Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Friday, October 7, 2011

DOING MORE . . . Beshtar High-Fashion from Afghanistan found in Dubai

Note: This article was originally published in fancyzipper.com (second part).


Can one be socially conscious and fashionable at the same time?

If you are shopping at Beshtar, Livia Firth, the unofficial spokeswoman for socially conscious fashion, says you can.

Images of Afghanistan include haunting visions of women covered head to toe in blue fabric with only a small screen to peek through; scenes of a war ravaged countryside where homes and farmland are destroyed; and pictures of women and children whose eyes silently speak of terror and lost hope.  

Can anything of beauty come from such a country?

Talented American fashion designer Carole Laugier Naim sorts through these images to find beauty and hope in her designs made from traditional crafts and fabrics of her adopted Afghanistan.

Carole moved to Dubai in 2005 with her two children and husband. The move to Dubai was made because her husband was asked to join his grandfather him in his new role.  


The purpose of the family’s first trip to Afghanistan was to provide their children with a meaningful cultural experience with their country of paternal birthright. During this process, Carole’s artistic senses were heightened by the rich ethnic beauty of the Afghan crafts and heritage designs and her long anticipated dream of having her own fashion label.    

Falling in love with the rustic majesty of the tribal fabrics, colors and designs, Carole set out to create couture fashions to counteract the despondent images of Afghanistan seen daily in the media. And while doing so, bring hope and help to the Afghan women who have so fiercely safeguarded the cherished handicrafts of their ancestors. 

 “My hope is that my designs will showcase the beauty of this country through its unique design and products,” said Carole who received her BFA with honors from the University of Notre Dame, USA; a degree in Fashion from Parsons School of Design, Paris; and a Masters in Design & Technology from Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design, London.   

Socially conscious fashion designers have been around for many years selling their products under the flags of eco-friendly, sweatshop free, recycled materials and the like.  Today, here in the Middle East, we see many small entrepreneurs offering products made by indigenous people from impoverished third-world countries. They give back a portion of the proceeds in order to empower the craftsmen and women to achieve some level of self-sufficiency.   

Beshtar Fashion DesignStudio takes fabrics and jewelry made by Afghan women or purchased in the bazaars, like Chicken Street Bazaar in Kabul, and fashions them into unique couture designs for her socially conscious clients. Her first collection in 2010 used antique cloth from Afghanistan. Subsequent designs have incorporated wall hangings, men’s turban fabric and tribal jewelry.

Livia Firth

Beshtar’s most famous client is Livia Firth, wife of award winning actor Colin Firth, and the granddame of sustainable fashion. Her Green Carpet Challenge encourages the world top fashionistas to dress in ethical, sustainable and green fashions as they strut down red carpets all over the world.  

Seen here in a burqa dress worn for last March’s Vogue Pre-Bafta Party, she has worn Beshtar designs all over London and in LA, including parties honoring her Oscar-winning husband Colin.

 Carole’s clients’ favorite material is the ubiquitous burqa worn by Afghanistan women. Initially concerned that the use of this blue material, now a universal symbol of the repression of women, would be found offensive, Carole was delighted to find her clients appreciated the irony and beauty of her sophisticated designs and snapped them up quickly.

Tina Tragalis

Local Dubai ladies who love to strut out in Beshtar fashions include Tina Tragakis, an American expat celebrating her 26th year living abroad. “Carole takes historical Afghan motifs and turn them into beautiful modern creations that set them apart from other designers. There is so much love and history in the designs that each time I wear them I enjoy them more. My closet is full of Beshtar's creations and every one is unique and very special."
Dianne Giles

American expat from Dallas, Texas, Dianne Gile, declares, "Carole's designs are so stunning, not just for their beautiful design, but more importantly for the statement made by the use of the burqa fabric. Each time I wear a Beshtar design I know it represents an Afghan women's dreams, hopes and desires for herself and her daughters. Carole's designs bring to our attention in the most beautiful way that women's creativity cannot be crushed by a culture that under values their rights."

Beshtar’s philosophy is summed up in its name - it is the dari word meaning “more.” That more should and can be done for the Afghans who are involved in the sourcing and making of all the items. 

