this one opportunity, more people from the international community are now expressing interest in the work that these women produce.
Hailing from one of the remote villages in Chitral, Karishma was born into a literary family; her parents are the founders of one of the first English medium schools in Karimabad. Karishma relocated to Islamabad to pursue her studies, completing her middle and high school education in the capital, and emerging as a star athlete. Karishma also established Chitral’s first Women’s Sports Club in 2018, where currently 100 female footballers and 45 volleyball players are registered.
Carrying inimitable determination, Karishma has big plans for the future. She wants to train and work with more artisans in an effort to produce local embroidery for local and international markets. “Right now I am able to connect artisans from 10 different villages. In the future, we want to explore more areas in Chitral,” she concluded.
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