ARZU, which means “hope” in Dari, is an innovative model of social entrepreneurship that helps Afghan women weavers and their families break the cycle of poverty by providing them steady income and access to education and healthcare by sourcing and selling the rugs they weave. Last month, we wrote about one of their projects, the Peace Cord bracelet, a great piece of statement jewelry that literally allows you to wear your beliefs right on (or by) your sleeve.
ARZU Studio Hope also sells rugs made by women in Afghanistan. The collection, which is available online at at Environment Furniture showrooms across the country, is designed according to Slow Design principles and combines cultural integrity, high-quality craftsmanship and traditional technique with fair labor practices and developed market access. The company calls this “commerce with care.”
The Slow Movement is growing and gaining support all around the world. Most are probably familiar with the Slow Food Movement and readers of this site have most likely heard me talk about Slow Fashion. This approach to design lends itself very well to statement pieces like rugs, that one may buy once and keep forever. From shepherd to shearer to spinner to dyer to weaver to finisher to transporter, ARZU Studio Hope’s “next” practice process builds on tradition, adds innovation and celebrates artisan touch from beginning to end.
ARZU rugs range from traditional to modern and have been honored with several design awards and are a perfect alternative for conscious consumers looking for mission-driven alternatives to typical mass-market goods. Former First Lady Laura Bush listed her ARZU Hope rug as her favorite “cherished rug” in a recent New York Times Magazine article.
ARZU Studio Hope believes in a holistic approach to sustainable poverty alleviation achieved through artisan-based employment that empowers women. Women, earning fair labor wages, weave exquisite hand-knotted rugs at home. The company knows that money alone will not change people’s lives — they must also have access to the essential skills and education necessary to thrive in an ever-changing world. ARZU agrees to pay women the market-weaving rate, plus up to a 50% incentive bonus for the highest quality workmanship. In exchange for this extra income, families must agree: to send all children, both girls and boys, under age 15 to school full-time; to allow all women in the household to attend ARZU literacy classes; and to permit ARZU to transport pregnant women and newborns to clinics for pre- and post-natal care.
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan identified the empowerment of women as the single most effective tool for development: “When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier; they are better fed; their income, savings, and re-investments go up. And what is true of families is true of communities, and eventually, the world.” There are few countries in need of development more than Afghanistan, and few countries where the women are less empowered. This is why they need our support.
An ARZU Studio Hope rug is an investment in sustainability in its broadest sense: “In addition to driving economic sustainability, ARZU Studio Hope rugs capture the sustainable and enduring artistry developed centuries ago and passed to the skillful hands of Afghan women weavers. ARZU rugs are handmade with sheep’s wool and, whenever possible, dyes may be purely derived from natural materials found in madder root, walnut husks, or pomegranates.”
In their community development programs, ARZU is also looking at options for renewable resources for fuel, energy, food cultivation in arid climates, and water purification. Some of these innovations were piloted in 2010 and have plans for continued expansion in 2011. These are clearly rugs on a mission to create positive change in the world.
ARZU rugs at Environment Furniture