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Must Have: Scarves with Stories from A Peace Treaty

Farah Malik and Dana Arbib are a Pakistani Muslim and a Libyan Jew, respectively, with very different educational and cultural backgrounds. But after their paths crossed during a chance meeting in Rome last year, the two women have come together … Read More

By / October 24, 2008

Farah Malik and Dana Arbib are a Pakistani Muslim and a Libyan Jew, respectively, with very different educational and cultural backgrounds. But after their paths crossed during a chance meeting in Rome last year, the two women have come together to produce something that is simultaneously truly global, and truly their own. Farah and Dana are the geniuses behind A Peace Treaty, a company which produces beautiful, ethical, and interesting scarves (you may remember them from a Jewcy post last spring.) A Peace Treaty has been gaining a lot of buzz in the past year on sites like Daily Candy and Magazines such as Marie Claire. Most recently, Dana made the Heeb 100, an honor that she describes as “my greatest accomplishment yet!” This week, Dana gave Jewcy some love as well, agreeing to speak with me about her about her life (and Farah’s), the reviving of ancient crafts, and the endeavor into the fashion industry.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and Farah? Where did you two grow up? What did you study? What were you guys doing in Rome when you met?

I grew up in Tel Aviv, Israel until I was almost 10 years old. I then moved to Toronto with my family because my mom is Canadian. I began studying Philosophy and English Lit at The University of Toronto and decided to leave when I got accepted into the Communication Design BFA Program at Parsons School of Design.

My father is a Libyan Jew who grew up between Rome and Tripoli so my family has a big connection with Rome. I have been going there twice a year since I was born to visit my family and get connected with Libyan Jewish culture. Farah happened to be living in Rome last year – she was there taking a Goldsmithing course (the only one in the world that resuscitates ancient Roman and Etruscan techniques.) We met outside the Tempio Maggiore where my family decided to carry out my brother’s wedding last summer. This Sephardic Synagogue is one of the most exquisite in Italy.

Farah was born in Surrey, England about 30mins outside London. She lived between England and Pakistan until she was 15, when her family decided to move to Canada. She did her undergrad at McGill coming up around all that Indie music action. She studied Gender and Cultural Studies there. She later lived in Barcelona before going back to London to get a Master’s in Media and Communications at the London School of Economics. After her Masters she moved to NY to work for a Human Rights organization managing multimedia communications campaigns. After she got burnt out trying to "create change" in a horrible political climate she took off to Rome to pursue her more creative dreams.

What is Farah’s and your collaboration process like? How do your stories and ideas turn into scarves?

Farah and I work well together because we represent two different sides of personal style. Farah is more of a vintage/ do it yourself kind of gal when it comes to fashion and I am more on the avant garde, designer label fashion side.

There are two things that drive our process, which is pretty organic. We are usually doing 100 things at once since it is just the two of us handling everything. I usually get an idea in my head of what I would want to see people in, or something that I am lusting over that I have not yet seen anywhere. I then sketch it out for Farah and we start building on that one idea. Following that we pursue production with artisans in a region that has been overlooked. Each country/region that we aim to produce in informs and influences our ideas according to the antique and traditional artisanal trades that particular country/region has to offer. They are often trades that are dying out because of industrialization and competition with factory-based manufacturing. With Farah’s background in International Development and my lineage from a highly philanthropic family, we really have developed first hand knowledge of what beautiful things certain regions have to offer. Once we have come up with that place we start researching the type of handicrafts that one particular region has to offer; or the types of colors and patterns are used within that county’s aesthetic culture. Once we do our research we make boards to inspire us and start thinking of interesting ways to modernize what that country has to offer by injecting the inspiration into that one great accessory.

We both bring design, production and business strengths to our process- it’s really magical how we compliment each other’s strengths and shortcomings. While we are incredibly obsessive about design, research, and development, a lot of design also ends up happening in spontaneous ways once we are on the ground in the actual country.

What kinds of materials do you use at A Peace Treaty? How are the scarves "ethically produced"?

