Home #Hwoodtimes Zarya Azadi, Yezidi-Kurdish entrepreneur: Uniting Kurdistan within fashion during London Fashion Week

Zarya Azadi, Yezidi-Kurdish entrepreneur: Uniting Kurdistan within fashion during London Fashion Week

© 2020 Courtesy of Zarya Azadi

By Jules Lavallee

Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 12/26/2020 Zarya Azadi is a powerful force for women’s equality globally. She was born in the Kurdish region of Turkey in Diyarbakir and belongs to the Yazidi religious community. During the civil war in Turkey Zarya’s family fled to Germany as refugees in 1990. Zarya is the first woman in her family and community that decided to leave her parents’ home and to study abroad. This was very controversial at the time as the Yazidi community is very traditional. After many months of debate and arguments, Zarya convinced her parents to let her pursue her journey. With the mental support of her family, Zarya moved to Oxford in England and successfully completed her Bachelor’s Degree at Oxford Brookes University in 2013. During her studies, Zarya was working as a catwalk and fashion model in Europe. Today, she is a successful model taking her Kurdish Heritage and Kurdish Designers to the runway during London Fashion Week with the House of iKons. “The importance of this show as Kurds is to be able to participate in an international event representing our own heritage and identity. For the first time, a whole solo segment will be dedicated to us and will not only feature Designers but also Kurdish artists and music performances” – Zarya Azadi.

Tell us about growing up in Kurdistan

I was born in the Kurdish region of Turkey, in Diyarbakir, where my family and I were part of a very traditional Kurdish-Yezidi (Êzîdî) community. I belong to the ethnic-religious minority of the Yezidi (Êzîdî), which is part of the stateless nation Kurdistan. Growing up I experienced my nation fighting for basic human and equal rights, constant oppression against us as Kurds and especially against us Kurdish females. Even Genocide was and still is operated on Kurdish females and females all over the world. The latest genocide done to Yezidi (Êzîdî) females are conducted by ISIS since 2014. ISIS kidnapped Kurdish-Yezidi (Êzîdî) girls and women who got either raped or sold or both. Kurdish-Yezidi (Êzîdî) boys were brainwashed into joining the ISIS, and our men were killed. ISIS describes this crime as ethnic cleansing. I experienced and still see persecution, diaspora, oppression, and war against and within my own community.

During the civil war in Turkey in 1990, my family and I escaped to Germany as refugees, where we still live alongside our Kurdish-Yezidi (Êzîdî) traditions and communities. Watching the Kurdish news on television in Germany made me realize, escaping war in your own country and knowing that you are still somehow part of it, doesn’t end for you just because you were lucky enough to leave. Besides that, the gender inequality in our community was, and still is just as present in Germany as it was in Kurdistan, and I had a hard time accepting it. This is why I am proud to be able to raise awareness on those specific topics now and paved a way for women in my community, by successfully convincing my parents to allow me to go study in London by the age of 21, which was very controversial at that time.

You are a successful model who graduated from Oxford. How did your experience during this time shape your vision for the future? 

Being a model motivated me not only to increase the representation in the industry but also to create a platform for myself and my community to be seen and heard. Heritage plays an important role in the model industry. The economic strength of the country can be very crucial for a model to be successful. We as Kurds are the largest nation worldwide without being an independent state. Kurdistan is divided into four countries that you can’t even find on the map.

During my career path, I rarely met people who are familiar with Kurdistan and its ethnic background. People usually confused my ethnicity and would assume I am mixed, which made it hard for me to fit into the mainstream market. Such experiences made me question my identity and ethnicity several times until I realized the need for a different approach. Being from a non-independent country/nation might cause confusion but does not affect talent. As Kurds, we should still be able to participate internationally in every industry where a country is represented. Instead of being intimidated, we must call out our community to evolve and educate those who don’t acknowledge us as a nation. I used to ask myself „Why is the world closing the door on us?“ – We are over 50 Million Kurds worldwide, talented and gifted, fighting for equality and equal chances. My experience during my time as an international student and model made me realize again, how the political, social, and cultural issues in my community are still impacting my life and my career in an unfortunate way. That is what really shaped my vision for the future, for myself and my nation. To put us on the map, give everyone the same opportunities, empower our women, and show our light and beauty to the world. For that, I am taking my Kurdish Heritage and Kurdish Designers to the runway during London Fashion Week with the House of iKons in February 2021, run by the name „The Hidden Beauty of Kurdistan“.

