Ethical fashion doesn’t always have to be about innovative materials or cutting-edge technologies. It can also be about preserving traditional skills and techniques. To help revive Afghanistan’s rich history of arts and crafts—one that has been undermined by decades of conflict—British jewelry designer and anthropologist Pippa Small helped develop a line of rings, necklaces, and earrings from indigenous raw gems. The collection is a collaboration with Turquoise Mountain, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization, based in Kabul, that was named after a legendary Afghan city from the Middle Ages. Established at the request of President Hamid Karzai and Prince Charles, the group works to regenerate Afghanistan’s traditional-crafts industry, which in turn creates jobs, skills, and a renewed sense of national identity.
Small worked with 10 craftsmen, who were refugees when the Taliban was in power, in an old area of the city that Turquoise Mountain is working to restore to its pre-war splendor. “Now they [are] home and starting up a business,” she says.
Small worked with 10 craftsmen, who were refugees when the Taliban was in power, in a workshop in Kabul.
Her collection is inspired by different traditional techniques and designs from across the country. “We worked with all the beautiful minerals found in Afghanistan, the stunning deep-blue lapis lazuli, the sparkling green emeralds, rough rubies, aquamarines, and multicoloured tourmalines,” she says. “We made large tribal torques with pendants of smooth lapis pebbles, delicate rings with uncut chunks of emerald, and chains with charms of birds, gold-wrapped pebbles, crescent-moon charms, and dangling discs.”
Despite what she describes as a wonderful experience, Small was always aware of the volatile political climate, as well as the courage of the people who suffer it daily. “A few weeks after I left, the workshop was destroyed in the bomb that blew up the Indian Embassy,” she says. “Everyone at the workshop survived but many around did not. Turquoise Mountain helped rebuild the workshop and work is carrying on.”