For the current collection we chose to work in Pakistan. We worked with artisanal hand-weavers of lunghi fabric. Lunghis are pieces of tartan and plaid pieces of cloth that are handloomed in vibrant colors. Lunghis are becoming harder and harder to find as the country is becoming more and more industrialized (meaning handlooms are being shut down and replaced with electrical power loom factories.)

These family looms are all over villages in the Punjab and are usually set up with wood handlooms run out of people’s courtyards/verandahs in their houses. Older highly-skilled men usually weave the cloth. Then we bring together collectives of women in villages to work on hand-finishing each scarf with various types of tassels. We also get some of the fabric hand-dip dyed for particular styles.

We’re pretty much getting access to some of the last woven supply of lunghis in Pakistan and actively working towards creating an infrastructure to pump back into the looms and get the trade burgeoning again. By sourcing fine voiles, muslins and some sturdier cottons from small batch producing handlooms we aim to brin
g fabric production back into the hands of the original artisans that formulated the methodology for so much of textile production. So far we have traveled to eight cities, villages and towns in completely distinct regions, to bring together hand-woven textiles from small batch weaving family businesses. Each region has a style of weaving that’s specific to it- and this is evident in the heavier gauge cottons and some finer and lighter weaves that we have presented thus far.

We are also now working between Afghanistan and Pakistan and have designed block printed scarves that embody the art of carpet weaving and present the color combinations and patterns that are traditionally found in these carpets. We used the technique of hand carved- block printing because it is an old world technique that has been overlooked as other more modern printing methods have become commonly and cheaply available. Farah spent time in the workshops of some of Pakistan’s best block-printers and we enlisted one of the best carving workshops in Pakistan to hand-carve our designs.

The work is ethical because we make sure no one is exploited in production- that is why we don’t believe in factories and mass production. We also pay 3-4 times the local wages to the people we employ. These are also people that have been out of work for months or years at a time.

What other kinds of social projects is A Peace Treaty involved in?

We donate a percentage of our proceeds to an international Aid Organization named Counterpart International. Counterpart is a really amazing organization that has done some serious work in many different areas across the globe. Proceeds from our first collection went to bringing medical supplies to Darfur, from the second went to bringing medical supplies to Palestinian children, and the last collection went to the Coral Gardens coral reef reconstruction program (which also employs local communities to rebuild coral reef in the Pacific). We will be partnering with a different organization and cause each year- next up we are looking into an organization that helps build schools for girls in Afghanistan.

What kinds of press has A Peace Treaty been getting?

We have been lucky and very thankful for the press that we have gotten thus far. What really helped us get recognized in the first place was an article written about us in Daily Candy. This article was written two weeks after we launched and it really gave us a great customer and fan base in a short amount of time. Blogs really were our bread and butter when we started and we love the way that blogs reach people in an instant. The first blogs which gave us love were: Worship Worthy, Daily Candy, Hypebeast, Nylon Magazine, JC Report, Heeb Magazine, Refinery 29, Mens.style.com and Teen Vogue. We have also been written up and featured in Magazines such as Instyle, Marie Claire, Fader, Anthem, Complex, Tokion, Time Out NY, Theme, and we will be in Wallpaper and Flaunt next month. We were also just interviewed by New York Magazine for their online The Cut/Tastemakers blog section which we are so grateful for.

What can we expect from A Peace Treaty in the future?

We hope that we can travel and find new places to start sourcing our production from. We want to try to help as many countries/ places in need that have dying methods of artisanal work that we could help re-structure and re-build.

We are looking into developing leather goods within some regions in North Africa and South America. We don’t want to jump into too many things all at once. We believe in projects evolving organically and in a not so forced way. While we will always try to stay ahead of the curve and even start trends in some cases, ultimately we are trying to elevate certain overlooked accessories to a higher status- and that is really more about creating classic goods.

Every year we hope to move our production to another place in need of production. Our first year, we produced everything in Pakistan. We want to give each country enough time to be recognized and enough production to hopefully make money for the next year coming.

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