Colours of winter

November 20, 2022

Traditional apparel sales rise at start of winter in Peshawar

Colours of winter


very year winter is welcomed in Peshawar with colourful traditional outfits, thanks largely to the Afghan refugees who brought this fashion with them some decades ago. Garments markets in and around Peshawar and other major cities are full of colourful and charming apparel.

A specially designed outfit studded with a mosaic of embroidered patches called gagra resembles a frock. However, the stitching scheme, designs and tailoring style are different.

Peshawar’s Board Bazaar was the first place where the dress was introduced by Afghan refugee garments dealers in early ’80s. The trend gradually spread to other parts of the city and has claimed space in some of the busiest clothes markets of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The frock-like outfit also attracts dealers from Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Faisalabad and Karachi and some Gulf states where Pashtun families live in large numbers. Peshawar’s Karkhano Market has further developed this business.

Talking to The News on Sunday, Jan Wali Khaksar, 74, an Afghan citizen says: “Once only women of Kochi Pashtun, a nomad tribe, used to wear gagra. It was a three-layers dress to protect them from severe cold. The Kochi people are known to be hard working and skillful. It is mostly women who prepare the handicrafts. Their men generally graze sheep for livelihood.”

“Towards the end of 19th Century, some Kochi Pashtun tribesmen started marketing their handmade goods including richly embroidered gagra. They introduced it as an Afghan dress. In the beginning, only three-layer dresses were designed offered to protect one from the harsh winter. Such dresses were always unlikely to be adopted by people living in warmer regions. Later, however, changes were made in the choice of fabrics to suit all seasons and occasions,” adds Khaksar.

Shah Wazeer, another clothing dealer in Peshawar city, says there are two types of gagra/ Afghan dress. He says the prices vary a lot.

Some clothing traders in Peshawar now hire artisans for the artwork, floral patterns, mirror work, and embroidery on the outfits. At the last stage, designers pack together the kamees, shalwar and dupatta. A typical Pashtun woman’s dress comprises the three piees.

Bazaar is famous for gagra or Afghan frocks. Local residents as well as visitors from other cities show up to purchase the traditional outfit done with floral patterns in a variety of colours and for window shopping.

“I deal in gagra outfits for all age groups. All three parts are sold together. Some women also want an embroidered cap to go with the dress. The prices depend on the quality of the materials used, workmanship and seasonal trends. A traditional gagra, entirely handmade, sells for Rs 30,000 to Rs 70,000. Cheaper materials and machine embroidery can bring the price down to Rs 1,500 to Rs 15,000. Bridal handmade outfits can go for up to Rs 150,000,” Sahib Jan Kochi, a trader in Board Bazaar, says.

Shandana Hareem, a young entrepreneur, says Khte Zanziri consists of three principal layers — kamees (surface clothing), chamise (worn under the kamees) and mamees (worn next to skin). The kamees, is the most decorated part and usually adorned with colourful beads and small mirrors.

Haji Zahoor Momand, a dress designer, says that artisans - both Pakistani and Afghan - in Peshawar, Nowshera, Mansehra and Charasadda prepare the traditional gagra in three stages, namely muraduzi (inlaying of small colourful beads); sheeshaduzi (mirror work); and finally the silmaduzi (tapestry).

Kochi Bazaar is famous for gagra or Afghan frocks. Local residents as well as visitors from other cities show up to purchase the traditional outfit done with floral patterns in a variety of colours and for window shopping.

Mahtab Zaree, a salesman in a Saddar Bazaar, says young women are fashion conscious. He says social media is now a part of the business and many dealers run online sales. “Pink, red, dark green and yellow are trending colours; decoration is the common feature in all types of dresses,” he says.

“Swati shawls are also in great demand, especially during winter. However, gagra has a special significance. Most buyers visit the markets on Sundays. Young women designers are increasingly lending new colours to the outfits through their experimentation,” she says.

“Typical Pashtun women want to wear dresses in keeping with the tradition. Modesty and grace are important to them. If the government supports the businesses, more enterprising girl will rise to the challenge. KP is full of talent, vision and a taste for handicrafts,” Zaree says.

The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist. He mostly writes on art, culture, education, youth and minorities. He tweets at @Shinwar-9

Colours of winter