Zolaykha Sherzad is a humanitarian and artist who created Zarif Design. The company produces stunning jackets, clothing and bags that reinterpret traditional Afghan materials and art to render elegant modern fashion.
Zolaykha was born in Kabul. She fled the war in Afghanistan when she was 10, and after a short stay in Iran settled in Switzerland as a political refugee. Zolaykha studied architecture because she believes “architecture is a way to blend art and reality.” When she graduated from the School of Architecture in Lausanne her career went from strength to strength. She practiced as an architect in Switzerland, Japan and New York, and then taught Design Studio at Pratt Institute School of Architecture. She also studied fashion design in New York in 1997.
In 2000, Zolaykha founded the non-profit ‘School of Hope’ that supports schools in Afghanistan and partners them with schools in the US. School of Hope is now merged with School of Leadership for Afghanistan – SOLA. Zolaykha now divides her time between Kabul, where her workshop is located, and New York, where she promotes Zarif Design internationally.
“I see myself as both an artist and businesswoman – using the arts as a mean to empower people economically, but also to give them the confidence and the pride they need to rebuild their society. The production of ZD is not based on money and profit only. The initial drive for starting Zarif was not just to sell jackets – it was to use fashion as a way to highlight the rich cultural heritage and honour the workmanship of the artisans and bring people together by creating a peaceful and constructive environment.”
Zolaykha is particularly focused on supporting Afghan women, and has sponsored training and literacy classes for women in her workshop with the support of Afghan Women Leaders Connect and the Salomon Family Foundation. Zarif Design continues to assist with the training of these women within the Turquoise Mountain Foundation.
Zolaykha explains that it is not only a great way for the women to be helped financially but it is also a brilliant experience for them: “The confidence that women are gaining from being part of a team is tremendous. They are now outside the home and accepted as part of a workforce. Their work is respected and honoured. It is a major achievement to have respect between male and female co-workers. They also take pride that the material is from Afghanistan, like the buttons made out of local coins and locally woven silk. This work gives back a sense of cultural identity.”
Zolaykha believes that the work brings together communities, “Zarif Design aspires to serve as a connection between people as much locally and internationally. Locally the tailors meet the customers on a daily basis. They are close to their market and therefore have a better understanding of their needs and culture. There is a cross-cultural exchange – it is not just a factory. As a designer I honour the creative process. The creative process can be beautiful empowering in many ways….”
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