One of the things that makes MADE51 special is our network of social enterprise partners based in refugee-hosting countries. These businesses work directly with refugee artisans to create unique MADE51 products, market them to buyers, manage production and fulfill orders. Through these businesses, refugees earn fair wages, enhance their artisan skills, and - in many cases - get the chance to connect with the local community. Our 'Founder Series' showcases the story behind these businesses, and the people that bring them to life.
Artisan Links is a Fair Trade business with a mission to empower women in marginalized communities by assisting them in gaining economic security using their artistic talents. Artisan Links has headquarters in Peshawar, Pakistan and works with Afghan refugees to preserve Afghan culture by creating beautiful apparel, accessories, and home décor pieces that showcase the Middle Eastern embroidery techniques of Kandahari, Pukadozi and beyond.
Tahira Afridi, the founder of Artisan Links, is a go-getter whose work is her passion. We're thrilled she shared her story with us.
Tell us a little bit about your social enterprise – where are you based, what products are you making, and who is your main customer?
Based in Peshawar Pakistan, Artisan Links is a socially responsible fair-trade business featuring products that contribute to a sustainable future. As the only guaranteed member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), each product we create is beautifully handcrafted by our team of women-only artisans, composed of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and the local marginalized Pakistani artisans. We empower women in marginalized communities by helping them gain economic security and encouraging them to exploit their artistic expertise.
We have a strong belief in the importance of cultural preservation. Based on this, we translate traditional embroidery techniques into contemporary designs, developing exquisite hand embroidered apparel, home furnishings, gifts, accessories and more.
We take great pride in being a specialised production house that provides high quality, bespoke designs to fulfill our customer’s creative requirements. Our team of highly trained sample makers and quality control staff take extra care in producing custom-made art pieces.
What inspired you to start this business?
I joined the organization (Zardozi – Markets for Afghan Artisans, an NGO established by the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR) in 2006) as a volunteer, helping with design and production.
A few years later when it was decided to close down the organization I decided to take over and along with my team we re-built the organization and turned it into a responsible business. We made sure job opportunities were created and our artisans were given a chance to earn a sustainable income through the art they knew well, hand embroidery.
How many artisans do you work with and where are they from? For the refugee artisans, what are their lives like outside of work? What kind of work opportunities do their family members and spouses have?
We work with 850 artisans, 600 of them are Afghan refugees and the rest are local artisans. Regarding their families, most of the refugees in Pakistan are laborers on daily wages, though the younger ones are studying and working with non profit organizations, or working as servers at restaurants and hotels, shop keepers, or small scale entrepreneurs.
Artisan Links' Artisan Mah Bano works on the embroidery for the Dawn Rooster ornament that's part of MADE51's Holiday Collection.
Photo By: Saiyna Bashir
What inspired you to start working with refugees?
The art the refugees were associated with inspired me to work with them further. The beautiful embroidered pieces they created were exceptional. I am a creative person too, so I was at the right place, with the right people, doing the right job.
What craft techniques do the refugee artisans you work with artisans specialise in, and where did they learn these skills?
The artisans we work with are embroiderers. Traditionally Afghan mothers make sure their daughters learn embroidering from a young age. It is part of their training while growing up. Girls make their own dowries by embroidering clothing, wall art, pillows, runners, caps etc. These pieces they take to their new homes after they get married.
What makes the techniques of the artisans you work with special?
Every region of Afghanistan has its own embroidery technique. Culturally rich Afghanistan produces many exquisite pieces of embroidery. The main techniques we work with are:
This technique, also known as Hazara embroidery, first originated from central Afghanistan. ‘Tar’ means thread, and ‘shumar’ means counting – this embroidery technique is very fine and precise. It is known to be a work of art, embroidered on materials such as silk and cotton. The designs are usually based on rectangles and are multi-coloured. They are worked in silk thread on a cotton ground, using a brick stitch or short satin stitches, with dividing lines worked in black and white, or even gold.
This technique, also known as Khamak (sewing), is an intricate form of embroidery from the province of Kandahar, Afghanistan. Khamak is a very delicate style of hand embroidery which makes use of a very thin needle. The designs involve geometric shapes which when combined, create beautiful motifs. Each silk stitch transforms into flowers, leaves, trees, birds, mountains and more!
‘Pukhta’ means strong and ‘dozi’ means embroidery – this technique originated in Uzbekistan until Nomadic Uzbeks took the tradition to neighbouring countries such as Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. This form of embroidery uses a type of satin stitch to produce huge embroideries which are often used to cover one wall of a guest room.
‘Zanjeera’ is a Dari word which means chain and ‘dozi’ means embroidery. This stitch is popular amongst women from Ghazni, Afghanistan. The embroidery technique includes geometric and floral patterns which are delicately embroidered by silk and cotton thread.
Afghan refugee women work on embroidery using their heritage skills for an order for CHLOE- a French luxury brand.
What have you learned about the refugee crisis from working with these artisans?
It's not fair for anyone to be displaced from their country and live as a refugee elsewhere, but we are witnessing more and more people being forced to leave their homeland and live under restricted living conditions. They don't have the freedom of movement or many job opportunities, they are away from their families and in a culturally different environment. All these hostile conditions take a toll on a person. I have seen many older women still missing their homes. I strongly believe, wherever it is possible, effort should be made to have them go back to their homeland, safe and secure. Till their return, the host community should make sure to extend a helping hand and try to make their difficult lives easier.
What has been the most challenging part about working with refugees, and what has been the most rewarding?
The language barrier at times and the distance of the refugee artisan villages from our workshop has been challenging to work with but over the years now it's manageable. Knowing that we are making a difference by providing sustainable income to the refugees and respecting their cultural values at the same time is most rewarding.