Benita Adesuyan discovers how a carpet store in Dubai is helping women in Afghanistan forge a new life
From the outside, the FBMI shop on Jumeirah Beach Road blends into the row of upmarket boutiques and showrooms, but step inside and you’ll discover that there’s more to these intricate rugs than first imagined.
FBMI (Fatema Bint Mohammed Bin Zayed Initiative) sells beautiful rugs made in Afghanistan in its showroom. Housing more than 3,000 carpets, each one has been delicately weaved and every pair of hands that made them has been paid a fair wage.
In a country that has been ravaged by war and political uncertainty, the carpet trade has often left local weavers exploited and out of pocket, but this initiative offers FBMI’s predominantly female weavers a chance of a new life. Maywand Jabarkhyl, executive director at FBMI, set up the initiative in partnership with Her Highness Sheikha Fatema Bint Mohammed Bin Zayed.
Jabarkhyl and his family are from Afghanistan. His father sold hand-woven kelims in London and was keen to see the lives of Afghan women improved. ‘In Afghanistan, hand-made carpets are the biggest export, but unfortunately people weren’t being paid fair wages,’ explains Jabarkhyl as we walk through the showroom full of vibrant carpets.
‘One of the main benefits when we give these women the carpets to weave is that we give them fair market wages. They get up to $7 [Dhs25] a day depending on skill and productivity – that’s a good wage in Afghanistan, where 60 percent live on a dollar a day or less. Two or three people work on a loom so that’s $21 a day for the family.’
FBMI started in June 2010 and currently operates in 17 provinces in the capital city of Kabul and to date has provided more than 4,000 Afghans with work. Not only that, the initiative takes care of the women’s health and education for their children, and so far it has helped put 7,000 pupils into school.
The initiative operates with a sustainable ethos from start to finish. All the wool used is bought from nomad farmers, and FBMI employs wool spinners who separate the fibres by hand and spin it into threads. ‘This creates employment by itself,’ says Jabarkhyl, ‘We have 4,000 employees, of that 70 percent are women, and of the 4,000, 60 percent are wool spinners. Not everyone in Afghanistan knows how to weave a carpet, so what we do is give the ones who have the least capacity wool spinning tasks until they can develop their capacity and become weavers.’
The carpets are decorated with traditional and modern designs to suit current trends in home design and every carpet is made with natural vegetable dye.
Jabarkhyl’s investment company Tanweer is based in Afghanistan. Understanding the social structure the women live in, it ensures the operation is run in a manner that is respectful to local customs. ‘Women in Afghanistan don’t want handouts, they want jobs. They want to do something. They are very courageous, especially with what they have been through. Afghan women – in fact women everywhere – want to earn money in a dignified way. And what’s great about this is that they can work from the comfort of their own home. ‘Seventy per cent of our employees work from home. They don’t have to come to the centres – we have reps that go and check up on them, check their heath, make sure the kids are alright and make sure they’re weaving properly. We bring everything they need to their house.’
Jabarkhyl states that a 3x2m carpet takes on average about four months to hand-weave, and the women are paid for every day they work on the loom. It’s a long and skilled process, which is why the finished products sell for between Dhs4,000 and up to Dhs14,000.
But with interior trends leaning towards bare floors, is there much call for floor coverings in Dubai’s homes? ‘There is demand for carpets but there’s a shortage of a good supply of them in Dubai. Worldwide, we’ve seen a drop in sales because there’s stiff competition from machine-made carpets,’ admits Jabarkhyl. ‘But hand knotting is an art that people would say is dying out – but we’re trying to keep it alive.’
FBMI showroom, 865a Jumeirah Beach Road, opposite Burj Al Arab, www.fbmi.ae (04 388 1103).
Fair buys around town
The Little Fair Trade Shop
This online gifts shop stocks a range of cute, hand-made gifts.
Buy stylish fashion, art and home wares with an ethical ethos. All products are fair trade, locally sourced or created by profit shares.
Office 308, Citadel Tower, Business Bay, www.zahrart.com (04 432 9055)
Raw Coffee Company
Have ethically sourced organic coffee delivered to your door or pop into the brew bar for a freshly roasted espresso. This company pays a fair wage to coffee growers.
Raw Coffee Company, Warehouse 10, Al Quoz, www.rawcoffeecompany.com (04 339 5474)