A Look at the New Afghan Fashion Label Putting Style in the Spotlight

LamanLogoAfghanistan might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of global fashion hotspots, but that’s going to change if the new clothing label Laman has anything to say about it. The label was launched by a group of young Kabul-based entrepreneurs in 2015. Ever since, it’s been making headlines at home and abroad for its bold interpretations of Afghan fashion. Here’s what you need to know about this stylish startup.

 

It taps into Kabul’s history as a fashion capital.

From the 1920s to the 1970s, Kabul enjoyed an international reputation as a hub of fashion and style. The era was reflected in the chic outfits and hairstyles of its citizens, and the world took notice of unique examples of Afghan fashion like the goat-skin coat.

In December 1969, Vogue even ran a cover story titled “Afghan Adventure” that featured some of the country’s young style icons. And although decades of conflict have all but erased the vibrancy of Afghanistan’s fashion traditions, it’s precisely this spirit of style – a throwback to the country’s golden age of fashion – that Laman hopes to revive.

 

It’s headed by a sibling duo.

Laman is currently helmed by the brother-sister team of Haseeb and Rahiba Rahimi. As president, the self-taught Rahiba is the company’s lead designer. Ever since she was a child seeing her mother wearing dresses and scarves with traditional Afghan embroidery, she has wanted to have her own design company that would claim and celebrate her country’s cultural heritage.

Her brother Haseeb serves as the label’s CEO, supporting the company through his experience in business, economics, and finance. The two siblings launched the label with fellow co-founder Khalid Wardak, a designer and graduate of a fashion school in London, but he has since left the company to pursue other projects.

Together, the team has done pioneering work in advancing the business of fashion in Afghanistan. Because there was no pre-existing business model, the founders had to start completely from scratch: getting proper government authorizations, researching suppliers, establishing a production line, and taking care of the all-important marketing aspect of launching a new brand.

 

It blends traditional and contemporary styles.

Laman has become known for its innovative approach to fashion, which presents traditional Afghan designs and styles with a modern twist. The label has focused especially on reviving Afghanistan’s rich tradition of embroidery. These elaborate and detailed designs vary depending on the region and community. Bright colors and patterns are beautifully showcased in Laman’s dresses and suits, which are made of lighter fabrics that are more suitable for modern lifestyles.

Laman has also taken care to ensure that its women’s clothing is acceptable for everyday wear in Afghan society. To this end, the label produces two women’s collections. One features garments that are long and loose enough to be appropriate for public wear. The other features somewhat more fashion-forward designs that are meant to be worn privately in the home.

 

 

It has a diverse clientele.

When Laman first launched, its target market was middle- and upper-class Afghans, both men looking for professional clothes for work and women seeking dressier options for weddings and other formal events. Its clothing ranges in cost from $29, or 2000 Afghanis, for a simple dress, up to $200 for more intricately-embroidered pieces. Today, the label enjoys a diverse clientele, including foreign customers (both within and beyond Afghanistan), government officials, and young girls and boys.

 

Its designs have been seen on television.

An important early breakthrough for Laman came shortly after the label’s launch. The team was asked to design clothing for some of the judges and participants on “Afghan Star,” a hugely-popular reality television show structured like “American Idol.” This early exposure was critical in helping build brand recognition and demand for the label’s unique and trendy designs.

 

It promotes economic empowerment.

Small businesses like Laman play an incredibly important role in Afghanistan’s economic development. From its original three co-founders, Laman has grown to employ more than 30 people. Many of its employees work from home, sewing and embroidering the pieces. This allows people who might not otherwise have economic opportunities to earn an income and help support their families.

In big-picture terms, Afghanistan’s textiles sector is still very under-developed despite high consumer demand. In 2015, for example, Afghanistan spent more than $200 million importing textiles and clothes from countries like China and the United Arab Emirates. If even some of those items could be produced domestically, by companies like Laman, that could be a major contribution to Afghanistan’s economy.

Spotlight on the International Rescue Committee in Afghanistan

A global organization dedicated to responding to the world’s most challenging humanitarian crises, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been helping people rebuild their lives after conflict and natural disaster for more than 80 years. And while the IRC currently operates in more than 30 countries around the globe, it’s in Afghanistan that the organization’s efforts have been the most longstanding.

