This is your co-editor Christine with another segment on ethical fashion! The past few months I have been working with fashion social enterprises. This has sparked my interest in learning about their origins. Questions about their financial and workplace sustainability, niche markets, and the presence of a socially conscious consumer brought me to ask questions. And so, today I introduce to you a fairly new social enterprise which works with women in rural areas of Pakistan to empower women, and bring Pakistani inspired ethical luxury fashion to the American market. I hope this interview with Fatima of Ala Mairi helps you understand the growing fashion social enterprise sector a bit better!
Hello there, please introduce yourself!
My name is Fatima Mahmood and I am the founder of ethical luxury fashion brand and social enterprise, AlaMairi.
What brought you to begin Ala Mairi? What social issues attracted your to beginning this brand in the area you did?
After travelling to Pakistan in 2010 and 2011 I witnessed, first-hand, the social injustices that inspired me to create Ala Mairi. I saw the struggle that many of the women in the rural area of Rawalpindi face each day, to keep themselves and their families who rely on them afloat. These women are often isolated in their homes yet carry the burden of being the sole providers for themselves and their family.
Sadly, and all to regularly, these women are the victims of unhappy circumstances that have come about through no fault of their own.
Take the case of Zahida, her husband abandoned her and their 3 daughters and married another woman. He ceased to provide for her and their children. The shame this situation caused for her family meant they disowned her, leaving her to fend for herself.
In the rural areas, Zahida’s situation is not unusual. But, it is worsened by the fact that due to the prevailing culture and society, women in these areas are predominantly financially dependent on their father or husband. The lucky ones will have a husband who is loving and caring. But as Zahida’s situation shows, this is not always the case.
In the rural areas of Pakistan, culturally, men are the providers and women are not allowed to earn a place in society through employment. There even exist some communities that are very aggressive in this attitude and demand their daughters and wives remain in the home. The situation is amplified by the older generations who were not able to tap into education. Their mindset means that education is not enforced onto women as it would be for men. For these women, their poor social position within their community, their lack of education and their gender inequality, amongst other reasons, cause these conditions to perpetuate. Resultantly they have a lack of confidence and absence of self-worth, which makes them unable to pull themselves up and out of this rut.
In the more affluent cities, it’s a different story for women. There, Pakistani women are well educated and have access to, and work in, many respectable sectors. But there exists a divide between the rich and the poor. The rich are often established businessmen or people who earn a good living and can easily send their children to private schools, colleges and universities. The poor cannot afford these things, of course, and so the rich become richer and the poor stay poor and the chasm between the two becomes ever wider.
In the poorer, rural communities, things are – slowly - starting to change. Recently organisations and action programmes have been set up by the government and by the private sector that focus on providing education for the poor.
Talk to me about the importance of a sustainable income in the area Ala Mairi works in.
It is my belief that we have to teach skills, educate communities and focus on the outcome of the training. In this way, a sustainable income can be generated out of these skills, so that through themselves, people can earn their own livelihood, and in doing so, create a sense of achievement and self-respect.
How does Ala Mairi make an impact on the community without just being a foreign give-back handout or short-term project? Tell me about the women Ala Mairi works with.
Ala Mairi fills the gap in these communities and aims to make a difference in these women’s lives. We work with welfare centres that provide a safe, ‘women only’ environment where women can come to learn, develop and master their skills of quality craftsmanship. We have women who enjoy their work so much the take it home with them and continue with it there too. As we involve more women in our project, we always ensure that we continue to maintain the livelihood for the women that we started the journey with.
And our ladies work hard. They do so because they enjoy learning and the feeling of self-worth they gain from doing so. One woman, a single mother from Rawalpindi, made 200 bags for Ala Mairi. We are proud to say that through her talents, she was able to buy her son books for the whole school year. But not only can they use their skills to support their families, these are skills that they can teach their daughters – and so their talents will be propagated for many generations to come.
I believe in charity, but only for those whom have special needs in some way and not able to carry out any productive or creative work. I disagree in just giving handouts to a mind and body that is capable of doing and of learning. This doesn’t catalyse long-term, positive change.
Visit their website and follow Ala Mairi on social media to learn more about their story:
So awesome! As you can see from this story, Ala Mairi began with a journey, inspiration, and a yearning to contribute and make a difference. It is so great to see organizations that are doing more than just giving handouts. Economic empowerment is a powerful tool that can be utilized far beyond the timespan of a handout. As we both learned from this story, work done by brands such as this brand not only provide economic empowerment, but also uplift people and give them strength. How do you feel about social good fashion? Where did you first learn about it?
Thank you Fatima for allowing us to interview you and for the work that you are doing! :)