IEEW Intern Sonja Sparks Shares About Afghan Fashion

“Everyone recognises the blue burqa as Afghan clothing, so I thought: ‘Let’s make something else out of this and show them what Afghan women are capable of.'” – Hasina Aimaq, Class of 2019, pictured above with IEEW intern, Sonja Sparks, at Leadership Development Graduation Gala.

This past July I was fortunate enough to be able to take some time away and spend it with the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® class of 2019 at their Leadership Development held at the AT&T University campus in Irving, Texas. Those days spent with the women who all have such incredible stories will forever hold a special place in my heart. I was put face to face with so many talented women, and was able to see some of their hard work displayed in the PTB pop-up shop. I was particularly mesmerized by the Afghan fashion designs.

Fashion in Afghanistan is being modernized but it still shows off the traditional styles of Afghan culture. Long sleeves, pants and headscarves are the staple, however, not all women adhere to headscarves and some fashion designers are setting out to break the mold in other aspects.

Moshina Saqeb, PTB class of 2018, opened up Jama Designing Center in 2017 with the goal of mixing traditional attire with the more western view of modern. Her gorgeous designs have been seen on a few Afghan celebrities including singer Aryana Sayeed. While the fabric and designs stay traditional, there are a few of her pieces which show off the shoulders. 

Now, let me tell you, from the moment you see all the amazing items that the ladies have handmade and brought over to sell in PTB’s annual pop-up, you will already feel your pursestrings loosening. We’ve all had that moment, right? You walk into the store and you see the most amazing article of clothing and it’s miraculously in your size? That’s how I felt when I laid eyes on one of Hasina Aimaq’s creations. 

Hasina Aimaq is a graduate of the 2019 class who learned tailoring from her mother at a young age. Her father died early, on leaving Hasina’s mother with her young daughter and no way of earning a living. Her mother tailored the clothing of neighbors to get by, all while secretly taking Hasina to school, which could have seen them both executed had they been found by the Taliban. Hasina has recently started her own bakery but still continues to design dresses, pillow cases, and numerous other items as she has taken over her mother’s business, Hasina Design. Hasina has taken her designs all over Europe, including fashion shows in Milan. There’s one dress in particular that the press is so fascinated by. It’s a gorgeous blue dress which has been made by using the fabric of a deconstructed burqa, and I am the one who is lucky enough to call it my own. 

As soon as I saw that dress I knew it had to be mine. On one shoulder was a devil saying “snatch it up now!” but on the other was an angel saying “listen… you’re here with this program so why don’t you give someone else a try?” I lamented all week over this dress. When I finally decided it needed a permanent home in my closet and Hasina noticed it had been sold she asked who had purchased it. If I thought the smile on my face was big when telling her, it was nothing compared to hers. She was so thrilled that she asked me to wear it to their graduation ceremony later that week. When I asked her if she was sure she replied, “Yes! We are dressing traditional and so you must as well!”. What an absolute honor for the designer of this dress which carries a powerful message to request that I wear it to an important event in her life. 

Afghan women are changing the face of the fashion game in their country and it’s amazing to see their progress, even more so that the press seems to have fallen in love with them as much as I and the rest of the women at IEEW have. These women are absolute trailblazers in an industry that has remained both traditional and everlasting.