Read on to learn more about the IRC, its history in Afghanistan, and what the organization has planned for its future efforts in the country.

 

What is the International Rescue Committee?

IRC logoA non-governmental humanitarian aid, relief, and development organization, the IRC provides both emergency aid and long-term assistance to refugees and others displaced or affected by war, persecution, and natural disaster. By focusing on key areas like health, safety, education, economic well-being, and decision-making power, the IRC works to help the world’s most vulnerable people survive and recover from crises and gain control of their futures.

 

How long has the IRC been working in Afghanistan?

Within weeks of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the IRC was on the ground helping support the waves of Afghan refugees flooding into neighboring countries. The organization has continued to provide Afghanistan with relief and development assistance ever since. Some key dates and highlights from the IRC’s more than 30 years in Afghanistan include:

1980 – John Whitehead, then the board president of the IRC, journeyed to the makeshift refugee camps springing up just beyond the borders of Afghanistan. The situation he witnessed, in which more than 5 million Afghans had fled their homeland only to encounter terrible living conditions outside it, proved to be the catalyst for the creation of more permanent IRC operations in the country.

1988 – This year saw the official establishment of IRC operations in Afghanistan, although by this time the IRC had already been operating an extensive relief program in Afghan refugee camps for some years. Mobile clinics and dispensary tents, vocational and self-help programs, and comprehensive educational programs were some of the IRC’s most important contributions to improving the lives of Afghans displaced by conflict.

1989 – Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, many aid agencies also left the country. The IRC was one of the few organizations to remain and to continue operating under the new regime. Working with a dedicated team of Afghan national staff members, the IRC helped with significant rebuilding efforts, including making repairs to roads and irrigation systems and establishing public health and sanitation facilities.

Early 2000s – Following yet another regime change at the start of the new millennium, millions of returning refugees and internally displaced Afghans began to make their way back to their homes. During this period, the IRC intensified its efforts to help Afghanistan rebuild and repair critical infrastructure.

2007 – Education has always been an important tool for the IRC to help people affected by crisis to regain control over their lives and build a better future for themselves. In Afghanistan in 2007, for example, the IRC trained more than 1,000 new teachers, and helped roughly 11,000 students enroll in 400 schools. In addition, nearly 2,000 people graduated from IRC-supported vocational programs.

 

What’s next for the IRC in Afghanistan?

Now that Afghanistan is beginning to establish and sustain modest but important gains, the IRC’s experience and expertise are more critical than ever. In 2017, the IRC published a strategic action plan for Afghanistan, outlining its program priorities through 2020 and detailing the key focus areas and actions that will help Afghanistan move into a new era of stability and prosperity. Particular desired outcomes of this plan include:

Education – Building on its extensive experience in coordinating community-based education for children, the IRC aims to ensure that Afghan children aged 6 to 14 have the opportunity to fully develop their literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skills. Achieving this goal will involve training more teachers, supplying educational materials to classrooms, and partnering with the Ministry of Education to create an evidence-based assessment program to determine the quality of Afghan education services.

Health – Because inadequate sanitation and water supply access are leading causes of disease, the IRC plans to build safe and accessible water and sanitation facilities in the nine Afghan provinces in which the organization currently operates. Community-oriented hygiene awareness and disease prevention programs will also help curtail the spread of illness.

Economic well-being – All Afghans should have the opportunity to earn an income that is sufficient to meet basic needs, build assets, and save for the future. To this end, the IRC will continue to offer skills-based training and apprenticeship programs that prepare participants for skilled, high-demand jobs in Afghanistan’s new economy.

Power and decision-making – The IRC aims to ensure that Afghan citizens have the knowledge and power to influence the decisions that affect them. Community education programs around critical issues like property rights and land expropriation are a key component of this objective.

What You Need to Know about the Afghanistan Music Unit

Not that long ago, traditional Afghan music was almost non-existent in Afghanistan. Civil conflict and poverty had caused many musicians to flee the country, while those who remained were generally unable to play as music was widely banned. In recent years, however, Afghanistan has rediscovered its rich musical heritage and revived traditional instruments, musical styles, and songs.

