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Vol. 37 No. 8 August 2014
VISION IMPACTS SPARKLE I UDACHNY MINE
134 Rapaport July 201454 Rapaport August 2014
Future Brilliance is
developing a jewelry-
in Afghanistan to
stability in a country
that is isolationist by
nature and that has
BY AMBER MICHELLE
134 Rapaport August 2014
fghanistan is rich in gems, yet one of the poorest countries in the world.
The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Future Brilliance has set up
a lapidary training project for Afghan artisans to develop jewelry created
by local craftspersons using stones that are native to the country.The result is
the Aayenda collection, comprised of jewelry by Afghan designers and artists in
collaboration with U.K.designer Paul Spurgeon and U.S.designersAnna Ruth Henriques
Launched in 2012,the nonprofit NGO’s mission is explained by its founder and chief
executive officer (CEO) Sophia Swire as “enterprise and workforce development for
stability, particularly to get Afghan women into the workforce.”This is not an easy task
since traditionally women inAfghanistan have virtually no rights and usually do not work
outside the home.But,says Swire,“This is a good skill forAfghan women as they can do
the work from home.”She notes that there are some 300 war widows from the Badakshan
Province in the northeastern region of Afghanistan who are carving lapis beads for the
project,two female designers from Ishkashim on the border withTajikistan and one from
Mazar-e-Sharif and another seven women manufacturing jewelry in the capital city of
Kabul.Eleven women attended a six-month training course in Jaipur,India,delivered by
Future Brilliance at the Indian Institute of Gems & Jewellery, studying the craft, design
and business of jewelry making.This is a big accomplishment in a war-torn country that is,
according to a June 2011 global survey by the U.K.newspaper,The Guardian,“the world’s
most dangerous country in which to be born a woman.”
Starting an industry in a country plagued by conflict is a Herculean task,but the bigger
challenge is being able to bring women into the picture as well.“Finding women whose
families will let them be involved is difficult,”says Swire.
Opposite page: Hammasa Kohistani, Afghanistan's only female model — and former Miss England — models
Aayenda jewelry. Above: Raw gemstones from Nuristan, Eastern Afghanistan. All photos by Tina Hager.
Rapaport August 2014 135
Roya Hayat,gender manager for Future Brilliance and
a protégé of Swire’s, who sponsored Hayat’s education,
explains some of the reasons why Afghanistan is such a
tough place for women.“Religion has always played a
very important role in the daily life and social customs
of Afghanistan. Historically, Afghan women have always
been given a subordinate status.Their position in the
family is shaped by many factors and there are strong
cultural and historical roots of gender discrimination.Also,
the long years of war and violence, an unstable political
and economic situation and theTaliban takeover in 1996
have had a particularly severe impact on women and their
position even took a retrogressive turn.”
Hayat, who was born in Kabul but fled to Pakistan as
a refugee when she was nine years old,sees the situation
beginning to turn around for the better,since the current
regime came into power in 2001.“The political and
cultural position of Afghan women has shown some
improvement,” she says.“The wearing of a veil became
voluntary,and women have found employment in offices,
shops and international NGOs; some women are also
receiving a university education.The elderly and widowed
women are also benefiting from projects designed by local
and international NGOs.The ban enforced by theTaliban
Above: Future Brilliance and Aayenda founder and CEO Sophia Swire (center,rear) oversees an ecommerce class with trainer
Ben Phelan (front, right) and Future Brilliance Afghan students in Jaipur. Below: Radiance pendant, lapis and turquoise necklace,
gold-plated base metal, in development.
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Left: Seed, a five-strand lapis bead bracelet, gold-plated sterling silver.
Above: Khala Zada puts the finishing touches to her collection
for Aayenda. Below: Female student learning to facet lapis.
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on most forms of entertainment has been lifted,and the
social atmosphere has become more relaxed.Though
facilities are minimal,schools have been reopened —
including those for girls — and women are once again
entering the workforce.”
