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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Brands reviving ancient textile crafts of Pakistan

Working with small communities of artisans nationwide, rural Pakistani designers are behind some popular Pakistani brands that are reviving ancient crafts that have been passed down for centuries are emerging due to insatiable appetite for fast fashion.

Right under the hard shell of Pakistan’s socio-economic state is a wonderful world of craft that manages to emerge as a ray of light every like taarkashi, done by young girls working in Punjab’s paddy fields, is plucked onto an intricately hand-embroidered tunic.

Similarly the shrines of Bhit Shah are known for their Sufism but the cauldrons bubbling away with ajrakh dyes at their feet have other stories to tell. They are narrated on hand-printed chaddars, warding off bad luck with their deep indigo azrak hues and sacred geometrical patterns.

Snake charmers pass an interesting tradition from one generation to another. The male child, on birth is gifted a snake as a symbol of prosperity. And that coiled cobra is wrapped in a colourful patchwork dulai (quilt) embroidered in rilli and kantha work that the women stitch by hand. It’s a craft that is as endangered as this vibrant community.

Andleeb Rana, a former fashion model and editor, went in search of these nomadic jogi tribes and began sourcing these patchwork dulais to upcyle them as patchwork kimono jackets and shrugs. Her artisanal brand Bulbul was born deep in the deserts of Tharparkar; in the hopes of creating a bridge between craft and fashion.

Aneela Rabbani Khar, gave up a corporate career to take on farming in her ancestral village, Khar Gharbi. Lawyer by profession, Aneela manages the Dara Foundation Girls School and also oversees the Dastkari Centre which gives its young female students vocational training. To give them financial strength was one way to keep them out of underage marriages.

It was also an innovative way to keep the dying art of Banarasi embroidery alive. Several techniques of fine needlepoint, like taarkashi and mirrorwork are mastered, before embroidering the purest, locally spun cotton tunics for the brand, Handmade in Dara. The monochrome tunics are embossed with miniatures, featuring leitmotifs of the land.

Aiming to paint some colour back into their lives, Afsheen Numair began working with pockets of women in Sanghar, not just providing them with a steady income year-round, but also keeping dying crafts of the region alive. Her brand, Blocked, has recreated traditional blocks with modern motifs. She also fine-tunes skills like rilli, keengri and tassel-making for saris and stylishly designed cord sets that are all the rage in urban centres.

Strengthening a bond between art and modern design is key to its sustainability and working on this model in Dera Ghazi Khan is London-based entrepreneur Fatima Bukhari. A Cordon Bleu chef by profession, she gave up her culinary career to bring the flavours of her homeland to the high street. Aiming to globalize the basic kurta, she reimagined the kachcha tanka, smocking and needlework done in her hometown upon trendy colour palettes. Her brand, Princess and the Cake caters to young women and children, hence the name.

The ancient craft of ajrakh printing can be traced back several centuries to Mohenjodaro, which faced extinction if it weren’t for revivalists from certain Pakistani brands. These ajrakh shawls pass through a complex, labour-intensive process that involves several stages of fabric preparation, natural dye extraction, fixing and design. Originally made for emperors, shawls featuring versions of the trefoil pattern were meant to ward off evil. The new versions introduce a variation of fabrics and colours, breaking into altogether territory.

Noorjehan Bilgrami an artist has been working tirelessly on craft revival in Pakistan since 1998, and her brand Koel is carrying her legacy as sweetly as the birdsong. From working on the cultivation of the near-extinct Indigofera Tinctoria plant from which the priceless indigo dye is extracted for the ajrakhs, to reviving the rusting looms of Orangi town, Bilgrami has created a legacy of her own.

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