Local fashion designer gives back to hometown in Afghanistan

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For Roya Hashimi, starting and owning her own business on King Street in Old Town was not enough. Hashimi, a local entrepreneur and fashion designer, and owner of the Elegance Fashion Boutique, recently returned to her hometown of Herat, Afghanistan, to improve the lives and the economic status of the people from her town.

Hashimi moved to the United States 10 years ago after studying fashion design in Germany. At the time, she could barely speak English. But when Hashimi and her husband noticed a space for rent on King Street, they jumped on the opportunity. I just loved fashion and beautiful clothing, it was always something I knew I wanted to do, she said.

Within weeks Hashimis talent with clothing and gowns became apparent and her business took off. At first, Hashimi almost had more work then she knew how to handle.

Once her business was established, Hashimi enjoyed working in the shop, but she also deeply desired to someday return to her hometown of Herat. For some time however, the climate of the country was simply too unstable. I knew I always wanted to go back, she said, but the situation with the Taliban was just too horrible.

Giving back
Last spring however, Hashimi decided that it was time for her to return to her homeland. The fact that her parents had also decided to move back greatly influenced her decision. Not only did Hashimi decide to go back, but she also decided that she wanted to give the people of Herat a chance to improve their economic status. To accomplish this, Hashimi decided that she would hire local craftswomen and men to manufacture dresses from the same materials that she uses at her shop in Alexandria. She would then bring the dresses back with her to sell in her shop and at other retailers. 

All proceeds made from the dresses would be returned to Herat to help raise money for a new school for young girls in the area. Right now, the only education available to young girls in the area is a one-roomed, windowless barn where girls from ages 6 to 12 are taught.

Hashimi then took out a loan from a bank, using her business as collateral, and set out on her mission. My biggest goal was first to go there, she said, and then to give them an opportunity to work. The easiest way to support them [the people of Herat] was to give them a job. In April 2007, she finally was able to return to Herat.

Upon arriving in Afghanistan, Hashimi immediately set out on her mission. Using an extra room in her parents house that Hashimi had paid to have finished months before, she set up shop. Offering around $30 dollars a day, when similar work normally would be worth around $10 dollars a day, finding a staff was no obstacle.

Unwilling men
However, Hashimi ran into some problems when she began to hire men. When the men she hired realized that they would have to work in the same work space as the women, many were unwilling. Hashimi eventually convinced the reluctant men that participating in this potentially profitable business opportunity was worth overcoming their prejudices.

There were difficulties for the women, as well. At first they were very shy and scared, but we only had 12 days to make 100 pieces. Hashimi stated.

After teaching many of the men and women how to operate sewing machines, Hashimi and her workers worked side-by-side and non-stop for almost 12 days. We worked from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. everyday, and they even wanted to work longer but I knew I couldnt do that.

After 12 days and successfully creating 100 handmade pieces, Hashimi returned to the United States with the handmade gowns.

From those 12 days of hard work in Herat, some men were able to pay their rent for a year from Hashimis wages. Hashimi also let her workers keep the sewing machines that she bought.

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