july issue 2011
Polly & Me Exhibits Traditional Chitrali Embroidery
A Bag Full of Stories
Polly & Me, a Chitral-based women’s collective, exhibited their 2011 collection of bags and purses called ‘Peace of Cake’ at the Koel gallery last month.
The brainchild of Cath Braid — an Australian-born designer who aspired to work for a fashion house but chose Pakistan as her workplace (“I loved the chaos,” she says) after her visit to Peshawar — Polly & Me works with female artisans in Chitral. The handbags currently on display at the Koel boutique feature traditional Chitrali embroidery and designs that portray the everyday lives of these artisans. Stemming from the idea of storytelling, these designs are based on narratives that are either about the artisan’s family or about her dreams and aspirations.
Braid carried a handbag that had drawings of an airplane embroidered on it. Asked what that symbolised, she explained how the son of one of the female artisans aspired to be a pilot because of his fascination with the planes that flew over his town.
In line with the theme of the collection, some handbags had peace signs embroidered on them. One handbag had a lunch tiffin box depicting how the ladies pack lunch each day for the men of the family, while another one had a dove with red horns on it, leaning towards truck art.
A narrative detailing the lives of the artisans’ families were printed in Urdu and English on the inner lining of each bag. The tags on the bags were cut out in the shape of golden-coloured pomegranates with the words “hot tea price per cup” written in different languages. Most striking was a wall hanging that was on display as well; it had small buttons made out of cloth with prayers for Pakistan written on each button.
Polly & Me works with a local shareholder company called Mogh Ltd. Interestingly, all its shareholders are female artisans. The sales of the bags contribute towards helping these women earn a living. Braid pointed out that all managerial positions within the company have been allotted to women and the only men working there are the couriers and the accountant!
The prices, ranging from Rs 12,000 to Rs 31,000, are a bit steep for most buyers. However, for those with enough cash and looking to support a good cause, an exquisite handbag from Polly & Me is well worth it.