Despite a seemingly impossible situation,Swire sees
hope.This is not her first venture in the area. Swire
left her banking job in London to start a school on
the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan 25 years ago
and “fell in love with the region.” She is also widely
credited with bringing the now ubiquitous pashmina
shawl to the Western world after seeing it worn by
movie stars in Pakistan. She tracked down the source
in Nepal and the rest is fashion history.
For three years, Swire served as Senior Advisor on
Gemstones to theAfghan Ministry of Mines,a job that
entailed inspecting gem mines to ensure their safety for
workers, finding ways to bring more women into the
value chain and generally to modernize the industry.
Noting that some of the world’s oldest gem mines are
in the northern regions of Afghanistan, and that fine
13 percent of females over 15 years old are literate,
compared to 43 percent of males. Country Profile:
Afghanistan, Learning for Life: UNESCO Institute for
85 percent of women have no formal education.
There are two girls for every three boys enrolled in
school. “State of the World’s Mothers 2012,” Save the
Children, May 2012, page 50.
The average Afghan woman won’t live to see her
50th birthday. “State of the World’s Mothers 2012,” Save
the Children, May 2012, page 49.
Targeted attacks on civilian women and children as
they go to work or school increased by 20 percent in 2012
compared to 2011. United Nations News Centre.
One woman in 11 dies in pregnancy or childbirth in
Afghanistan. “State of the World’s Mothers 2012,” Save
the Children, May 2012, page 49.
87 percent of women in Afghanistan experience
domestic violence. “Living With Violence: A National
Report on Domestic Abuse in Afghanistan,” Global
Rights. March 2008, page 1.
WOMEN IN AFGHANISTAN
Above: Khala Zada, an illiterate 50-year-old artisan, learns how
to facet gemstones. Right: Mughal pendant earrings, lapis tip,
gold-plated sterling silver.
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jewelry had been fabricated inAfghanistan for thousands
of years, Swire decided to revive the jewelry industry
in gemstone-rich areas of the country. Many gems are
found in Afghanistan, including lapis, tourmaline, ruby,
spinel,emerald and kunzite.“I started Future Brilliance in
2012 to develop the jewelry industry inAfghanistan using
gemstones and natural resources found in the country,”
Swire says.“The lapis mines in Badakshan,in the north,at
7,000 years old,are the world’s oldest.The Bactrian Gold
years ago,is 3,000 years old. We are trying to rehabilitate
skills that are already indigenous to theAfghan culture.”
Hayat explains that Future Brilliance is a training
program to upgrade the skills of lapidary artisans from
gem-bearing parts of Afghanistan through an intensive
skills enhancement and apprenticeship program in Jaipur
and Kabul.“We are developing a globally recognized
jewelry brand —Aayenda — so that the graduates of our
program have a developed market to design for and sell
into.For this program,we interviewed over 130 people
from all over Afghanistan and selected 37 students —
11 were female.The goal of our program is to promote
the growth of the gemstone jewelry sector inAfghanistan
by elevating the technical and business development
skills of artisans while creating new employment and
market opportunities for both men and women.”The
six-month course, continues Hyatt,“was designed and
tailored to the needs of the students to increase their
knowledge in design development, branding, sales and
marketing,invoicing and financial management as these
were the weak points of the majority of the students,
especially the females.Besides the jewelry classes,we also
arranged English language and personal development
courses to boost our students’ self-confidence and help
them communicate better with the outside world.These
courses not only polish their skills but also provide
them with tools and knowledge to compete with other
companies in the international markets.”
With the goal of selling the Aayenda collection into
an international market, designers Paul Spurgeon,
to Jaipur to work with the students fromAfghanistan.
Each of the designers created collections in different
price points to appeal to various consumers.“Our target
market is fashion jewelry people who are open to a
product that has good design and is for a good cause,”
explains Swire.“Aayenda jewelry has different lines
featuring retail price points between $100 and $4,000,
Below: The female artisans take design inspiration from the Queen’s Palace in Jaipur.
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most at the lower end of that range.”According to Swire,that is the sweet spot for
women who want to buy for themselves.
