In March 2021, Zulaikha Aziz launches her jewelry brand, Mazahri, an ode to her Afghan heritage.
“Jewelry played a very important role in my life as it was the means through which I was able to connect with my heritage and my ancestors,” said Aziz, who received the WJA-Gabriel scholarship. Love Foundation in 2020. “My family and I fled to the United States as a refugee and was forced to leave everything behind except for the ancestral jewels that my grandmother Mazari saved.
But the new brand was only launched shortly before it was forced to take a back seat, in August, as bad news from Afghanistan grabbed the headlines and Aziz, who is also human rights lawyer, took a step back from Mazahri. focus on ongoing humanitarian crises.
“Watching the Taliban take city after city and see my hometown of Kabul fall was more than devastating,” says Aziz. “I don’t have the words to describe how horrible it was to see something I had dedicated my life to – freedom and justice in Afghanistan – disappear almost overnight. I have family and friends that I tried hard to help, but nothing I did made a difference – it was pure chaos and I felt helpless. I had to turn my attention away from Mazahri and focus only on using my skills as a lawyer to meet immediate emergency needs: first evacuations, and now refugee assistance and human rights advocacy. “
Aziz stepped up to co-lead the Berkeley Law Afghanistan Project, which aims to provide pro bono emergency support to Afghans fleeing persecution, to support women’s rights activists and human rights defenders in Afghanistan, and to document and preserve human rights violations in the country for use in future advocacy.
Through her work, the designer realized that the budding jewelry brand could be used to publicize Afghanistan, not only the ongoing crises there, but the country itself, which is home to so many. “Mazahri is an attempt to shed light on the depth and diversity of Afghanistan’s rich culture and heritage, which is particularly important now with the withdrawal of US and allied forces from Afghanistan and renewed control of the country by the Taliban, ”Aziz said. “There is an urgent fear that Taliban control will lead to an erasure of Afghanistan’s artistic culture and heritage. The reports from local artists are frightening, and our local artisan partners [Turquoise Mountain and Zarif] have minimized operations while they learn about the new terrain.
Although the brand debuted earlier this year, the idea behind it had been in the works for some time. It took a global pandemic for it to come to life.
“I had been thinking about the idea of Mazahri for years, but I didn’t go until I had to take the time to think deeply about the purpose, the intention and the impact. of the brand, ”says Aziz. “The pandemic really gave me that time. “
Still, the pandemic has made being completely new to the industry no easy task. “I didn’t have the connections within the industry or was unaware of sourcing, production, marketing, financing, sales – I’m still trying to figure it all out, I had never run a business before! I just knew I had a vision that needed to be expressed, and I honestly feel I was guided through the process. When I look back, it was just a series of small steps that I’m still taking. I’m proud of my first collection, but I’m still learning so much.
As for the future of Mazahri? “I have so many ideas! »Says the designer. “Fundamentally, I want Mazahri to be a vehicle for better understanding and awareness, not only about Afghanistan, its culture and heritage, but also about the women and men who make their living by extracting the materials we carry and daily use the process of resource extraction and the systems that have been developed to benefit some and not others. I want Mazahri to be a vehicle for connecting and exploring some of these issues through beauty and meaning. Jewelry has been so important to humans since the dawn of time, as a way to adorn, connect and preserve meaning – and I believe jewelry has the potential to change now not just to bring joy and beauty. and adorn the wearer, but also to improve the lives of so many people in the countries where the materials we use come from. We can do things better to enjoy it more, and I think that is the future of Mazahri.
All of Mazahri’s coins are created from 18k Fairmined gold and gemstones sourced from artisanal and small-scale miners around the world, says Aziz. Ten percent of the brand’s profits go to Women for Afghan Women, specifically its legal rights programs in Afghanistan.
“This past month and a half has been the biggest challenge for Mazahri, but I am very grateful to all the people who have discovered us and supported our mission,” said Aziz. “Every piece I create reminds me that one more person will take with them the beauty and the light of Afghanistan.”
Top: Yak Coin earrings in 18k yellow gold, $ 6,420; Mazahri
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