Threads of empowerment

by: Daniela Gilbert

July 6, 2010

The brainchild of Farah Malik and Dana Arbib, A Peace Treaty was founded in 2008 after the two women met in Rome while Malik was living there and Arbib was attending her brother’s wedding. Taking a break from her non-profit work in women’s rights, Malik had traveled to Rome to study the art of ancient Roman goldsmithing. “I always had an interest in jewelry,” she says, “dabbling with it on the side” as she worked for a variety of non-profit organizations after completing a master’s program at the London School of Economics.

Arbib, meanwhile, found her calling in design and, after graduating from the Parsons School of Design in New York, worked on freelance design projects for companies such as Sotheby’s, DKNY and the Morgan Library. Eventually though, her humanitarian roots took hold. “I traveled with my father [Walter Arbib, a well- known, award-winning humanitarian] to Ethiopia at a very young age to help him distribute AIDS medication and I saw first hand the impact that could be made,” she says.

Malik, a Pakistani Muslim and Arbib, a Libyan Jew, are a perfect pair – while Arbib waxes poetic about design and inspirations, Malik notes that globally, cottage and family industries are suffering at an alarming rate. “We want to bring these communities into the global economy,” she says. “We are hoping to help them reinvent themselves.”

In addition to creating employment for artisans at above fair-trade rates, paying up to four times the local wages, 10 percent of A Peace Treaty’s sales go to Counterpart International, a company whose mission is to empower vulnerable people to implement innovative, holistic and enduring solutions to social, economic and environmental challenges.

So far, proceeds from A PeaceTreaty’s sales have helped give medical supplies to people in Darfur, as well as aid and medicine for Palestinian children and helped support women’s rights and reconstruction in Afghanistan.

The women have also found a variety of communities to produce their goods in – they commissioned a group of Pakistanis that could block-print silk by hand, a technique that is practically unheard of in today’s world of disposable fashion; they traveled to the Himalayan Mountains to work with women artisans that weave cashmere shawls made of the shedding hairs of Capra Hircus mountain goats – a long and painstaking process; they even found a way to produce traditional African textiles in India after working in Africa proved to be a challenge.

For their most recent hand-knit alpaca collection of wraps, ponchos and hats – named Pitania – Malik and Arbib found their inspiration from both ancient Incan iconography as well as the simple geometric patterns and unlikely color pairings found within women’s weaving workshops during the Bauhaus art movement of the early 1900’s.

Naturally, explaining this inspiration to the group that would create the collection – indigenous Aymara and Quechua communities nestled deep in the Andes Mountains – could prove to be difficult. Would they understand Bauhaus?

Absolutely, says Malik. “Not only are we dealing with true artists here,” she says, “but we have learned to figuratively speak their language.”

One example from a prior collection found Arbib trying to define the faded black color she wanted to a group of Afghans. “Like a burkha after 10 years in the sun,” was how she described it. “They understood completely,” she says.

Jewelry, a new category for Spring 2010, grew out of a mutual love, but more importantly, Arbib and Malik saw it as a way to expand the collection and help some of the new communities they had seen in their travels. “We’re excited about the jewelry,” says Arbib, noting that she is currently experimenting with materials outside of metal for future lines.

Entitled Sunari – “female goldsmith” in the Pashto language – the first collection is inspired by the Kuchi nomadic tribes of Afghanistan and the Turkoman tribes of Central Asia.The 24 gold-plated pieces feature geometric patterns on amulets and talismans that are hand carved and formed into pendants and earrings, as well as a selection of stackable and two-finger rings.

The biggest challenge of manufacturing in their roster of coun- tries—Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan,Turkey, Peru, Bolivia and India, their latest venture – say Malik and Arbib, is undoubtedly meeting their store’s delivery calendars.The solution? “We are constantly producing,” says Arbib. Adds Malik, “Within a collection there are three or four shadow collections which keeps everyone working and gives all of our retail chains something different.”

A retail chain that was well thought of was denied –“we turned Saks down at first because we didn’t want to grow so quickly,” says Arbib.Today, their list of retail outlets is impressive: Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Fred Segal and Harvey Nichols, as well as early supporters Shopbop, Rugby Ralph Lauren, Henri Bendel, Oak and Odin.

And while they haven’t had much time to think about future plans – “we went from a small operation in Dana’s apartment to something that is growing every minute,” says Malik – the goal remains the same: to continue to expand the line and seek out more communities to help. For that, they will eventually have to add more staff. “We would love to clone ourselves,” jokes Malik. “Ninety percent of the work is in visiting these communities and producing the goods.”

“There is such love here,” adds Arbib. “Our work is to really highlight the faces behind the brand. We want to be authentic in a way that respects the traditions of the people we work with.”

afghan womn threads of empowerment

Portrait by: Debora Mittelstaedt
Other Images: Courtesy of A Peace Treaty

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