Kalash - Elisabetta Illy
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A journey to discover a world as far as it is unknown.

The project

Chitral, Pakistan. 3000 meters above nothing, where the air becomes thinner and the breath becomes shorter, the Kalash people preserve their long history.

A mission to stimulate local entrepreneurship for the Kalash community, one of the oldest indigenous communities in Pakistan, now at risk of extinction.

UNIDO ITPO Italy, Picture of Change and Stella Jean set up a project to promote Kalash women’s traditional embroidery skills.

The artisan women of the Chitral Women’s Handicrafts Center joined a program of capacity building and hand-embroidery. For several weeks 46 of them worked on over 400 meters of typical floral motifs in chain stitch for Stella Jean Spring/Summer 2020 collection.

The women’s needle and thread turned into empowerment tools, while their cultural heritage became activator and driver of sustainable development.

For the first time ever Kalash embroideries left the Chitral district for international use. The embroidery stole the show at Milan Fashion Week, giving mass visibility to the Kalash community, but more than that, creating a link between countries thousands of miles apart.

Picture of Change’s documentary photos and videos were showcased in:

  • a Kalash photo exhibition at the Fashion Hub of Camera della Moda Nazionale Italiana during Milan Fashion Week;
  • Stella Jean’s fashion show at Milan Fashion Week;
  • a Kalash photo exhibition in Abu Dhabi UNIDO 18th General Conference;
  • an editorial on global fashion e-commerce Yoox.

The outcome of the project

Mass exposure

A strong international media coverage raised global awareness of the Kalash community and has brought the project to the center of attention. This visibility is to be translated into an increased awareness of the country, and subsequently a growth in tourism. From the Pakistani commerce secretary: “The projection of Pakistan’s textile products on the world stage will create great awareness and market access for the women working in the mountainous areas of the country.”

Women empowerment

In a moment where the Kalash culture is at risk of extinction, with modernisation threatening the survival of their traditional culture, this initiative encourages entrepreneurship. It spotlighted their traditions for them to become a source of survival, turning women’s embroidery skills as drivers of empowerment and of future business opportunities. It’s a project of strong women who live tenaciously to pass on their tradition. Proud women that protect their past while envisioning their thriving future.

Creation of shared value

The partnership between all parties involved in Italy and Pakistan created a bridge between the two countries. A project that shows the power of collaboration and shared value. It was the first time the Kalash embroideries left the Chitral district for international use. With that, we shared the knowledge of their isolated community, creating a positive awareness about their skills and cultural heritage. With Stella Jean’s Kalash collection on sale at Yoox, an Italian online fashion e-commerce that serves more than 180 countries worldwide, we hope that more business opportunities will come for them. A successful example of how we can leverage the resources of the private sector to solve a social issue.

Quality awareness

This initiative shed a light on the quality standards in the fashion industry, both for us consumers and the Kalash artisans. On one side, the mission of these photos is in fact to engage the consumer visually, showing them the quality there is behind their embroidery – the love, the care, the passion and the dedication. As consumers, we need to be able to recognise the quality in our clothes and be aware of what quality stands for. On the other side, artisans from Chitral Women’s Handicrafts Centre learnt from Stella Jean what the quality standards of haute couture and how to combine them with their centuries-old traditions.