In the courtyard of Tasleem Bibi's home, women huddle around stretched white linen to keep alive the fine embroidery that is their Punjab heritage . . . and their only hope of livelihood. Azra, Aleeza, Sobia, Kalsom, and Usma; Naheed, Nadia, Munaza, Shumaila and Sumera; Rabia, Khatija and Rafia all shown here, are working on a dress for Ibu. They are among 2700 women in Pakistan registered with Project Rang, though many more want to work should work be found.
A few months prior, back in the Ibu studio, we looked at samples of embroidery from this Project and began to envision a new design for our World Dress Collection. Pillows and scarves, much easier to sell in the West, had been the focus of their efforts. But a dress! That's exciting; the women wanted the challenge.
There aren't that many businesses willing to take on artisan work in fashion. Sizing is difficult. Trends are unknown, palettes are confusing. (Am I crazy?) Without the direction of a partner in the West, it is daunting for any cooperative to attempt. But with this project, and the Ibu team counseling through every step, the women were eager to give it a try.
I have never been to Pakistan. I am connected to these women through an accomplished designer in Islamabad, Samina Mahmud, who has dedicated her life to improving the quality of handwork in Pakistan, and the lives of women who carry this skill. Samina is a strong bridge, generously spanning two worlds and making this work possible.
Samina tells me that most of the women live in mud and brick two-room dwellings which whole extended families call home and may be the sole breadwinner as the unemployment rate among men is very high. She pays through a mechanism that puts the income earned directly in the hands of the women and gives them control over their earnings.
As sales and work have increased, the attitude of the women has changed greatly, Samina writes. They have become more professional and dedicated . . . and the quality of their work has improved beyond my expectations. A woman works for 6 days, 6 hours a day, to complete each dress for Ibu. The results are stunningly fine.
Coming to your important question about what Ibu can do for us, Samina continued in a recent message to me . . . the answer would be to give us more work.
We're deep into designs for our Fall Collection and can't wait to collaborate again with Samina and give the women of the Punjab what they want most: more work. Creative work. Proud work. Work that turns their lives around.
Just like these women have given me my work which I love, love utterly. Just like they have turned my life around. Just like they have made me proud - and you, too, I hope - proud to be creative partners in crafting hope.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker