When Farah Malik, a Canadian-born Pakistani Muslim, met Dana Arbib, an Israeli-born Libyan Jew, in Rome, they immediately bonded. What connected them was a love of fashion and a commitment to human rights, organic products, fair trade, and raising awareness about the disappearing ancient crafting traditions of the Middle East.
That connection was so strong they decided to pool their ideas and talents to create a joint venture. The pair moved to New York and in 2008 formed A Peace Treaty, a company dedicated to bringing to consumers handcrafted “boutique level” scarves and jewelry from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.
Their wares — which are sold in 7,200 stores and boutiques, including such high-end retailers as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman — made a vibrant display March 21 in the East Brunswick home of Cindy Wormser. The eager browsers and buyers were some 30 guests assembled for the season’s last Winter Wednesday program of the Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
“We mix fashion and social change,” said Malik, as she displayed her colorful patterned cashmere and wool scarves.
Each item, she explained, was individually and often painstakingly created by craftspeople in developing countries using methods dating back to ancient times.
“We focus on the beauty rather than on the tension in the Middle East,” said Malik. She said she has traveled to souks and villages throughout the developing world applying her background in creating multimedia marketing campaigns for social justice and human rights along with her fashion sense.
Every season the company features work from different regions, providing employment in areas all too often decimated by poverty, conflict, and oppressive regimes. Peace Treaty also contributes funds to those regions and to Counterpart International, which provides medical supplies to the besieged residents and refugees of Darfur. Donations from the company are also helping to fund reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.
Malik’s partner, Arbib, could not attend the March 21 event because she was in Rome overseeing production of a video about Libya’s former Jewish community — the company’s first foray into filmmaking — to be released in conjunction with A Peace Treaty’s summer 2013 collection.
Arbib has a background in graphic and product design and textiles.
Through the film, Malik told NJJN, “We want to take people back to Tripoli the way it was before Kaddafi.”
She explained that in places like Afghanistan — where decades of fighting have left many women alone with young children, little education, and few employment opportunities —making products for the company has provided craftspeople a way to care for their families.
“Many of our workers in Afghanistan are widows,” said Malik, adding that A Peace Treaty runs no sweatshops, and employees set their own hours and rate of output. “We also help to educate these women.”
The company is now featuring eight collections, including items from India, Nepal, and Pakistan.
Many of the scarves passed around and purchased by the women attending the event were hand-spun using the shedded hair of mountain goats worked into “playful” visual prints.
Malik recalled how she and Arbib met when “I crashed her brother’s wedding in Rome.” Their enterprise has succeeded, she said, as interest in “green” organic items has grown.
“When we first met with Saks, we told them how long it takes to make each scarf,” said Malik. “They loved them and thought their story was wonderful but asked, ‘Can we have 3,000 by next week?’ They didn’t get it at first.”
Women’s Philanthropy director Audrey Napchen said she invited the duo after reading about them in O, The Oprah Magazine. Their mission — promoting fair-trade principles and offering help to those in need — dovetailed with federation’s aims, said Napchen.
“We are all involved creating a partnership to help the less fortunate,” she said. “We are invested in creating a vibrant future for those who come after us.”