You are on a Mission to share Kurdish Heritage and Kurdish Fashion with the world. Tell us about The Hidden Beauty of Kurdistan“ 

© 2020 Courtesy of Photographer Adrian Krajewski Flyer editing © 2020 Courtesy of graphic designer Ricardo Acosta E. @itchirae and Rizgan Video Produc 2

With The Hidden Beauty of Kurdistan“ I Intend to showcase the beauty of our art and culture, which deserves to be acknowledged for more than it is now. Every designer that has been signed for the show is Kurdish and represents all of the four parts of Kurdistan: Bakur, Rohjava, Basar, and Rovjava. Every collection is influenced by Kurdish culture and tradition translated into fashion. The Hidden Beauty of Kurdistan unites Kurdistan within Fashion at the House of iKons in London, a well-known and international platform. The importance of this show as Kurds is to be able to participate in an international event representing our own heritage and identity. For the first time, a whole solo segment will be dedicated to us and will not only feature Designers but also Kurdish artists and music performances. The feedback alongside my community for this opportunity has been very positive around the world. We as Kurds unite regardless of our intercultural differences, religions, and politics because calling us out on our differences will not drive any change. What matters is that we get recognized and that our talents, art, creativity, and skills get acknowledged. Many of the Kurdish designers are in the fashion industry for many years, all impacted and influenced by their unique personal history which leads most of them from Kurdistan to Europe in unimaginable ways. Their individual experiences through war and oppression shaped them in many ways and I am immensely proud of each one of them, as they were not accepting closed doors but decided to follow their passion and talent instead. The Hidden Beauty of Kurdistan is a celebration of the uniqueness and diversity of our heritage, which we want to share with the world.

Tell us about the House of iKons show and the Kurdish Designer that you present. 

As a sponsor of the House of iKons Fashion Week London, I am representing the Kurdish solo segment with the title, The Hidden Beauty of Kurdistan.“ Founded by Savita Kaye under Lady K Production, the House of iKons successfully draws in fantastic crowds to its independent shows. It has been growing and gaining momentum since it launched in September 2014 in London and internationally. www.houseofikons.com

House of iKons success is based on their unique concept, which celebrates the new generation of global fashion talent. Savita Kaye’s ambition is for House of iKons to be a global brand, known for launching emerging designers and creatives. Working with global media partners has enabled House of iKons shows to be aired worldwide to millions of viewers. In addition to House of iKons Fashion Week London, which will happen during the prestigious Fashion Week, has also taken place in Los Angeles, Beijing, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. Designers have been signed to department stores, boutiques, wardrobe for music videos, and working with major celebrities, such as JLo, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Tyra Banks – just to name a few. House of iKons has been created as a platform to help emerging designers and creatives to the next level. Models and representatives who have taken part in House of iKons shows in London, Dubai, and Los Angeles have also benefited from working in TV and film. House of iKons simulates the perfect environment for our Kurdish designers to present their talent and effort and to prove that we deserve recognition for our creativity as much as everyone else.

All signed designers for the show are Kurdish and have their own unique success story behind them. I have just recently confirmed another fashion designer, g.seven and her fabric supplier Yildiz Stoffe, as part of the show, both of them are also Yezidis (Êzîdîs). I’m glad I could fulfill my father’s wish to have at least one Yezidi (Êzîdî) designer as part of the show (laughs). Now that I have two participating, he is very happy (laughs). It is understandable that after 2014 we all want to see togetherness and representation. I try to comply with this and to fulfill this as it means a great deal for me and my generations as well of course. I am very proud of the Kurdish fashion designers that all took the risk to sign up for the show during an international pandemic, not knowing what could happen next year. This alone shows and proves how much passion, love, and pride are behind their work and of course their identity as Kurds. They all got inspired and motivated to be part of this international event and all of them said that this is a dream come true.

@ 2020 Courtesy of à la mode & pop singer Ilira

à la mode by Ala Hadji is originally from Zaxo, the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Now she is based in Berlin, Germany, and found her talent in the diversity of modern, elegant, and fashion but also designs Kurdish traditional clothing. Besides that she works with various designers in Berlin in completing different collections. Her customers range from a normal audience to designers and VIPs. She’s designed clothing for one of the judges of Germany’s Next Top Model by Heidi Klum and also the international music singer Ilira. She loves to design Kurdish clothes with modern elements. Although being the youngest sister in her family, she was really looked up to when it came to fashion by her older sisters. Ala Hadji also teaches sewing classes 1-2 days a week to help others to fulfill their dreams too.

