Afghan Textile Stories Travel from Kabul to Cleveland

Enjoy this dispatch author Mary Littrell sent us from a textile conference she and co-author Rangina Hamidi attended in early November. Thanks, Mary!

Each fall, over 500 university professors in fashion design and retailing gather for their annual conference of the International Textile and Apparel Association.  A highlight each year is the Jan Else Distinguished International Scholar/Practitioner Lecture.

Last spring, my colleague Jana Hawley and I nominated Rangina Hamidi, co-author of Embroidering within Boundaries: Afghan Women Creating a Future, for this honor.  She was selected! The book chronicles Rangina’s journey as she fled with her family to Pakistan at age four, immigrated to the United States where she earned her B.A degree from the University of Virginia, and eventually returned to Afghanistan to help rebuild her country after 9/11.

Members of Kandahar Treasure stitch khamak at their home in Kandahar. Photo by Mary Littrell from Embroidering within Boundaries.

She formed Kandahar Treasure (KT) to address the dire needs of Afghan women who continue to be ignored by decision makers and leaders in the region’s male-dominated society. KT’s strategy for change focuses on the women’s exquisite hand embroidery by establishing markets locally and abroad. Khamak embroidery is unique to Kandahar and considered by textile scholars as one of the most beautiful and intricate forms of embellishment in the world. Through their work, KT assists women in contributing economically to their households, thus reducing dependency on men.

Rangina arrived from Kabul, Afghanistan to Cleveland, Ohio on November 6, ready to share the Kandahar Treasure story.  She titled the talk “Social Enterprise: Empowering Afghan Women. ” Her emphasis on sustainability of design and community clearly tied to the conference theme of “Reimagine the Renewable.” As Rangina spoke of the challenging daily lives of women in war torn Afghanistan, she held the audience in her hand. Telling women’s stories of their newfound identity and strength as members of KT added further power to the presentation. As the talk ended her books flew off the sales shelf and in a two-hour period she sold 125 scarves and shawls.

Rangina at the ITAA conference, selling Kandahar Treasure khamak embroidery and her award-winning book, Embroidering within Boundaries. Photo by Mary Littrell

I asked Rangina to describe her experience at the ITAA conference. Here are her words.

“I honestly had no idea what to expect coming here even after reading a bit about the conference on the website. But, I felt the welcome right away. I am grateful for being selected for this opportunity and it is good to be in the company of people who are experts on what the women of Kandahar are producing–textiles. It was good not to have to explain to buyers that the fine work of khamak was done by hand. Since the attendees were experts of textiles, they automatically flipped the work and looked at the back to confirm that this was indeed handwork. The whole day following the presentation people were coming up and thanking me and asking more questions. A woman shared she was halfway through the book she had purchased the night before and she enjoyed reading every page of it!

Left: Rangina enjoys time with a graduate student from the University of Missouri, pleased with his new khamak scarf. Right: Rangina and a graduate student from Saudi Arabia wearing her beautiful khamak scarf. Photos by Mary Littrell.

I am thankful to Thrums Books and the opportunity to be able to continuously raise the voice of the many artisans whose voices need a continuous hearing—especially as the political and financial situation of Afghanistan is at stake.The icing on the cake is being invited to London in the summer of 2019 as a keynote speaker at an international conference: Sustainability in Fashion. This invitation was extended at the end of my talk by Gill Stark, conference co-organizer and professor at Regent’s University, London, who was in the audience.”

Rangina’s opportunity to tell the powerful story of Kandahar Treasure continues from Kabul to Cleveland and now, on to London!

—Mary Littrell

Enjoy 20% off all of our books through December 20 and free shipping!

If your order totals $100 or more, we’ll include a free copy of our hardcover collector’s edition of Embroidering within Boundaries. Each numbered book features a unique piece of khamak embroidery inset in the cover, stitched by the artisans at Kandahar Treasure.


3 thoughts on “Afghan Textile Stories Travel from Kabul to Cleveland

  1. Jannes J Gibson says:

    What a wonderful opportunity for Rangina and the International Textile and Apparel Association to share information and the beautiful story of Kandahar Treasure – it is very special to hear some good news about Afghanistan, a country we loved living in from 1968-1970.

  2. Cathy Stevulak says:

    Thank you Rangina and Mary for broadening awareness of the impact of handwork and heritage preservation on lives.
    Your book is not only full of beautiful text and images, but it brings forward the voices of women whose stories and talents inspire.

  3. Deborah Chandler says:

    This is excellent. As a non-fashion person, but one very involved in traditional indigenous textiles and the complex issue of how to sustain them, I am hugely encouraged every time I see stories about the fashion industry embracing ancient textile cultures in a positive way. It’s not just The Devil Wears Prada nor any of that limited image that those of us on the outside have. Thank you, Mary, and so many others working hard to create a connected and richer world.

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