A Fashion Resistance: Afghan-Australian Designer Anjilla Seddeqi Shares Tradition Through Dresses and Dolls

Photo by Jake Weisz

By Raye Mocioiu

Designers and fashion lovers alike have long spread a message of self-expression through the way we adorn ourselves. For Kabul-born fashion designer Anjilla Seddeqi, that means sharing a vision of tradition and a love of Afghan culture.

The Australia-based designer is known for her collections of ladylike dresses that are effortlessly feminine, elegant, and sophisticated. Her refined designs draw inspiration from the bright, intricate, and embellished traditional dress of Afghan women. Seddeqi is among the many Afghan women who use their designs to share a love for their heritage in protest against the Taliban’s new dress code for female students and help women affected by the movement’s return.

Seddeqi, who trained as a lawyer before pursuing a fashion career, moved to Australia in 1989 with her immediate family towards the end of the Soviet-Afghan war. She attended the University of Sydney, receiving a Master’s degree in International Law and interning for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Australian city of Canberra. After graduating, Seddeqi spent five years working with law firms, even going to Australia’s Christmas Island to provide legal representation to asylum seekers who arrived by boat.

Seddeqi says her goal was always to highlight the design and textile traditions of Afghanistan, a country that is one of the world’s biggest cashmere wool producers but rarely the subject of positive headlines in the global media.

“One of the main reasons I left law to pursue a career in fashion was to highlight the culture and traditions of Afghanistan,” she explains. “For far too long the narrative in the west has been that Afghanistan is perpetually at war and in conflict. But Afghanistan and its people are more than that and we are not defined by the relentless violence, invasions, and foreign interference that we have been subjected to. We are proud, cultured, and hospitable people and that is what I want to shine upon in my designs.”

© Photo by Stephanie Boyle

Fashion design was also a way to distract from the harrowing cases she dealt with during her legal career. What began as a personal project soon blossomed into a career, one that has allowed her to make her mark in the world of modest fashion.

“With the advent of the Taliban, I have become even more determined to share with the world our traditional dress and heritage and fight for women’s rights through fashion,” Seddeqi shares. “We have to resist oppression through art, fashion, and design, and we have to do it all times. The images of Afghan women in their traditional dress flooding social media with the hashtag #donottouchmyclothes is a fantastic example of that activism we need in these times.

“With this intention in mind, my very good friend Stephanie Boyle and I started an initiative that is close to my heart, and which will directly assist the women and children of Afghanistan, my country of birth.”

Arezu Dolls are handmade with love and hope by Afghan women living as refugees in India. The dolls are made from eco-friendly Indian cotton that otherwise would have been discarded as waste. 100 percent of the purchase will go towards this goal via the UNHCR.

Each doll comes in a special box complete with bedding, a personal card that introduces her name, her origin, and her favourite things. It’s a way of sharing a little bit of Afghan culture and heritage by way of something beautiful and sentimental.

“In times of crisis and heartbreak, it is imperative that we remain hopeful, and strive to transform our fear and helplessness into positive actions that lead to progress, however small,” Seddeqi says.

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