In 2008, Farah Malik and Dana Arbib made a treaty--A Peace Treaty. Farah, who grew up in England, Pakistan, and Canada is a Pakistani Muslim and Dana, born in Israel, is a Libyan Jew. The two met at Dana's brother's wedding five years ago and three months later decided to start their own business. Their brand, A Peace Treaty, not only produces unique, handmade scarves and jewelry but also supports the local economies of artisans in various countries by creating employment and reinvigorating ancient crafting techniques.Both Farah and Dana moved to New York to work in fashion. Dana moved to New York to attend Parson's for communication design and upon completion designed magazines and packaging for Revlon and other brands. Her desire to mix graphic design with fashion led her to DKNY where she worked on pattern design. Farah moved to New York to work in fashion after attending the London School of Economics for her masters in political media and social change. She was quickly turned off by some of the manufacturing practices in New York's own backyard, in particular sweatshop labor and women's rights, and she ventured into the human rights world. Dana was also very familiar with humanitarian work growing up under her father's influence, traveling and meeting many NGO's. Clearly the two shared many commonalities on the onset of their business startup. These commonalities along with their separate upbringings, schooling and personal experiences all played a role in the direction of their brand.Originally intended as a side project separate from their full time day jobs, the two started with no outside investments and a conjoined $8,000. They spent a minimal amount on marketing and a web page and within one week of posting their first collection from Pakistan they had gained interest from various editors and retailers. What was a homegrown do-it-yourself like project executed by two girls working out of their apartment shortly became a business facing huge orders that ultimately required the two to quit their other jobs and focus solely on A Peace Treaty.The craftsmanship of A Peace Treaty's accessories and jewelry is the best part of their story. Each season they highlight and focus on a technique from a certain region that is at risk of dying out. They spend 6 to 8 months a year researching handcrafting techniques that are indigenous to specific areas. They do a fair amount of internet research but spend most of the time traveling, going to the actual ground, and identifying a group that used to have a huge history of weaving or hand block printing. Sometimes this involves asking a shop owner in a random bazaar about the technique of a single scarf on the top shelf that the owner insists they stopped using 20 years ago. With limited information, Farah and Dana will travel down a dusty road for 13 hours to a little hut and approach the artisans who are capable of replicating what was the little scarf on the top shelf. "Sometimes it is a fluke of just landing on things but most of the time it is really a wild goose chase!" said Dana.Farah and Dana explained that these are small family artisans or small co op groups that are underemployed and losing their trade because everything has moved to factories. They haven't had orders and have stopped their trade to find other ways of making money. "They really want to continue to to be artists or artisans because that is in their family lineages and that's what carried down century after century," said Farah. So they identify these groups and start to work with them on color theory and designs based on what they already know or what they are comfortable, and sometimes initially uncomfortable, learning. Coming up on their fifth year anniversary, A Peace Treaty has worked in 8 different countries including Pakistan, Bolivia, India, Nepal, Peru, Ecuador, Turkey, and Afghanistan, with current production at home in the US in Colorado. They do not cut off contact with these communities after each season."We see this as a 2 to 3 year intervention where we stay connected with these communities. We work with them until they are finally stabilized and their confidence and local market is built up again with a fresh perspective." Five years ago it was hard for Farah and Dana to find these artisans but recently these communities have realized that people want their work. They have started to market themselves in some way, even if it is a single web page with no direct contact information or through an NGO. Farah and Dana will find a way of contacting these artisans even if they have to speak to 10 people before the artisans themselves. Such was the current case with the woman farm owner they are working with in Colorado who learned her family's traditional silk painting technique from her father.Not only are Farah and Dana reinvigorating the traditions and techniques of various communities but the hugest portion of the profit goes back to the producers who actually set the prices. Rather than being a charity brand they wanted to do everything ethical from day one. A lot of brands are making poor products manufactured by child labor yet they "donate 10% of sales" to charities. "We are not interested in a marketing ploy--for us it is about the story behind who makes each product and the people," said Farah.Their favorite part, after all, is being in touch with the world and talking to people. Their experiences with these people on the road have shaped their perspective of life in New York. "Life moves at a different pace in developing parts of the world," said Farah, who has first hand experience with riots, bombings, terrorist attacks, malaria, and even the death of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. For example, their first shipment of goods made in Afghanistan got blown up in a war zone. "We have learned to not always take the hardest possible route. You go into places with no infrastructure and you push and push to help these communities but you are human and can only do so much," said Farah. "We come back to New York and its like, 'Okay, okay we will get you the samples by tomorrow,' and on the other hand our artisan's workshop is closing down to be part of the death procession of a friend who died from the next village," they explained. This puts your priorities in order, but it doesn't mean they don't appreciate New York for it's reputation and prevalence in the fashion industry.A Peace Treaty is based out of New York and, despite their international presence, they wouldn't have it any other way. They have an unlimited amount of contacts and immediate access to press. "New York is a great hub for thriving. It is not facetious competition--there is just enough and everyone helps each other get forward," said Dana. Dana designs out of their studio in New York. She gets inspired by a moment in time and then modernizes it whether it is art deco in Japan or the 60s in France. Right now her influence results from what was the Roman influenced city of Libya, where her family was from before Qadaffi came into power.Her inspirations might also be a result of finding a skill and which part of the world they are going to find it. Partnerships with other brands have also influenced her design focus, such as their most recent collaborations with Jonathan Simkhai (who I featured here) and Lucio Castro. Castro's menswear line is all about exposing the people who make his garments. His focus resonates with A Peace Treaty. The inspiration for this project was travel so Dana thought about all the tools that come with a swiss army knife and created simple chains with various pieces of the knife.It is their interesting and unique design perspective and genuine humanitarian activism that has pulled A Peace Treaty through the doors of at least 150 stores around the world, not to mention their online presence. Their biggest markets are in Los Angeles, New York and London. When I asked the two if they could get the same product without all the time consumed from traveling and rebuilding ancient techniques in different countries Farah responded, "Well of course...yes definitely. We could fake the same aesthetic in a factory but people care more and more who makes the product. It mirrors the trend toward sustainable organic food products. This conversation is slowly hitting the fashion world."What is next for Dana and Farah? Since they use a lot of home textile making techniques this would only be a natural progression into products like blankets, pillows and curtains. "Things like this take a lot of research and development, like the basket clutches we are working on in Ghana, but we are working with amazing skill so it is well worth it." I had the chance to wear some of my favorite A Peace Treaty scarves and jewelry in the photographs above and am a huge fan of their jewelry and scarves. Dana is Jewish and Farah is Muslim and they have come together in a partnership to transcend all the violence and negativity that people traditionally talk about when it comes to these two regions--and they are transcending it through beautiful art.Be sure to follow A Peace Treaty on Twitter and Facebook and shop their line here.
All photographs of myself taken by Alex Mouganis Photography.