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From burqa to blouse, this is couture Kabul-style

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SARA Rahmani's best-selling fashion design last year was a shirt made from a burqa remodelled into a peasant blouse with just a hint of cleavage.

This year the 38-year-old Afghan designer shows off her new season's success, a jacket made from the black turbans worn by the Taliban and Pashtun men from the south and east of the country.

Ms Rahmani's company, Sara Afghan, is one of three Kabul fashion labels that operate in an environment far removed from the baby doll fashions sweeping European catwalks.

The majority of women who buy from them locally want tailored clothes that are in keeping with local cultural sensitivities.

"This jacket is very popular," Ms Rahmani says. "I used to make shirts made from burqa, but I think it is important to change with the season."

Unsurprisingly, most of her customers are foreign women working in Kabul. The prices are too high for Afghans, with a burqa costing $A16 but Ms Rahmani's shirt selling for $A46.

"Some Afghan women who have lived abroad buy my clothes too," she says.

Ms Rahmani lists the obstacles that businesses in Kabul have to work around: unreliable power supply, hassles with generators and difficulty in sourcing local material and finding trained staff.

Since she set up in August 2004, the business has expanded to employ 12 full-time machinists and up to 60 part-time embroiderers. But the Sara Afghan label is far from being able to find buyers outside Afghanistan.

After almost 25 years of war, Afghanistan's infrastructure has been bombed back into the Stone Age, and most of the country's skilled workers fled the fighting, never to return.

Operating a fashion business in Afghanistan takes grit and persistence. For the three foreign women who have moved to Kabul to train seamstresses and built their own labels, perhaps it also requires a dash of insanity.

"We are eccentrics. I don't think anyone really thinks about what it involves when they set up here," says Sarah Takesh, the creative and managing director of Tarsian and Blinkley, the only Kabul fashion label that has managed to vault out onto the international stage.

An Iranian-American, Ms Takesh, 32, imports silk and linen for her jackets and dresses from India and other countries in the region.

She provides work for about 300 people. The results are exquisite clothes with hand-stitched embroidery and beadwork, sequins or crochet.

Afghan women traditionally embroider clothes and linen as part of their dowry, so the clothes provide a livelihood to women who would otherwise struggle to make a living, as well as being beautiful.

Ms Takesh is not the only woman trying to use Kabul as a springboard to the international women's wear market. Zarif and Royah is Kabul's third fashion brand, and the only one sourcing all its materials locally.

Italian Gabriella Ghidoni and Afghan-American Zolaykha Sherzad have designed a line of clothes that reworks the traditional chapan jackets worn by President Hamid Karzai into tailored suits and coats.

Finding reliable sources of handmade fabric has taken two years.

"The material is beautiful. It's made from silk, wool and cotton depending on the season, and the embroidery here is of unbelievably high quality," Ms Ghidoni says.

ps: désolé l'article est en anglais

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