I’m currently in Pakistan by invitation of the USAID organization to work with women artisans in Pakistan on product development and getting them export ready. As an international buyer for my fair trade business, World Shoppe, the goal is to work with the women on products and collections that would appeal to the Western market to increase economic development for the women and their communities.
Now that I’ve spent a few days here I can say I’m pleasantly surprised at what I’ve learned about the culture and from the women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. One of the things I was most concerned about was my dress – and it turned out not to be as big a deal as I thought it would be. Granted, I’m glad I purchased some loose fitting clothes but I’ve not once covered my head in public with a scarf. Certainly some women are wearing burkas but many are wearing comfortable shalwar kameez, a sort of long tunic over pants.
Clothing issues aside, I was excited to see how very similar we in the U.S. are to our Pakistani sisters. We both love fashion and design. We love shopping. We love good food and good friends. And, at the end of the day, we want to get it done.
In Pakistan with a Common Goal
We came together with a common goal – to find a way to work together to help provide work opportunities to artisans in Pakistan. The women are committed and came prepared with designs and ideas. Many of the designs still need a lot of work (the Pakistani culture appreciates a LOT of embellishments and colors in their designs) but the quality and craftsmanship are definitely there and ready to be tapped.
A big surprise to me was that while this is a culture still dominated by men in many situations, many of the women with whom I’ve met employ men to execute their designs. That blew me away because I had a hard time wrapping my head around a traditional Pakistani man working for a woman. It was refreshing to see that both the women and the men were comfortable breaking traditional stereotypes when it came to work roles.
As a result of my visit, there are several women with whom I’ve begun dialogue on designs and have already visited with at their homes or studios.
Amna designs and creates sterling silver jewelry using traditional techniques with a modern design aesthetic; Beena is multi-talented in embroidery work and designing handbags, scarves and other women’s accessories and apparel; Nadia is following her family’s jewelry business footsteps but following her own path designing and producing pewter and sterling silver fine jewelry. While all three can speak English very well and we can communicate via modern technology, the aide of a translator was needed to speak with other women who only spoke Urdu. But even then I could tell it wouldn’t be a problem since business is an international language.
With some women we wasted no time and I’ve already placed sample orders and will be bringing many samples back to the United States to show at summer trade shows. Product development and quality control will be an important next step with other women but we’re both enthusiastic and optimistic about the possibilities and look forward to connecting again shortly after I return to the U.S.
Whether we’re sitting in a woman’s living room, in an office setting, or across the world doing business together, what struck me most about all of the women I’ve met during this journey so far is the feeling that we, as women, will get it done. And we will.