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Inside Steven Alan

Apartment Visit: A Peace Treaty

  • We recently visited A Peace Treaty founders Dana Arbib and Farah Malik at home on the Lower East Side (Dana) and Fort Greene, Brooklyn (Farah). After taking a tour of their apartments and chatting over chocolate croissants and chamomile tea, they gave us a primer on the history of their socially-conscious brand.

    DANA ARBIB, LOWER EAST SIDE

    Dana Arbib
    Dana in her bedroom. The wall weavings by Ran Ran Design were purchased in Barcelona by her cousin, the pillowcases were designed by A Peace Treaty COO, Jesse Meighan, and the Hudson’s Bay blanket is a nod to Dana’s Canadian roots.

    Where did you grow up, and when did you move to New York?
    I lived in Tel Aviv, Israel until I was nine, and then I moved to Toronto. I came to New York for college at Parsons School of Design and then I never left. I have 3 passports (Israel, Canada, Italy) and a Greencard. No where and everywhere is home for me.

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    How long have you lived in your apartment? 
    Almost a year.  I lived downtown before, but moved to the Upper West Side, and then moved back. I thought I’d experiment, but the Upper West Side wasn’t for me.  I ended up taking a lot of cabs, whereas here you can just walk everywhere.

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    What do you like most about your place?
    Probably the windows. My last place was quite dark. I like the fact that it’s on the corner, and I kind of feel like I’m in a fishbowl looking out at everybody. The worst thing is that the San Gennaro Festival happens right through here and it’s like, ten days long.  The music is so loud. There are bouncy castles outside my window. I could jump out my window onto the bouncy castle.  

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    You have a lot of artwork around your home. Do you have a favorite piece?
    My dad’s from Libya and I have a poster from an old Libyan radio station.  I have three pieces by Israeli artist, Michael Argov. My parents had them in their house so I grew up with them. Two of my favorite pieces are photographs by an Italian photographer and friend based in New York named Renato D’Agostin. The hanging hand embroidered textiles were made in Afghanistan as part of a project A Peace treaty did where we employed Afghani widows to hand embroider scarves for us. There’s a scarf that I designed and framed for an Alumni exhibition at Parsons. Nothing I own is really impulsive purchases, a lot of history and meaning are behind each piece displayed.

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    Do you work from home often?
    When I start designing the collections, yeah, because our office is really small so it’s just more comfortable.

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    How do you like to spend your downtime when you’re not working?
    I’m usually traveling. My parents live in Canada half the year and St.Martin the other half, and I travel for work. I’m gong to Paris now for market.

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    What are some of your favorite spots in the neighborhood?
    Jack’s Wife Freda. It’s really cute. I really like The Butcher’s Daughter. My friends Julia and Nina own a nails salon called Valley in Nolita, which I go to a lot.

    FARAH MALIK, FORT GREENE

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    Farah in her living room, surrounded by craft textiles collected during her travels and A Peace Treaty designs. Her caftan is an APT design as well.

    Where did you grow up, and when did you move to New York?
    I was born and raised in London, England but also lived in Pakistan during my childhood. I moved to Canada during high school. I later lived in Barcelona, Rome, and right before moving to New York I was living in London again.

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    How long have you lived in your apartment?
    Almost three years.

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    What do you like most about your place?
    That it’s so tranquil — it’s a sanctuary away from the city.

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    A lot of the items in your home come from your travels. What do you like to collect when you’re traveling?
    Local crafts like textiles, pottery and artisanal products that highlight regional techniques, like ebony wood or bone carving and beading.

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    Do you have a favorite memento at the moment?
    I’m particularly fond of a hanging animal mobile (stitched using craft textiles) I bought in Zanzibar — I think adults should be allowed to have hanging mobiles over their beds as well!

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    How do you like to spend your downtime when you’re not working?
    Cooking dinners for friends and loved ones.

    What are some of your favorite spots in the neighborhood?
    Colonia Verde (friends from downtown eatery Comodo have finally brought their South American flavored magic to my hood). Lulu & Po (yummy burger), Zaytoon’s (simple, unpretentious Middle Eastern fare comparable to the food I miss from London).

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    Where did you the two of you meet?
    DANA: In Rome. My brother got married there and a friend of mine mentioned she had a friend, Farah, who was living there at the time, and I told her to bring her to the wedding.

