Born in Kabul, Zolaykha Sherzad and her family fled the war in Afghanistan when she was 11, settling as political refugees in Switzerland. Later studying architecture there, she practiced in Switzerland, Japan and New York, until, in 2005, Zolayka moved back to Afghanistan to live out her dream of rebuilding the country from which she came. Through it’s grand cultural traditions, she wanted to be a part of reweaving the respect and pride that she knew to be a part of her people, a spirit eroded by decades of war.
When I was directed to Zolayka by two different sources in the course of two days, I knew to write her; within a week I was sitting down with her in Charlotte Moss’ New York library. There, I learned of the struggles of getting work to the artisans in Kabul, but also of her bold ambition to do so. I learned that the women there had grown tremendously not only in financial security but in self-respect, and received the uncommon respect of men in Kabul. I learned that Zolayka had designed a Peace Coat, a white wool coat suggesting all possibilities - upon which women of Afghanistan embroidered the Farsi word for Peace. She likened it to a kind of prayer written over and over with needle and thread.
By the time we rose, I was smitten with this woman and her vision and absolutely committed to giving work to her artisans. Together with Charlotte, we tweaked her signature designs to create sumptuous wool coats - the kind you want to keep for a lifetime because of the exquisite handwork, front and back, because of the amazing fit, because of the hand-forged coin buttons, the hand-printed lining . . . and because of the story that wraps around you like a prayer.
The next day, when I saw her stunning Peace Coat, I asked if we might feature it, too, and she agreed to let us auction it at our New York launch. Above you see the women coming together to begin to piece the Peace Coat; at right is the remarkable finished coat.
Only one person can end up with this treasure. But I knew you would want to take home something of this Peace. So, I asked if she might have portions of this Farsi word embroidered on pashminas. A Peace Pashmina. Something anyone can wear and love.
I went to one of our collaborators in Kashmir who makes the most buttery soft pashminas imaginable and asked for simple black scarves to be spun and woven. Kashmir has its own struggles these days, and they were happy to collaborate with fellow artisans in Kabul. Then, as the shawls were finally reaching Afghanistan, suicide bombs detonated at the Kabul airport as the US Secretary of State arrived, the US retaliated, civilians were killed, the Peace Pashminas were stranded under shrapnel and chaos and heavy fire.
And what are we to do, knowing that women in Kabul are writing Peace all over their days with skilled hands and full hearts while around them, bombs explode? Knowing that a woman like Zolaykha who could do anything with her brilliant mind is with them designing clothes for you to wear like a story across your shoulders? What shall we do when they continue to go to work each day through a city shattered. . . and pick up their needles and thread and their hope and write again?
I stand with them, that’s what I do. I stand with you standing with them. I send them more scarves to write their dreams upon. I refuse to stop because it is difficult . . . because they refuse to stop and believe me, it is far more difficult for them. I say to them, in words they can understand, neither Farsi nor English, but in the words of cloth - we need one another. We will wrap your peace around our shoulders and wear it with conviction and love. We will take this dream of yours out into he world wherever we go - this prayer of yours . . . and make it our own prayer. We will wear the change.
When the Peace Shawls are late due to bombs, we will wait. We will give them to our friends for holiday gifts, we will wear them, men and women. We will spread the word everywhere we roam. I see whole cities covered in these pashminas of peace, these coats of beauty . . . I see hope warming us in the winds of winter, dreams connecting us, clothes that conjure peace. Who knew this was possible? Peace, a beautiful peace. Piece by piece.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker
The Zolaykha Coat in Black with Cobalt embroidery and Charcoal with Ivory Embroidery.
100% Wool with Hand-printed Silk lining. Shop here!