What do you get when you combine parachute cords, military uniforms and fashion-forward thinking? Well according to Arzu Studio Hope, you get a brighter future for women and children in Afghanistan! I was honoured to speak to one of their team members, Naomi Czerwinskyj, about these stylish life-changing accessories.
Q. What first sparked the idea for the Peace Cord bracelet?
In 2010, Arzu Studio Hope founder Connie K. Duckworth spent a week at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province with the US Marine Corps, invited by Commanding General Richard Mills to provide advice on how to engage with Afghan women. This visit inspired Arzu’s newest product initiative -Peace Cord®, a bracelet hand-woven by women in Afghanistan from authentic U.S. military materials: parachute cord and fatigue or dress uniform buttons.
Q. Peace Cord bracelets are hand-woven by women in Afghanistan, how has this impacted on their daily lives?
Arzu’s objective is to create long-term community development in Afghanistan by leveraging our successful model of economic, workforce, and community development. From a starting point of only 30 weavers in 2004, Arzu now provides:
- Employment for over 1,000 Afghans (95% of whom are women);
- Direct social benefits to over 4,000 beneficiaries; and
- Impacts the lives of tens of thousands of other villagers due to the ripple effect of broad-based development programs.
More specifically, over 1,000 Afghans receive a fair wage for their work, either working from home or in the case of Peace Cord®, in a clean, warm Women’s Community Center built by Arzu. We have also provided access to benefits such as: literacy classes for adults and school for children, as well as healthcare services and training. Even more importantly is breaking the cycle of poverty, so each generation lives a healthier, happier life.
Q. The tag-line for Peace Cord is “Wear Peace Proudly”. Can you tell us a little bit about the connection between this accessory and peace?
Bamyan Province, in Afghanistan, is the home to the Hazara people, the minority tribe particularly brutalized under Taliban rule, when many Hazara were forced to flee to Pakistan and Iran to escape persecution and death. When the Taliban fell, these refugees returned to Bamyan to find their houses and fields destroyed. To this day, 10 years later, many Hazara families, 90% of whom are widows with children, still lack basic needs such as housing, food, and don’t have access to steady employment.
Arzu and Peace Cord® are helping to sow peace by providing an alternative to this lifestyle with: community development initiatives that ensure steady, fair employment; access to education; healthcare; housing; and safe working conditions. Sustainable development initiatives repair community, empower women and their families, and create a safe, sustainable way of life.
Q. How does Peace Cord ensure that it is an environmentally friendly accessory?
Peace Cord® uses all US made materials that are produced without harmful toxins or dyes which meet US environmental standards. Peace Cord® production create minimal environmental impact because they are made by hand by women in a safe, clean environment, using only the women’s artisan talent to produce the bracelets. Peace Cord® does not use child labor nor does it use harmful, polluting factories to produce the bracelets.
Q. Which ethical designers are inspiring you right now?
Some of the ethical designers that inspire me are Mata Traders, Mimi Robinson, Mayu, and One Mango Tree. All of these are small businesses that are dedicated to the design of fair trade and eco-friendly products.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about Arzu’s Social Contract?
Central to the Arzu approach is our Social Contract with weaver families. To be a registered weaver and receive fair labor wages and bonus payments, families must agree to send all of their children under age 15 to school full-time and to have women in the household attend literacy classes. Arzu teaches grades 1-5, the only NGO in Bamyan to receive this approval. Women have repeatedly told us how much it means to them to be able to read.
Q. What does the future hold for Arzu Studio Hope and Peace Cord?
Our hope is that Peace Cord® will grow to become a global brand. Each bracelet purchased connects consumers to an Afghan woman who made it – improving her life in a multitude of ways. This is why we say “Wear Peace Proudly”.