Wednesday, September 20, 2017


By Eva Fydrych

Dagmar Lohnes 
Pamir Fashion

Backpack "Farukh" (Photo by Eva Fydrych / Fashion Studio Magazine)

Last month, Fashion Studio Magazine had the pleasure to interview Dagmar Lohnes, founder of Pamir Fashion, an Afghan company manufacturing and selling unique handbags and scarves handcrafted by local artisans. Their colourful creations are not only stylish and eye-catching, but also help stimulate economic growth, support local trade, and create employment opportunities in Kabul.

Social, Chic, Afghan

What makes Pamir Fashion unique is the fact that their products (both bags and scarves) are not mass-produced; each handbag is fully completed by one artisan which, according to the owner, "is more time-consuming than factory line production, but gives ownership and pride to each artisan".

Pamir Fashion bags include vintage (at least 40 years old) Afghan tribal fabrics - rare pieces which are not being made anymore. All of them are hand-stitched.

Would you like to know more? Read our exclusive interview with Dagmar Lohnes below!

Photo courtesy of Pamir Fashion

FASHION STUDIO: What inspired you to start your own business? 

DAGMAR: In short: sustainable employment creation.

In the last 16 years of foreign aid and intervention in Afghanistan, the private sector has not achieved considerable employment. The main reason is the government’s inability to build an attractive investment climate which would encourage foreign direct investment (FDI); most employment happens with foreign NGOs, donors, embassies, the military etc. In other words not much value creation and sustainability. After the military draw-down under Obama we saw the results: many NGOs closed, many donor organisations cut programs or closed them. As a result unemployment now is at record highs, while the Taliban and other radical forces are still trying to topple the government, poppy harvest are at an all-time high (despite billions pumped into eradication programs); so in other words what this country needs is investments and employment on a massive scale to begin alleviating its problems.

I therefore wanted to contribute a small part towards employment by reflecting on what products can be manufactured in-country and yet have a chance at market-success overseas. This is not easy to think up. Because pretty much everything in Afghanistan is low quality and one needs to source inputs carefully in order to create internationally attractive products.

FASHION STUDIO: How would you describe your target customer? Who do you design for?

DAGMAR: As it says in our home page intro: “the international fashion-conscious lady who values traditional handicraft”; open-minded, fashion-conscious women who seek out new and different designs, of course of a good income level.

Hobo Bag "Band-e-Amir" (Photo by Eva Fydrych / Fashion Studio Magazine)

FASHION STUDIO: What do you consider your biggest success so far?

DAGMAR: After 3 years of high staff-turnover (because it’s hard work finding dedicated and skilled tailors in Afghanistan who are willing to learn) I now have a great team and we are still alive. We are now able to set out into the international market with products desirable in themselves, rather than only because they are made in a developing country. Furthermore we have achieved that we source 99% of our inputs in-country – from the traditional vintage fabrics, to bag accessories such as feet, zips, buttons, rings etc.

We have secured exclusive cooperation with an Afghan artist who consigned his artwork to us to use in scarves and handbags.

FASHION STUDIO: Where do you find inspiration for your designs? How travelling and living in different countries influenced your design approach?

DAGMAR: I have lived in Afghanistan for 10 years (now I moved to Dubai for various reasons). So I know the country well and have travelled a lot. Afghanistan’s vintage fabrics are unique and beautiful. All handmade and typical for that part of the world. But there is no real market for them as is. They need to be transformed into something desirable. So I am always on the lookout for handbag trends and convert those into what we can realise in our workshop in Kabul.

Handbag "Ghazni" (Photo by Eva Fydrych / Fashion Studio Magazine)

FASHION STUDIO: What are your main challenges and how do you overcome them? 

DAGMAR: Jeez, where do I begin. Everything is challenging in Afghanistan. Take transportation for example: I could save a lot of money using Afghan Post to send my goods overseas. However, that’s a no-go because Afghan Post, while inspecting goods for drugs, would cut the bags open, rather than using scanners which they don’t have! So that’s of little use. As a result I am using cargo flights which are more expensive but at least they have the required scanners.

Low-level of skills in all areas: to find a good printer for my labels took me a year, to find an iron maker to make rings, feet etc, took me two years. To find a reliable leather supply took me 2 years. One could argue “why don’t you import these inputs from overseas?”. But given the troublesome customs procedures in Afghanistan one wants to avoid importing as much as possible. As soon as one deals with any government authority, bribes are necessary to get a reasonable smooth handling of anything.

Power supply: in winter we have maybe 4 hours of power per day, so we have to run a generator; now even in summer there are more and more power cuts (despite billions being pumped into power lines, diesel generators etc). This adds to my costs.

FASHION STUDIO: Which fashion trends for Fall/Winter 2017 would you recommend?

DAGMAR: At the moment one observes many ethnic designs with tussles and tribal elements (exactly what we represent, actually); stripes also seem to be trending.

Tote "Gulistan" (Photos by Eva Fydrych / Fashion Studio Magazine)

FASHION STUDIO: What is the best piece of fashion advice you've ever received?

DAGMAR: I never received any advice. I follow my own instincts – both with people and for my designs. The whole idea of my label is to become a trendsetter, rather than a follower.

FASHION STUDIO: What is your ultimate goal? Where do you see your business in five years time?

DAGMAR: Have consistent high-level sales in at least 3 international locations with my own boutiques; establish good brand recognition in all these markets.

FASHION STUDIO: Thank you so much for your time and good luck with developing your brand!

Fall / Winter 2017

Backpack "Farukh" (Photos by Eva Fydrych / Fashion Studio Magazine)

Hobo Bag "Band-e-Amir" (Photos by Eva Fydrych / Fashion Studio Magazine)

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