@ 2020 Courtesy of Yadê Couture

Yadê Coture by Sadiye Demir, who is originally from Mardin, the Kurdish region of Turkey, who is now based in Bern, Switzerland. Growing up during a war, Sadiye’s grandmother had her old sewing machine repaired for her to continue with her dream of becoming a designer. That motivated her to continue following her dream and opened her own atelier when moving to Bern. She is very driven by her joy and passion for fashion, which is shown in her unique and customized pieces. Sadiye Demir uses feminine colors with masculine mixed cuts to embody individual elegance. Her own style preference is comfortable and stylish and her way of thinking is: “The world is very stressful these days; at least our clothes should be comfortable.” The Hidden Beauty Kurdistan will be her first show to showcase her own collection at the House of iKons and has shown immense transformation.

@ 2020 Courtesy of g.seven & Yildiz Stoffe(1)

g.seven by Gülistan Taylan, originally from Batman, the Kurdish region of Turkey who is now based in Hannover, Germany, started her career in fashion at a young age. Working with the fabric used to be a family tradition until she took it to the next level and started designing her own dresses. Gülistan uses light, transparent, silk tulle and full embroider fabric to create modern evening gowns, using a touch of Kurdish fabrics and colors. Her personal fashion style embodies elegance, romance, femininity, and self-confidence, which feels empowering to our female community. Gülistan has accomplished her education in fashion design and as a professional tailor and ran a business on her own by the age of 23. After accomplishing higher education in fashion design, she took a break to raise her own family but has started her comeback again by rebranding her business to g.seven. g.seven has been working with the fabric supplier Yildiz Stoffe for many years and will be creating her new collection for the February show in cooperation with her.

Yildiz Stoffe by Yildiz Tüzün is also originally from Batman, now based in Celle, Germany. She opened her business 3 years ago and supplies to her international Kurdish customers to Switzerland, France, Norway, Austria, and the Netherlands. The styles of the fabrics are a combination of traditional and modern fabrics and patterns. She will be showing her newest fabrics at the exhibition room during the show in London.

@ 2020 Courtesy of Bahar Yasin Studios

Bahar Yasin Studios by Bahar Yasin is originally from Zaxo, and now based in Stockholm, Sweden. The young designer entered her creative career early as it was her only outlet for processing inner emotions. She accomplished her degree in fashion at the Nordic Textile Academy in Boras, Sweden in 2015. Since then she was working on her own studio which is now filled with creations of vintage, second hand and recycled fabrics. Her art is very conceptual and mixes different fabrics with forms to resemble the complexities of us women. One of her goals is to create pieces that don’t impact our environment negatively and save our planet.  That is why she uses recycled and second-hand pieces in her designs. Bahar also wants to inspire future women around the world, letting them know that we can shape our own lives despite our heritage, sexual orientation, social status, and/or color of our skin. She aspires to inspire with her creations.

@ 2020 Courtesy of Inci Hakbilen

The designer Inci Hakbilen, who is originally from Haymana, the Kurdish region of Turkey is now based in Hamburg, Germany. She owns her own atelier and boutique for many years in Hamburg. Her main focus used to be on bridal and evening wear but expanded to traditional Kurdish clothing mixed with modern street style. For a few years, Inci Hakbilen has been creating modern streetwear using the colors of Mesopotamia and traditional fabrics in her collections. She has accomplished a lot in her career and has hosted her own fashion shows in Germany. Over the last couple of decades, she has organized several fashion shows to showcase her newest collection, a mix of modern Western streetwear, evening gowns, and traditional Kurdish clothing working with diverse models and live performances by music artists. She has been in the fashion industry for over 30 years and would like to create a fashion show in Diyarbakir or Istanbul as one of her last fulfilling dreams as a fashion designer.

