When we set up Peacock House last christmas, we only intended to sell a handful of cufflinks in order to fund a nice post-Kabul holiday. The response we received was phenomenal, and we sold ten times the number of cufflinks we initially expected to sell! What started out as a week of work for the young group of jewellers we were working with in Kabul, turned into five weeks of full-time employment.
The reaction was so amazing that we decided to move back to Europe, turn our back on a regular salary, and make a go of the business full time.
We’ve decided to give our new venture a different name from Peacock House, not only because we were bored of competing in google rankings with B&Bs in India, but also to make a distinction between Peacock House and the ambition and scope of our new business.
We will be launching ISHKAR fully in September with a crowdfunding campaign to get the business off the ground. ISHKAR will be a social enterprise pairing Afghan and Syrian artisans with international designers. Moving beyond cufflinks, we are currently developing a diverse product spanning from bespoke kilims to home decor and lifestyle goods.
So, what does ISHKAR mean?
ISHKAR is the Persian word for an unremarkable looking shrub found in the deserts of northern Afghanistan. For thousands of years the shrub has been harvested, and burned in large pits dug into the desert floor. After 12 hours of burning, the shrub mysteriously turns into a hard black substance resembling volcanic rock. This rock like matter is then ground up and mixed with dyes to bring out the intense colour present in so many of Afghanistan’s crafts, from carpet making, to ceramics and handblown glass.
For us the story of ISHKAR represents the extraordinary alchemy and ingenuity of craft. Who first worked out that combining ISHKAR’s hard black ash and with plant dyes and oxides would allow the dyes to bind with their material for longer and stronger? Each one of the products we sell is the result of tens (if not hundreds) of stages of production - many of which have evolved after centuries of improvements and improvisations, from ways of using natural materials, to tweaks to hand techniques and tools. In today’s world ‘handmade’ is rarely thought of as innovation, but innovation is at the heart of many of the craft products we sell.
A desert plant with extraordinary properties, also seems a fitting emblem for Afghanistan and Syria at a time when much of the world sees little else from them but war and poverty. We hope our products provide a window onto the Afghanistan and Syria that we are so fond of: lands rooted in culture, natural beauty and age-old craftsmanship.
Here's an amazing video of ISHKAR being harvested in Afghanistan in the 1970s, complete with some oriental wailing!