    What were you doing before A Peace Treaty?
    FARAH: I was working in the development and human rights fields, working on social change and cause related marketing campaigns that included everything from working with filmmakers to artists. I started feeling like there’s only so much you can do within the traditional non-profit realm because you’re constantly having to do more fundraising or report to your donors. It became clear to me that social problems like the alleviation of poverty or women’s empowerment had to be addressed from a business or economics standpoint. I decided to leave the NGO world and move to Rome to train in Roman jewelry making and ancient gold-smithing techniques in one of the last remaining ateliers of its kind — that’s where I met Dana, at her brother’s wedding.

    DANA: My parents worked within global humanitarian rescue work. Humanitarian work and awareness of global crisis as a whole were ingrained in me since I was born. I assisted in relief efforts in countries such as Cuba and Ethiopia from the age of 15. Prior to starting A Peace Treaty I had built a career as an Art Director and felt I wanted to move onto creating my own brand. I have worked within several facets of design including packaging, editorial, apparel and branding. I worked for clients including Revlon, Godiva, Smirnoff, and DKNY. After DKNY I was called in by Sotheby’s auction house to be a consultant in their Asian Arts Department.

    How did your backgrounds help when you started A Peace Treaty?
    FARAH: Since I’d done a lot of on the ground field travel, I had spent years taking note of how women’s craft and family artisan traditions were dying out, and in addition to that, you were seeing trade being cut off and sanctions and restrictions being put in place in countries with unstable governments. And with factory manufacturing growing, there was a resulting devastating impact on small communities of textile makers or master craftsmen, jewelers, leather workers etc. I grew up living in different countries and so cultural translation, collaboration and social innovation became points of emphasis for me early on. I’d also worked in the start-up sector and in fashion for a bit so it became easy to combine these aspects and channel them into A Peace Treaty.

    DANA: Because of my career before A Peace Treaty I was working within publishing, packaging, fashion and branding, which made me regard fashion as another field that I could adapt my skills to. I think that being a designer is about being multi-faceted and making sure that everything I do from designing packaging, a logo, my apartment or accessories just illustrates and reaffirms my distinct perspective.

    How did you decide on scarves?
    FARAH: I was moving back to New York at the time and sat down with Dana. We got to talking and actually wanted to start a jewelry line. The markets were crashing so everyone advised against it, so we did some market research and discovered that there was a big gap in the scarves accessories market. That was around the time you were seeing a lot of keffiyah scarves for $5 in Chinatown. Especially men were wearing them, so there was a clear indication that there was a need for something to adorn your neck with, but there really weren’t many mid-market options for bright scarves to buy.  That’s where Pakistan came into the picture. I knew exactly where the ancient textile making villages were so we built our first collection out of finding some of the oldest defunct producers in eight villages and towns across Pakistan. We partnered with workshops and sourced from families of weavers who produced fabrics in small batches for us. We came back and marketed it with a lookbook and the collection sold out in two days. That pretty much crystallized our company and made us realize this wasn’t going to just be a side project, but something that needed to keep going.

    How did you approach working and developing relationships with local artisans in Pakistan, and how did the experience inform APT’s strategy going forward?
    FARAH: I went back to Pakistan quite a lot over the following years, and established relationships with a few more collectives and workshops that had existed but were shutting down because of all the electricity problems, which is such a huge issue there because people can’t work when there are 16-hour power outages. A lot of my work at that point began, getting these families to see what they had and that the ancient way of doing things was actually better for them because they could use wooden looms without electricity, working outside in their own backyards in daylight. It was about making them regain confidence that there was a market, there was a demand for their craft, and to get their businesses back up again. That’s kind of where the roadmap for A Peace Treaty’s business model was born – to find artisan partnerships or small struggling family businesses and work with them for a period of a few years to help them grow their businesses into viable and sustainable entities so they can eventually work without reliance on us. We identify a group, work with them, and get them to a place where they’re thinking outside of the box – working in different colors and more modern designs –so that their business is relevant and can actually play in the global economy rather than just selling to tourists in dusty markets. We’ve replicated this model numerous times, in nine countries.

    What is the process for selecting the groups you work with?
    FARAH: It takes a good six to eight months to develop any new projects in a new country. We’ll take any approach from going through DC-based groups, to going through NGOs or community organizations on the ground in those countries, and then sometimes showing up in person trying to make relationships face-to-face. For every one co-op or artisan family business or workshop that we end up working with, I usually would have talked to at least 50 that I’ve had to weed out because there wasn’t the seriousness or reciprocation. To be able to seriously scale to the quantity we would need, there are a lot of groups that just can’t do it. And since APT is about building and growing businesses as well as our own there has to be the basic capacity there on the ground to serve as raw material from which to build from.

