Anke Loh Goes to Afghanistan | Bleader

Anke Loh Goes to Afghanistan



For her spring/summer 2011 collection, Chicago-based designer Anke Loh teamed up with the German organization Afghanischer Frauenverein, which offers women in Afghanistan and Afghan refugees in Pakistan health education and literacy and vocational training to help combat poverty. The result are limited-edition items that combine elements of traditional Afghan crafts and design with Loh's striking shapes.

Loh, who is originally from Germany and teaches at the School of the Art Institute, never actually went to Afghanistan, but she did go to Germany to meet up with representatives from the group, who gave her a tablecloth with different types of embroidery and stitching on it. From that, says Loh, "I got an idea of what I can do." Rather than meeting with the women in person, she scanned the design elements, changed them a little, and sent them back with instructions. The process was not a fast one. "Communication is not so easy, not like in India," where there are experienced craftspeople and manufacturers, she says, and the equipment is minimal—just a sewing machine for each woman.

Loh also looked at different traditional garments from the region and used them as inspiration. Some of the final pieces, however, are decidedly untraditional, such as a sexy sleeveless draped top with deep cleavage. Did she have any concerns about culture clash for the women working on the garments? Not really, she says. "The clothing is not necessarily for them—this is not the idea," she says. "I am not a Muslim. . . . I live here, I am 37, I am what I am. These are part of my interests."

While the clothing is not meant for the women, part of the profits are, and the training helps the women support themselves and their families. "This helps them support themselves and their family," says Loh. "We are hoping to sell a few—a few stores are interested—and also to keep it going, not just make it a one-time thing. It is very interesting for me."

The clothes retail for about $200 to $450 per piece and will be available next spring.