For many of my adult years I have managed and directed long term business and entrepreneurial development projects, working with men and women to adapt their traditional skills to improve their livelihoods. Most of my work has been in rural underdeveloped countries such as Yemen, Pakistan, Jordan, Afghanistan and the newly independent republics of Central Asia and the Caucuses.

Providing basic hands-on mentoring training on how to organize and start small businesses - offering training in product development, quality control, pricing and marketing techniques - rural residents adapt their skills and create items to sell to both local residents and tourists alike. Thus, family incomes are raised and the communities’ viability increases.

Below are samples of communities I have worked with and products we have developed.

Training project participants to conduct market surveys brings interesting results. An outcome of the surveys we did in Central Asia and in Afghanistan confirmed that local people and tourists alike are always looking for new products which incorporate traditional textiles and embroidery in new more modern preferred styles. New and old textiles can be incorporated in currently made clothing. Shown are new products developed for the Afghan and Central Asian markets. The textiles used were mainly shawls, wall hangings or as bed covers. Today they make up a collection of modified tunics which can be worn in the east or the west.



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Below are items designed for women to embroider onto the garment in specific places indicated by the designer. Training and paying women for this work helps small communities where women often cannot leave their homes and where they are often not educated and are illiterate. Yet they have highly developed skills in embroidery. The white chiffon embroidered and beaded tunic was make by a woman who had previously made only scarves. Her expanding range of products increased her sales. The dark velvet tunic is a replica of an old village dress - original shown beside new one. The white blouse uses pieces of embroidery from Herat and Kandahar which are often used as pant cuffs. Here they are used as blouse insets. The two green tunics utilize hand embroidered edging in a modern garment style.


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Young people around the world like to wear the newest fashion items yet relate to their cultural heritage. During one of my recent trips to Afghanistan I came in contact with many young and modern Afghan women. Below are some of the products we worked on to create for the younger set. The blue necklace incorporates crochet which many rural women know how to do. Everyone loves blue jeans so a blue jean jacket using traditional embroidery designs was a big hit locally. Afghan women love to wear crocheted ponchos. The gray one resulted from us helping women producers choose better quality materials to crochet with. The orange poncho is an example of what was being made before we started product development. The final example is a black crepe poncho with embroidery and beaded fringe.


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After conducting market surveys it is often found that women buyers always ask for new designs in purses. They love to carry something new but which incorporates their own cultural tradition. Below are some of the purses designed and made for the Afghan and Central Asian local buyers plus the many tourists and foreign workers who live and work in the region.


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Creating products which reflect a national heritage requires searching out designs which have historical and cultural meaning to people, but which also have design potential and are culturally appropriate to use on products designed to sell in a contemporary market. In Herat the women I worked with thought the famous designs found on local tiles could be applied on to contemporary home decorating items. Additionally, the hand guided machine embroidery technique commonly used on traditional wedding dresses had not yet been adapted to create new modern items so we chose to make new wearable modified tunics and jackets. Below are samples.


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Home decorating items utilizing traditional designs are often appreciated by local and foreign buyers alike. Training rural residents in use of color, choice of cloth, quality control, pricing and marketing techniques and helping them adapt their skills to create desirable items sought by local and international shoppers can help them increase their sales. Contemporary buyers prefer a toned-down color pallet rather than the hot fuchsia, bright orange and day-glow green commonly favored by villagers. When the training is applied to production sales can increase immediately. Below are samples of home decorating items made by Afghan women for the local and foreign buyer.


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Sharing photos of women trainees working on their new items or attending training is not now culturally acceptable - however - I would like to show "work in progress" to give the reader an idea on how time intensive it is to make quality production. The men and women who have made the majority of the items shown in this section deserve to be acknowledged as they took a big step when agreeing to participate in projects which ended up taking them out of their normal way of doing things and introduced them to new ways of approaching their income activities.


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©2017 Darleen WilkersonInitial Design by Terry V Henderson, final Design and Maintenance by ABQweb / L&S Marketing, Inc.