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.