The Fatema Bint Mohammed Bin Zayed Initiative (FBMI) was established, in association with Tanweer Investments, to empower women in Afghanistan by offering employment in the carpet-production process. It provides them with resources, such as looms and wool, and pays a fair market price for their work and encourages them to develop their skills.
The carpets are competitively priced, retailing at about Dh15,000 for a six-metre piece, and about 80 per cent of the profit goes back to the women. FBMI currently sells its wares in showrooms in Dubai, London and Afghanistan, with its first Abu Dhabi location due to open in the Yas Mall in November.
When the opportunity arose, Norma Kamali jumped at the chance to collaborate with the initiative. Pointing to a silver-haired gentleman standing across the room. “That’s my guy. He spends half his time here [in the UAE] and half his time in New York. One day he came home from a trip and said: ‘We have to design and sell some carpets.’ I had just finished a collection and was exhausted, so I was like: ‘Really?’ And then he told me the story of the initiative and of how it empowers women. And the minute I heard that, I knew we had to see what we could do.”
Norma Kamali decided to lend her skills, name and not inconsiderable celebrity (free of charge, it’s worth noting) to help highlight the work being carried out by FBMI – and the plight of Afghan women.
“When it came to choosing a designer, we wanted someone that was very much involved in ethics and charity work and in empowering women, so in that we found the right person. For the past 45 years or so, Norma Kamali has been giving back to the community,” said FBMI’s executive director Maywand Jabarkhyl.
It took two years for the collection to come to fruition; the end result is 12 carpets, with inspirational-sounding names like Collaboration, Gratitude, Empowered, Knowledge and Potential.
They were woven using indigenous Afghan wool bought from nomads in western and central Afghanistan, explains Maywand Jabarkhyl. “The reason we use Afghan wool is to ensure that the benefits are felt by those most difficult to reach, and that the product is made in Afghanistan by Afghans.”
It is a collection consciously designed to challenge preconceived ideas about what the Afghan carpet is – and could be. The pieces are striking in their lack of colour – they are predominantly black and white – and in their bold, contemporary motifs. They look about as different from a traditional Afghan carpet as can be, which, Norma Kamali explains, was the whole point.
Now that FBMI has added this new, unashamedly contemporary collection to its portfolio, it will be interesting to see whether future collaborations will result in more of a marriage of styles, where traditional Afghan motifs are retained but reinterpreted to create something that is modern but still speaks of its heritage.
Norma Kamali would also like to experiment with the many colour options available and create a more masculine range of carpets. “I have so much that I can do with this,” she says. “And it’s fun as well as being purposeful.”