Fensterstock became involved in the project through a design competition that was
sponsored by Future Brilliance and held through NewYork City–based showroom
Fragments.“We were asked to create anAfghan-inspired collection to be produced
byAfghan jewelers,”relates Fensterstock.“We had to useAfghan gemstones and
capture the soul ofAfghanistan.I was invited to Jaipur to trainAfghan jewelry
students who were there doing their studies.There were 36 jewelry students
— about one-third of them were women.Most women aren’t allowed to
leave home so those who were there were very excited and appreciated
the opportunity.” Fensterstock, who volunteers her time for the
project,visited Jaipur twice in 2013.A bench jeweler,she was able
to create collections that were suitable for jewelry students at
their level of skill.She was given a budget of $15,000 to create
17 pieces. She used 22-karat gold over burnished sterling
silver with emerald,tourmaline,spinel and garnet and made
the pieces smaller than her usual designs.“I was drawn to
empowering these women.They can design and sell jewelry
on an international level,” Fensterstock comments.“They
didn’t think that they could,but they now see that they can.
I’ve learned a lot from these women.”
Above: Jewelry designer Annie Fensterstock holds a master class in design development with the Afghan students in Jaipur.
Below: Hammered blackened sterling silver, 22-karat yellow gold and tourmaline hand-fabricated cuff.
Opposite page: Ellipse three-drop lapis pendant, gold-plated sterling silver.
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oya Hayat lists several reasons why women
do not receive an education or work outside
of the home in Afghanistan.
Child marriage is prevalent. More than
by 12. Almost 60 percent of girls are married
by 16. Women activists say up to 80 percent of
marriages in poor rural areas are either forced or
arranged. So once the girls are married, they have
to look after their husband and family and there
is no chance for them to go to school.
A lack of security and safety from three
decades of war, and the risk of kidnapping and
rape, has also prompted many families to force
their young daughters out of school.
to get their daughters out of school to avoid the
cost of caring for them and to send their sons to
school to look after them in their old age.
Terrorism, including suicide attacks and
firebombing of schools, especially girls’ schools,
the presence of foreign troops battling against
the Taliban and a generally increasing level
of violence has stopped many families from
sending their daughters to school. Landmine
and unexploded ordnances, dangerous roads
and infrastructure are also among the reasons
that many parents avoid sending their daughters
Women are hidden and isolated because
Islamic extremists insist women and girls stay at
home and leave only if they are fully covered
and accompanied by a male relative. So it is
impossible for girls to go to school, especially in
rural areas, without a male family member.
There are 1.5 million widows in Afghanistan,
one of the highest proportions in the world,
because many men have died in armed conflict or
they are older men who are outlived by their child
brides. The average age of an Afghan widow is
35. Ninety-four percent of those women are
illiterate and most have four or more children.
According to Hayat,the program is beginning to pay off for some of the participants.
Five months after the students returned from Jaipur,a study was conducted to assess
the progress and the current employment status of the students.Thirty-nine percent
of the graduates are currently working in their own gem-cutting/jewelry workshops
and 38 percent are employed as gem cutters and jewelry designers, half of them in
their family businesses and half of them outside of the family business. Only two of
the women aren’t working,due to family reasons.
“However,Khala Zada,who is an illiterate war widow,has doubled the sales of her fine
beads after returning toAfghanistan,”says Hayat.“When I visited her in Mazar-e-Sharif
last November, she showed us a workshop space where she is planning to take on
30 more artisans,both men and women.Almost all of our students are earning better
incomes than before,making them more confident with their work and helping their
families to have a better life.Some of the students are also designing for the Aayenda
collection and they are so proud so see their drawings and work being recognized
and appreciated in the international market.Aayenda means ‘future’ in Dari, the
local language.The students liked this name because it represents the hope of a
better future for them and forAfghanistan.”
Up next on the agenda is to move more of the jewelry-making operations to
Afghanistan by supplying local workshops with better equipment and a quality
for long-term stability and economic development is tapping locally available
resources and enhancing local skills.When you marry the two together,you
have the crown jewels of international development,”concludes Swire.
BLOCKS TO EDUCATION
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