While Afghanistan’s musical renaissance has been largely spearheaded by local artists and organizations—including the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, the country’s leading institute for music education founded by the dynamic musicologist Dr. Ahmad Sarmast—a number of institutions outside the country have also played an important role in helping preserve Afghan musical traditions during the last few tumultuous decades. Perhaps the best-known of these is the Afghanistan Music Unit, housed in the music department at Goldsmiths, University of London. This research center was founded by ethnomusicology professor and Afghan music specialist Dr. John Baily.

 

What is the Afghanistan Music Unit?

Founded in 2002, the Afghanistan Music Unit (AMU) is dedicated to the study of music in contemporary, post-conflict Afghanistan, and to supporting the revival of traditional Afghan music. Under the direction of its founder, Professor John Baily, AMU conducts extensive research into Afghan music and music history, supports musicians returning to Afghanistan after years of exile, and offers concerts, workshops, and other educational resources about Afghan music to diverse audiences in its home city of London and around the world.

 

 

About the founder of the Afghanistan Music Unit

One of the world’s leading experts on traditional Afghan music, Dr. John Baily has been researching, promoting, and performing Afghan music for more than 30 years. Baily’s strong commitment to the music of Afghanistan began in 1973, when he and his wife, Veronica Doubleday—an accomplished Dari folk singer and expert on women’s music in Afghanistan—spent two years in the western Afghan city of Herat conducting ethnomusicological research. Since that time, Baily’s research has taken him around the world: he has conducted musical investigations in Afghan communities in countries such as Iran and the United States, worked with Afghan musicians worldwide, and helped establish a traditional music school in Kabul. An accomplished rabab player as well as a dedicated researcher, Baily also gives concerts and workshops on traditional Afghan music, organizes Afghan music festivals, and is a co-founder of Ensemble Bakhtar, a UK-based Afghan music collective. Baily’s contributions to the preservation of Afghanistan’s traditional music have been officially recognized by the Afghan Ministry of Culture, and have earned widespread praise from Afghan citizens.

 

The history of the Afghanistan Music Unit and its work

2002—The Afghanistan Music Unit was founded by Dr. John Baily to research and document the state of music during a new era for Afghanistan, and to provide assistance in helping the practice of traditional music recover from an extended period of extreme censorship. To launch AMU, Baily made a month-long investigative visit to Kabul; video footage of this research trip was made into the documentary film A Kabul Music Diary.

2003—Through a commission from the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia (AKMICA), Baily helped establish a Culture Bearers’ Programme in support of traditional Kabuli art music. The program saw four master musicians teaching this musical style to 35 students. The initiative proved so successful that a second AKMICA school was later established in Herat; the Kabul school continues to operate under the leadership of director Mirwaiss Sidiqi.

2004—Supported by the British Institute of Persian Studies, Baily and Doubleday made a research trip to eastern Iran, at the time home to many exiled musicians from Herat. In addition, the area supported a strong traditional music culture very similar to that of Herat. Baily and Doubleday also lectured on Herati music at Tehran University as part of their trip.

2006—Baily and AMU began a period of research, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Diasporas, Migration & Identities Programme, into the presence of Afghan music in London and the role this music plays in connecting London with Kabul and the Afghan diaspora. Key outputs from this research period include a chapter in the book Understanding Afghans, the documentary feature Scenes of Afghan Music: London, Kabul, Hamburg, Dublin, and a concert of Afghan music performed at Goldsmiths.

2008—Baily retired from teaching and administrative duties at Goldsmiths with the goal of focusing full-time on AMU. Funded by a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship, Baily began conducting extensive research on music in Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora during the years 1985 to 2009. Afghan music in Australia was a particular focus area for this project.

 

 

What’s next for the Afghanistan Music Unit?

As part of their mission to make Afghan music more accessible to a wider audience, Baily and Doubleday have plans to digitize their archive—a remarkable collection of audio recordings, super 8 films, still photos, and comprehensive field notes assembled during their early research years in Herat and their many subsequent travels throughout the Afghan diaspora. Baily also hopes to create an online learning module for the study of his primary instrument, the Afghan rabab.