As part of the run up to DO Day 2019 on October 18th, we’ll feature a series of articles written by a selection of our DO Day organizers from around the globe. This week’s guest post is written by entrepreneur, eco fashion designer and founder of Namyr, Zahra Amber.
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The artisan sector is the second-largest employer in the developing world. Millions of people in developing countries around the globe—mostly women—contribute to the artisan economy, practicing traditional crafts as a means to earn income and sustain their livelihoods. According to a statistical report by Inter-American Development Bank, “If the artisan industry, globally, were a country, it would be equal to the fourth-largest economy in the world with the fourth-largest workforce and rank ninth in the value of exports.” Unfortunately however, this sector is associated with backwardness.
Working with skilled rural and semi nomadic, tribal artisans of Pakistan gave me a broader understanding of their problems, including how these artisans are living below living wage and deprived of basic amenities. The skilled artisans are one of the few ways to keep the cultural heritage alive. In my experience, many organizations working with local artisans are more interested in temporary business rather than providing support, empowerment, and an improved standard of living for the artisans themselves.
Having worked in the fashion industry, I am very aware of the extreme pollution the industry creates. While this awareness is certainly beginning to grow in the West, with various sustainability and environmental initiatives closely connected to fashion on the rise, there is still a way to go. Therefore, it’s high time to connect with artisans with eco-friendly enterprises/brands!
In 2016, a UNESCO design consultancy took me to a community in the north of Pakistan where I was captivated by the talent of the aboriginal people. I spent six months living with an indigenous community in Kalash. Observing their organic lifestyle and their love for mother earth deeply impressed me: the women use indigenous techniques of back strap weaving to create contemporary designs by using eco-friendly material such as organic wool and natural dyes. Working with these women made me realize that the community needed a lot more than just training, they also need access to mainstream markets that could provide the with more income. I was so impressed by their designs that I felt they should be widely available. And so I founded Namyr, a brand under wich the artisans from local communities could develop and trade high-fashion, organic, handmade products.
I am thrilled to be representing Namyr in this year’s DO Day. I’m organizing an event at one of the most prestigious fashion institutes of Pakistan, The Millennium Universal College Bahria Springs, where I also teach. The aim of the workshop is to create awareness around the local artisan communities and to help emerging, young designers to rediscover the role and rights of artisans within the fashion industry. We also want to bring to everybody’s attention the role the Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative plays in cultural heritage protection for such artisans in Pakistan.
I have planned to use a Design Thinking framework for the DO Day workshop. Together with the students, we will work on real problems the artisan groups face. The students will outline an action plan to implement the solutions they create. This will include the key benefits, service offerings, target stakeholders, context and timeframe. With this information, I can support the students in making their design technique more sustainable and focusing more on issues of diversity, social exploitation, and environmentalism. I strongly believe that training design students to become conscious producers will bring about a major shift in the dynamics of the fashion industry and the artisan community of Pakistan.
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