    What’s the most difficult place you’ve ever worked?
    FARAH: Definitely Afghanistan. I knew that there was a huge history of really intricate embroidery in Afghanistan. They used to call it the Paris of Central Asia, back in the 70’s. There were all these ateliers and it was actually quite a big fashion movement where women were stylish and not so hidden. They were wearing a lot of beautiful gowns and adorned clothing. My idea was to go and re-find or recreate that atelier past. We found this group called Afghan Hands, which is run by an American-Afghan.  It houses all widows – women who lost their husbands to the Taliban and they’re all young  – 21-27 – and have kids. It’s sort of like a vocational school for them to learn embroidery skills and get training in computers and language skills like English. All the money from production goes into a bank for them and there are no middlemen. When they’re ready to go back into society, they can.

    What were some of the biggest challenges you ran into?
    FARAH: It was incredibly difficult. You can’t really buy anything in Afghanistan so we had to transport all the fabric and thread from the markets in Peshawar, across the Pakistani border. The first truck with the shipment got bombed because there were NATO trucks right next to it that were being bombed. Then we got the next round of fabrics in – a shipment from Dubai – and the FedEx office closed down for a month and a half at one point because they were being threatened, so the collection we were supposed to have ready was stuck in the FedEx office.

    I’ve also been present in Pakistan and minutes from where Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated; gotten deathly ill with dengue fever and malaria on other trips. Its always an adventure working in certain parts of the world!

    You’ve obviously seen and learned a lot through working in stressful and politically unstable environments. How have you had to structure your business to be able to react to volatile, unpredictable situations?
    FARAH: Working in Afghanistan taught us that while the concept of A Peace Treaty was very much linked to working in conflict settings and with people in conflict situations, we’re a very small company, and at the end of the day, some of these places have no infrastructure so we became much more protective and were forced to have to put our company’s best interest first. That project took a lot of resources. When the pieces arrived, they were stunning (each piece took 30 days to make as they were completely covered in embroidery), but I think it was too political at the time to be talking about Afghanistan in the fashion media, and in a commercial way it just wasn’t as viable. That was about five years ago. I think it would be different now.

    It must be incredible to get to see so many different techniques (many of which are, as you mentioned, dying out) from all different parts of the world and play a part in their preservation.  Do you have any plans to document these experiences?
    We could make an archive of the work, and we’ve talked about doing an exhibition. There’s only so much information we can give about what goes on behind the scenes on our website before we lose the consumer. So it has to be done with focus and meaning.  We would love to be able to show off the intricate details of what happens along the way, in our supply chain, i.e. how we get one single APT item to the consumer from start to finish. It’s unfortunate that a lot of that gets lost in the shopping experience. We think the best representation for that would be a book or an art gallery exhibition. Those are definitely in the near future for us.

    Where are you focusing your attention now?
    We’re starting to branch into home. We’ve been thinking about home textiles all along but wanted to wait until the timing was just right. It’s a natural progression for us as all of our pieces that are woven or hand-knit can be regarded as blankets just as well because the oversize wrap idea is sort of our trademark.

    What’s important for people to know about APT?
    We believe that “luxury” means something that is made by hand with love and care, regardless of the name on the label. And while our politics are important, we always focus on making sure the designs stand on their own.

    At the same time, we’re not just a fashion company, and we’re comfortable starting conversations about fashion ethics and being vocal about our questioning of the status quo. Beyond whether cotton is organic or not, who is making the things we buy? Where are they coming from and what’s the human story behind them? What does the supply chain look like? We ask those questions about our food every day – is it local, is it sustainable? We want to make the these questions just as important for the things you put on your body as much as they are for the things you put into your body.

    Since beginning A Peace Treaty six years ago, we’ve watched these questions become more and more a part of the conversation, but there is still a ways to go before we’ll start to see a consciousness shift on the larger scale. Ultimately, we’re inspired by that challenge!

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    Many thanks to Dana and Farah for having us over! Scarves from their Spring ’14 collection are now arriving at our Tribeca, Hayes Valley, Nolita, Chelsea, La Brea, Greenwich, Portland, Chicago, and web shops.

    - Photos of Dana’s apartment by Steven; photos of Farah’s apartment by Nick Steever

    This entry was posted on Thursday, March 13th, 2014 at 4:34 pm and is filed under In Stock, New Arrivals. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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