Afghanistan’s celebrated cultural traditions of hand-embroidery Increasingly Outing Itself to the Fashion World at Large- a Peaceful Secret Weapon to Increasing Economic Participation Through Afghanistan's World Famous Hand Embroidery
From the detailed handiwork to intricate designs both traditional and modern, Afghanistan’s hand-embroidery traditions often mirror culture itself. The fine textiles, rugs and other embroidered products deliver an important traditional product, created by artistic women who have inherited the skills from previous generations. In a country where fewer than 1 in 6 women take part in the workforce, Afghan women dedicate themselves to preserving their traditional, elegant, authentic embroidery.
This magnificent long-known tradition is known as goldozi, meaning embroidery in the Dari language, and is often made at home and in communal sewing circles. The embroidery adorns the fashion savvy, celebrating milestones such as wedding dresses and bridal goods, infant sets, and children’s clothing. Well-known western designers in Paris and New York often obtain this prized embroidery, incorporating it into their highly valued custom made-to-order clothing. In Spain and in Italy where shawls are often incorporated into their favorite apparel, Afghan shawls are highly sought after. The importance of this industry is woven into the Afghan social fabric. It is estimated up to 1/5 of the industry is produced by at-home women embroiderers. The production of these amazing fabrics is marketed to local merchants and global customers by the women’s male relatives to adhere to the strict Islamic tradition of the country.
There is tremendous market potential for this traditional embroidery, particularly with increased attention via fashion industry media. Being featured in the media, at fashion universities, such as Fashion Institute of Technology and Parson's, excites and inspires the women working to create the embroidery at home and brings great pride in the featuring the beauty of this rich, traditional Afghan industry.
Named for the magnificent intricate embroidery it promotes, the Goldozi Project was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by FHI360. Toni Christiansen, the FHI360 technical specialist, focused on increasing the awareness of the traditional embroidery products by educating and training women to be more entrepreneurial in a climate that presents cultural biases, social inequities, insufficient access to technical and financial resources and limited mobility. By addressing some of these issues, the project will advance women’s participation by increasing job opportunities and the export potential for Afghan hand-embroidered goods.
A critical element of the project is training lead entrepreneurs from the local Afghan communities with the skills necessary to improve the quality, design, production, and marketing of the embroidered products. Lead entrepreneurs in turn, work with and manage women embroiderers and producer groups to deliver merchandise for local, regional and export markets and expand the horizons of their market to reach the fashion industries in France, Italy, and the United States.
A Goldozi Certificate Program was developed to capitalize on the well-honed embroidery skills by elevating the knowledge of designs and entrepreneurial talents of the women to create jobs, as well as broadening the market demand and export potential. The methodology of teaching this training program is new in Afghanistan, having been designed as an interactive curriculum to encourage trainee participation, analysis, problem-solving, decision-making and teamwork. It is led by a facilitator to promote discovery learning and discussion rather than memory classes led by a teacher. Based on the facilitator’s continual assessments, he/she will be able to adjust the pace and content of the curriculum to ensure trainees have mastered the basic competencies to function in their new roles.
Toni Christiansen underscored that to be competitive in markets, especially the export market, traditional embroidery must incorporate contemporary colors, fashion designs and trends. Given the need to produce new, higher-quality, attractive motifs on a variety of products, several artisan and higher education I invited institutions in India to submit proposals to train Goldozi master trainers.
Archana Surana, Founder and Director of ARCH College of Design and Business in Jaipur, India, is known for her leadership, vision, and business acumen. ARCH is an internationally recognized design institution that promotes innovation and offers entrepreneurs the requisite skills to succeed in highly competitive markets and was the ideal location for the training venue. Ms. Surana and the talented ARCH faculty created a two-week training program in design and business for nine Afghan master trainers. The course of study at the ARCH campus in Jaipur, emphasized design-thinking which includes the basis and principles for design, pattern and motif making, tracing transfer, types of embroidery, product diversity & development. Participants also received training in pricing/cost, financial modeling, marketing, sales/branding, and the use of social media.
The women who participated in the training then returned to Afghanistan with an outstanding educational experience, business entrepreneurship training and a spirit of inspiration, as most had never traveled abroad. These master trainers will be now able to advance the overall Goldozi project objectives, serving as role models and sharing their newly honed skills with inspiration, motivation, and increased self-confidence.
The project’s Senior Learning Specialist, Gulsom, grew up under the Taliban regime and had been told that her economic destiny and role as a woman was staying at home and learning how to embroider. When she became a teenager and experienced more freedom, she decided that stitching was not her calling and returned to grade school as one of the oldest female students. The teasing from other students did not deter her from pursuing her goal to finish school and continue to the university. She received her bachelor’s degree in education and subsequently received a scholarship to study for her master’s degree in India.
After working with many international organizations in the fields of education and program management, she was selected to manage the overall capacity development portfolio of the Goldozi project. She is an inspirational and outstanding example of a strong Afghan woman that other ambitious ladies can learn from and follow as a role model. This success story of her becoming a Learning Specialist managing this component of the Goldozi project, is an open door to aspire to.
The Goldozi Certificate Program allows the lead entrepreneurs to gain leadership experience and complete the program with an official document certified by the Afghan Learning Specialist. Women participating in the project are then better prepared to make individual, household and business decisions utilizing their entrepreneurial skill, helping them to become more active participants in the greater Afghan economy.
For more information on the Goldozi Project: https://www.fhi360.org/projects/goldozi