@ 2020 Courtesy of Atelier by Khoshkar Horre

Atelier by Khoshkar Horre, who is originally from Afrin, the Kurdish region of Syria, and is now based in London, UK. Khoshkar Horre creates from his heart and soul – aspiring to empower women. He is encouraging women to show their femininity and to express their confidence and uniqueness. The strong, yet feminine design can be worn casually, professionally, or even on a red carpet. Khoshkar is constantly evolving and complementing the female physique by creating high-end and couture fashion. His passion for fashion grew through his family of tailors, who is in the tailoring industry in his home town Afrin since the 1850s. Today, Khoskhar is an established tailor and designer himself, gained a tremendous following and designed for VIPs and athletes worldwide.

© 2020 Courtesy of Joan Badrkhan Design

Joan Badrkhan Designs by Joan Badrkhan is originally from Sulaimaniya, the Kurdish region of northern Iraq is now based in Oslo, Norway. Joan is mainly focusing on Kurdish and Middle Eastern clothing, traditional but modern dresses to wear casually and for a special occasion. Joan always tries to include her Kurdish culture and tradition in her design because she wants to show everyone in the fashion industry that Kurdish clothes and culture are unique and there is a big history behind them. Also highlighting the diversity in cultures and colours in Kurdistan. Joan gets her inspiration from the impeccable and powerful culture, color, and nature in Kurdistan. In 2013, she got the opportunity to fulfill her dreams and passion when she was contacted by KurdSat TV. Ever since she has been working with fashion design, participated in different projects, interviews, the first Kurdistan fashion week in Erbil, and collaborations with artists and influencers. Now she is focusing on her biggest project, starting her own store and design academy to be able to teach young designers and encourage them to follow their dreams.

@ 2020 Courtesy of JoJo Braut & Abendmode & Zarya Azadi

JoJo Braut & Abendmode by Nesrin Hassan, who is originally from Rojava, which is West of Kurdistan and the Kurdish region of Syria, is now based in Bochum, Germany. Nesrin studied fashion design at the University of Dubai and worked there from 2010-2014. In 2016 she opened her own boutique in Bochum specialized in bridal and evening wear. Her usual work mostly includes customizing dresses on special requests but also creating her own collections, which are incredible and princess-worthy evening gowns for a big entrance. Using different and high-quality fabrics and even using Swarovski stones to give it the finishing touch. Nesrin has also gained a big following and her customers even fly in from other European countries to get their unique wedding dresses. JoJo Braut & Abendmode will be closing with her royal-looking wedding dresses.

Share your history of Kurds & their struggle. How did you grow up with a lack of identity? 

Despite the government’s attempts at dissolving the Kurdish identity, it has grown to be the strongest minority identity in Turkey. This is partially due to Kurds being one of the largest ethnic minorities in the country, as well as a result of the on-going Kurdish separatist movement happening in the southeast. We as Kurds always felt the need to show that we were a participant of the country, that we are citizens just as Turks are. During the language ban through the Turks, many Kurdish communities kept their language and traditions alive behind closed doors. Language is very crucial to one’s identity, without one you feel lost easily. Turkey’s rejection of the Kurdish identity causes many Kurds within the country to grow up feeling like second-class citizens. Many feel ashamed, alone, and helpless in the face of the traumas their communities suffer from. That’s why Kurdish people are so resistant to giving up their identity and are so passionate about fighting for their rights. When your identity and background are denied, you always feel insulted and the next generation will have some complexes about their identity as well. My own experience as a Kurdish woman is best described as a constant conflict between family and tradition and self-fulfillment, freedom, and self-determination. As I mentioned before, I was struggling with my own identity in several situations, especially in my career. And what my heritage and its struggles taught me is that we as Kurds might always have to fight a little harder to protect who we are, but in that, I see the strength and unity, the potential and the uniqueness we Kurds have to offer to the world.

What do you want the International Designer World to know about Kurdish Designers? 

One of the Kurdish designers and representatives Bahar Yasin stated, As a Kurdish woman I have an amazing culture, and my people’s culture is many times mistaken by other nationalities because globally we are not on the map. Getting recognition as a Kurdish designer is a step in the right direction.“  We are empowering and inspiring women all around the world to shape their own lives not despite but because of their heritage. All we really want is to be part of the bigger picture, we want to show the international designers that a creative, unique, Kurdish fashion segment exists which is worthy of recognition and cooperation. By that, we are showing the world and our own community the possibilities and chances in evolving our beautiful heritage.

www.zaryaazadi.com

www.houseofikons.com

A special thanks to Jules Lavallee, Savita Kaye and Madeleine Hegel for the support.