Heritage crafts have taken a sudden and much needed turn towards fashion. Whether it’s the collaboration of the government organistation Aik Hunar Aik Nagar (Ahan) with designer Sahar Atif and the subsequent exhibition at the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week last year, or the Saarc initiative Saarc Business Association of Home Based Workers (Sabah) portraying their recent collection at Nepal, those working for the revival of craft have understood the need to marry heritage with fashion to create a viable product. The Express Tribune speaks to Saad Khan, CEO of Sabah Pakistan, upon his return from a fashion showcase in Nepal about female empowerment through craft and its future in fashion.
How does it help to have the Saarc countries involved in a women empowerment project such as Sabah?
There are projects that have previously worked towards women empowerment but in pockets. Sabah is different in this way because it’s based on a regional platform which leads to more exposure, outreach and impact. It provides an opportunity for artisan women workers from all Saarc countries to share their experiences and truly feel part of a larger community outside their own small rural settings. This has a huge impact on their self-esteem and allows for continuation and preservation of traditional embroidery skills.
On what level does Sabah manage to empower women involved with it?
It is our primary objective to economically empower women by creating income opportunities for them that can be sustained over a long period of time. Our members eventually graduate to small independent business owners that can sell their products to the market directly. We work very closely with them in areas of design, quality and what trends sell in the market. Most importantly we are providing them with a platform to market and sell their goods without exploiting their wages and earnings. We are a fair trade organisation and ensure that our members realise the value of their work. Our consumers also feel proud buying Sabah products since almost 40 per cent of the revenue goes directly to the home based women workers.
Does this initiative have any impact on Indo-Pak relations?
India is a huge market for Pakistani products, especially apparel. I believe that this collective effort will improve regional ties and create a sense of familiarity outside the usual norms, which so far have been through music and films. Not only does it impact Indo-Pak relations but it also brings us closer to other Saarc members, which are equally important for regional empowerment.
Which Sabah products interest buyers the most?
Our unique embroidery interests buyers and the fact that we fuse traditional and trendy to make products that are affordable. There is hardly any novelty factor to it but more so it is utility based. Sabah’s outlet in Islamabad is a lifestyle shop where you can purchase handmade quality products such as apparel, home textiles, gift accessories and blue pottery. Our shoe racks, laundry hampers, wooden trays and blue art pottery are customer favourites.
What local designers would you want to assist you with Sabah (and which have been doing so in the past)?
Nilofer Shahid has been a mentor to our designer for the recent Ananta Nepal programme. She guided our lead designer Aneela Urooj in the early stages of design development and fabric selection. Nickie and Nina also supported Sabah Pakistan at our very first Annual General Meeting and our home based women workers (members) were thrilled to see them sitting amongst them. It was a great show of support.
What did Sabah showcase in Nepal and what did the organisation learn from the exhibition?
Ananta Nepal was a celebration of the Home Based Women Workers in the Saarc region under the umbrella of Sabah projects. Sabah Pakistan showcased their Jisti collection which had a unique embroidery from the Hazara district. There were other designers present from Nepal and India as well. Our collection was widely appreciated by local and foreign press. The ramp show was followed by two days of an open house exhibition, where Sabah Pakistan was the only counterpart from the region to sell its entire stock. The response from the other Saarc country consumers was overwhelming.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 3rd, 2011.