A range of hand-crafted jewellery will soon launch by FnkAsia, the label helmed by designer Huma Adnan.

The collection is titled ‘The Craft Stories’ – an apt title, for every jewellery piece has stories to tell. There are stories of various indigenous techniques being merged together to create a single piece, myriad different stitches mixed in with colour and tweaked to become statement-wear.

Mariyam Nafees wearing the refugee craft at the event hosted by UNHCR at the world refugee day
Mariyam Nafees wearing the refugee craft at the event hosted by UNHCR at the world refugee day

Beyond appearances, though, each jewellery piece is laden with far more poignant stories – of a young Uzbek woman who hung on the back of an oil tanker for two days and nearly froze to death while fleeing from her home; of refugees from Somalia and Afghanistan, displaced from their homes, leading disjointed lives in an alien country.

This jewellery has been created by these refugees in a joint initiative between Huma Adnan and the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

“For the past 40 years, the UNHCR has been working in partnership with the government of Pakistan to help the 1.4 million refugees that currently live in the country,” says Ruvendrini Menikdiwala, the UNHCR representative in Pakistan.

FnkAsia is tapping into the unexploited skill set of Karachi's refugees
FnkAsia is tapping into the unexploited skill set of Karachi's refugees

“Our primary objective is to make them self-resilient and financially independent so that they can sustain themselves and give back to the economy of the country that they are living in. For some time, we had been searching for a professional organisation that would work with women and avail their skills with traditional craft. Huma Adnan’s FnkAsia made sense because it is a brand that has long been working with traditional craftswomen and her aesthetic is very trendy, combining traditional elements with contemporary design.”

“We hope that this project will be a long-term one and while a very small number of craftspeople are currently working with Huma, we hope to build the workforce from merely six to 600 and extend it beyond Karachi to other parts of the country.”

A piece from 'The Craft Stories'
A piece from 'The Craft Stories'

According to Huma Adnan, working with the refugees was initially tricky. “When the UNHCR contacted me, I told them that since I was based in Karachi, I needed them to send me refugees in Karachi. The group of 12 people that came to me consisted of refugees from different regions: Rohingya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia and Uzbekistan.

"Some of them simply weren’t interested and I had to let them go. There was a time when I wondered if the project would even work out and whether I should just continue focusing with the craftswomen from Dadu that I have long been working with.”

Huma Adnan with Mariyam Nafees at UNHCR's World Refugee Day event
Huma Adnan with Mariyam Nafees at UNHCR's World Refugee Day event

“Over time, I sat with the refugees, explaining what I wanted them to create for me and eventually, I shortlisted a group of six who enjoyed what they were doing. We worked together, I would sketch out designs, decide color ways and fine-tune their work in order to maintain quality control.”

“They were very motivated when the first few pieces came to life. The jewelry is beautiful and it made them realise that with the skill sets I had helped them polish, they could lead economically viable lives.”

Bangles from 'The Craft Stories'
Bangles from 'The Craft Stories'

The UNHCR has given Huma Adnan a recognition certificate for her work and there are plans underway of expanding the number of craftspeople working with the designer. “The UNHCR and I particularly want to continue working together to help out the refugees. The stories some of them had to tell were tearjerking. There are those who had been from well-off homes but had fled their countries and were now living on the streets of Karachi. There are others who have lost their families. They need our help. And they have skills that I can certainly work with, bringing them to retail through my brand,” says Huma.

‘The Craft Stories’ will be launching online first and will later be available at Huma Adnan’s stores. Based on our first few glimpses of the collection, the jewelry is head-turning. The stories it tells may perhaps make it all the more special.

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