Ishkar: My Antidote to Black Friday

Edmund le Brun and Flore de Taisne, Black Friday
Above: Edmund le Brun and Flore de Taisne, co-founders of Ishkar – Craftsmanship from Countries at War.

Thanksgiving — still my absolute favourite holiday ever despite having lived in the UK for the last twenty three years. Second favourite holiday — Boxing Day. A. because it’s No. 1 Son’s Birthday and B. because it’s the more relaxed version of Christmas. When we moved to London from New York in 1995 with a six month old baby, I did think that maybe we could leave Black Friday — the least fortunate part of Thanksgiving — behind and somehow magic up the Thanksgiving version of Boxing Day by creating my antidote to Black Friday so to speak. But alas, over the years, I have noticed with dismay that Black Friday has increasingly gained momentum over here.

I never understood it as a child and it’s still no more clear to me now why anyone would want to brave crowds and traffic to buy cheap goods when instead one could stay home, eat leftovers, go for walks and rent a video — I guess it’s Netflix these days. Black Friday signifies the first day of Christmas shopping but that’s not how I want to buy my Christmas presents.

Textiles from Afghanistan, Black Friday
Above: Woven stories from Ishkar.

Let’s face it — the process of giving is no simple matter. Joyful as giving may be — or as we have been led to believe — presents are loaded with meaning and finding the right ones can be complicated and stressful, especially at this time of year.

But as far as I’m concerned, giving a present without thought or meaning is squandering away a luxury — and I think I’d rather not give at all than give without consideration. Over the years, I have re-found the joy in giving by giving simply as well as ethically. I always start by asking myself what can I give which might improve a small part of someone’s daily life? Something useful, beautiful to look at, lovely to hold or that provides comfort. It’s the things we use daily or frequently that become ingrained in our memories and remind us of the people who gave them to us — no matter how big, little, expensive or not. And if these presents are thoughtfully designed or handmade from sustainable materials, they have all the more chance of being cherished and less likely to end up forgotten and unused in a cupboard to be re-gifted, donated to charity or take up unnecessary space in a landfill later down the line.

Herat Glassware, Ishkar, Black Friday
Above: For two thousand years the distinctive coloured glass of Herat — Afghanistan’s third largest city — was traded along the length of the Silk Road. Ghulam Sekhi is one of the last in this ancient line of glassblowers. In a mudbrick workshop at the base of Herat’s ancient citadel, his work is keeping this precious industry alive.

Adding to my list of shops and craftsmen I frequent, which can all be found here, I recently discovered Ishkar – Craftsmanship From Countries at War. Co-founded by Edmund le Brun and Flore de Taisne, the couple met when they were both living in Afghanistan, where they discovered artisans crafting modern day heirlooms, steeped in history and rich in character.  “In Afghanistan there is neither the money, nor the demand for high end craft,” the couple say. “Neglected, unable to sustain their businesses, many artisans have downed their tools, and with them, their ancestral skills too. This situation is not unique to Afghanistan.  Craftsmanship is in the same state of peril in Syria, Mali, Yemen and Iraq. We want to ensure craftsmanship in war-torn countries does not only survive; it thrives. Ishkar is our attempt at a solution.”

With the products they develop with their artisan partners, Ishkar are creating economic opportunities for craftsmen in war zones who have been cut off from the international market; supporting NGO’s by purchasing their products through them, ensuring a proportion of the money Ishkar invests is recycled back into development projects; and changing our perspectives of countries undergoing war by using the power of stories and products to inform, surprise and inspire.

And if it’s too early for you to start thinking about Christmas, you can always start with finding a present for yourself at Ishkar. That to me is the perfect way to transition into Christmas.

Afghani craftsmen with balls of yarn, Ishkar, Black Friday
Above: An Ishkar craftsman at work.

11 responses to “Ishkar: My Antidote to Black Friday”

    • Thank you so much Christine for writing about us and your kind support. Thank you Celine for your words and hopefully you will find what you are looking for on our website :), X

  1. Afghanistan is one of the most beautiful places on earth and the people there are so warm. I love that this company is helping such magical places to at least soften the harshness happening around such wonderful people.

  2. I was so pleased to receive this post, to learn that a company is trying to preserve craft and income to craftspeople in war torn countries. And I can’t think of a better way of buying presents for loved ones.

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