A portion of the profits are returned to the craftsmen and women through the Zaher Shah Foundation to address unmet needs in this war-torn country and to help the Afghan people do more for themselves through the use of their own skills and the materials found and made in their country.

 “A Western approach to the business combined with an Eastern background and influence helps Beshtar to make a difference in a world heading more and more towards a convergence of the East and West” said Carole.

Beshtar is currently represented in London by Fashion ComPASSION, a premium ethical fashion house that markets and distributes luxury brands with a social mandate. 

But, Carole has even bigger plans for the brand.

Today, materials are sourced in Afghanistan with tailoring and finishing of the products completed in Dubai to ensure a high standard of quality. The goal is to migrate the business back to Afghanistan opening an atelier school of excellence where the indigenous crafts such as embroidery, jewelry-making, calligraphy, woodworking, stone cutting and sewing would be preserved and taught to new artisans.

“It is my dream that this will become a sustainable business for the local artisans and their country. We want to make certain that we don’t just take from the country. We want to give back in a meaningful way. My clients will help make this dream come true,” said Carole. 

For today’s fashionable woman who is immensely concerned with being relevant, purposeful and sensitive, the challenge is how to be stylish and socially conscious at the same time. 

Can you accept Livia Firth’s Green Carpet Challenge?  

Beshtar is a good first step and your purchase will make you feel good!

Are you up to the challenge?

In Dubai, Carole’s designs can be seen in her new shop and gallery Tarmeem located in the Al Ghazal Mall, at ZINZIN in the Mercato Mall,  and The “O” Concept Boutique around the corner from Jumeirah Mosque.  Also, online at fashioncompassion.com

Charities supported by Beshtar Fashions through contribution made to The Zaher Shah Foundation: 

The Zaher Shah Foundation, established in 2008 to safeguard the legacy of HM Mohammed Zaher Shah, the last King of Afghanistan and his vision of peace prosperity and hope for the people of Afghanistan, is committed to reducing poverty in the Afghan community by facilitating microfinance programs and the establishment of income generating projects. The Foundation funds local small businesses, vocational training and helps to expand commercial channels to facilitate the trade of indigenous products and into foreign markets.

Afghan Women’s Educational Center is a non-political, non-profit and non-governmental local organization headed by women that supports vulnerable women and children by initiating educational and skills based programs and projects that aim to change their living condition and sustain a better life for them. Centres are located throughout most of the providences of Afghanistan.



Aschiana, which means “nest,” is a registered NGO in Afghanistan that has developed educational centres throughout Afghanistan specifically for children who must work on the streets to help their families survive.  Their skills development program focuses on indigenous crafts and skills such a carpet weaving, tailoring, chicken raising and bakeries.  

Gardens for Life is a registered NGO in Canada and Afghanistan. It is focuses on training women in horticultural skills for the purpose of becoming self sufficient. Reading and writing skills are also taught. The Garden Training Centre, located on His Majesty Mohammed Zaher Shah, the last King of Afghanistan,  Private Estate in Karez-e-Mir in Shakardarah is a horticultural skills training facility.



Postscript . . .
Let's go shopping . . . Old and new clients celebrated with Carole the opening of her store Tarmeem in the Al Ghazal Mall located on the corner of Al Wasl Road and Al Diyafah Street. Go by and see her collection, you won't be disappointed.  If Carole is not there see her partner Teresa Godlewska a great art and interior design consultant.


Tarmeem Opening video .  .enjoy!



video


6 comments:

  1. Very interesting post, Katie, although I'm not sure how I feel about it all.

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  2. Feel good about helping some women who have few opportunities.

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  3. Great article, as usual. Too bad I didn't know about it when I was there but I'll definitely check out the website.

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  4. Liked this post a lot. You always have something new and interesting to share about Dubai and the people here.
    Tina and Dianne look really nice and the designs are lovely. Maybe will drop by one of these days.

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  5. You definitely should stop by. I just picked up my "burqa" dress - a beautiful cream colored mid calf length dress - and I love it! Carole and Teresa have such a nice selection to choose from and can even have special one made just fore you!

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  6. I know your show every corporal good design,But also consider some other things,thanks for commenting.

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