Traditional Afghan jewellery with a twist

Traditional Afghan jewellery with a twist

Three years ago, social entrepreneur Sophia Swire approached Amrapali Jewels with a proposal to arrange a workshop in Jaipur for Afghan women to train them in jewellery making.  The idea was to make them self-sufficient and find means to generate regular income for these women who live in a war-torn country.

Around the same time, Swire was busy spreading word about this workshop in Afghanistan. She was surprised to receive overwhelming response for the application, but was clear in her strategy. “We weren’t choosing random people. We were looking for women who had character, personality and leadership qualities to train other people,” Swire, who was in the city, tells Metrolife.

Swire selected 36 women from Balkh province in the northern part of landlocked mountainous country. These women travelled to Jaipur and participated in skill enhancement training programme  for six months as a part of Amrapali’s CSR activity. “For us it was a great opportunity to do something away from commercial business,” says Suman Anand Khanna, head of operations, Delhi.

“The main focus was to train them in practices and prepare them to create something for international market. The idea was to make them self-sufficient and it could be achieved only if they were able to sell their products. So sustainability was the key to succeed,” she says.

This association is now scripting its own success story and one of the prominent faces to be emerged from it is of Khala Zada, a woman in her fifties, who has trained around 360 people after undergoing training in Jaipur.

Afghanistan is known for its lapis jewellery and these artisans work with this deep-blue semi-precious stone to create modern products by taking design motifs from the region’s traditional jewellery. “Their traditional jewellery is extremely heavy. They create light and modern products with layered components to produce jewellery for the
millennial generation,” says Swire.

Swire is the executive chairman of Future Brilliance, a non-profit organisation that stresses on vocational training of local Afghans to help them build a prosperous future. Aayenda jewellery is one of its projects and through this they work closely with women artisans, and then sell contemporary jewellery created by them in different countries.
“The collection is designed to keep the jet set traveller in mind. The one who travels a lot and likes to pick up something that is light and bright,” says Swire.

“Lapis and turquoise goes well with resort wear,” she adds, adding they have roped in three international designers to help these women create modern designs.

The focus, Swire says, is to make artisans self-sufficient. “We don’t want to hold their hands forever. They have understood the importance of quality control and drawbacks of shipping substandard products. They are doing well and hope the trend continues,”
she adds.

Aayenda, meaning “future” in the Afghan language of Dari, is now an acclaimed fair-trade brand, selling at 40 leading retailers internationally, including Donna Karan’s iconic store in New York.

“We also sell in Sri Lanka and Maldives and hope to sell soon in India,” says Swire.
Shilpa Raina

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