A Head Couture brand that empowers Women Acid Attack Survivors. By Kshitija Mruthyunjaya
Ara Lumiere an Indian brand creates exquisite head accessories handcrafted by women acid attack survivors. They recently won the Fashion Hub Market prize by Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana and The Best Shops (a non-profit Italian chamber of buyers) during Milan Fashion Week and founder Kulsum Shadab Wahab says the “survivor’s needed this glory and there is no better platform to start our journey.”
India has one of the highest rates of attacks with 250-300 cases reported annually but many go unreported. Amongst this 85% of attacks are on women for “domestic or land disputes, a rejected marriage proposal or spurned sexual advances”, reports Acid Survivors Trust International, UK. The impact of this crime go beyond disfigurement effecting them psychologically and socially going as far as forcing the victims to stay with the abusers as they are not accepted back in the society.
In recent years the Indian government have taken steps to address the issue through the passing of legislation particularly around the control and sale of acid and compensation for survivors. However Wahab laments that this enactment is inconsistent and the survivors have problems accessing “compensation, medical care and justice.”
What they do
Kulsum Shadab Wahab merges her passion for philanthropy and fashion to provide a voice for women acid attack survivors through her brand Ara Lumiere. It all started when she was conducting a workshop for survivors when one of them, an ex fashion student suggested re-creating Wahab’s headgear and magically transformed it into “something better by changing the pattern.” And thus was born the idea to develop an entire collection of headgear with an aim to empower and give the victims a sense of purpose.
Each headgear is a “personal expression of these women’s ideas and beliefs” thus giving every piece a unique story. Wahab expresses great admiration for the victims tailoring skills and has utmost respect for their craftsmanship. She says, “they really care about doing great things.” However in order to maintain consistency in these intricately hand made head pieces that prioritise quality and desirability, Wahab makes sure each survivor receives professional training in tailoring
Currently the brand employs “11 survivors working on stitching and 7 working on embellishments” using high quality materials from around the world. They sometimes use Wahab’s pre-owned items like brooches that she had collected from all over the world, and reuse them as embellishments for headpieces. Ara Lumeire’s A/W 19 collection is called Renaissance De La Fleur (Rebirth of a Flower) that uses fallen flora that is handpicked, pressed and used as embellishment for brooches and lapel pins. The title and process is metaphorically in tune with the goals of the brand to “give new life to the survivors” says Wahab.
How they help the survivors
Ara Lumiere celebrate these women and their stories not only through the information shared on their website and social media, but with Wahab being personally involved in all stages of the project means that they receive love, care and support at all times.
All the proceeds from sales of the products go directly towards empowering the survivors. In order for them to feel independent, a part of the society and for the society in turn to understand they shouldn’t treat the victims differently, Wahab pays the craftswomen fair wages as she would to any other employee. The proceeds also help toward providing medical treatment for survivor’s full recovery all of which is looked after by her. Wahab says she used to pay this sum directly to the victims before “but some wouldn’t use it for surgeries as their alcoholic husbands would steal it from them.” Apart from financial and medical support they also receive physiological support through motivational/guidance workshops.
Wahab believes that their recent win at Milan Fashion Week is a stepping-stone for the brand to grow and continue supporting survivors. It is well-intentioned brands like Ara Lumiere, that reimagine ways in which fashion can be used as a tool to empower and help strengthen societies for a violence free future. “The action of humankind has the power to destroy, but they also have the power to regenerate.”