Friends Farah Malik, a Pakistani Muslim, and Dana Arbib, a Libyan Jew, are the founders of A Peace Treaty, a luxury accessories brand that draws on the duos mutual love of high fashion and desire to preserve ancient handcrafting techniques. Founded in 2008, A Peace Treaty employs local artisans in countries facing socio-political strife to create covetable pieces inspired by each country’s rich history. Earlier this year, Malik and Arbib were inducted into the CFDA/Vogue incubator’s third class.
How did the two of you meet?
Dana: I was in Rome for my brother’s wedding. My dad is Libyan and moved to Italy in his teenage years so our family has always had a connection to the country. Farah and I shared a friend in common and I asked her to bring Farah too. We ended up connecting on our love of handmade old world Italian luxury.
Farah: I had been making jewelry for years as a hobby, but then decided to get real, so I left the human rights world and moved to Rome to study ancient goldsmithing and handmade jewelry making techniques. I met Dana there at her brother’s wedding – when I moved back to New York, I called Dana and within hours of our meeting we were coming up with a business plan.
When did you find the “fashion crowd” became more interested in featuring ethically produced lines?
Quite recently. While the conversation started well before this, the factory collapse in Bangladesh last year was a real wake-up call for the whole industry, and it gave some urgency and relevance to the questions we’ve been imploring people to ask of the companies manufacturing the things we wear.
What’s the most difficult part of production when working with local artisans in your chosen regions?
There can be an aesthetic language barrier. We are often asking artisans to push the boundaries of their capabilities and scope. We like to use traditional techniques in new and unexpected ways, so there’s a learning curve that adds time to the process.
Additionally, on our end it means we have to be flexible in terms of scaling back designs to keep things within the realm of possibility – not everything we dream up can be realistically made by hand, so we can’t get too attached to any one thing. The silver lining is that some of our favorite pieces have come about by finding creative ways around technical restrictions.
Which came first: jewelry or scarves? Does one category do better than the other?
Scarves came first by a year or so. With Dana’s background in graphic design and Farah’s knowledge of fabrics, textiles were an obvious choice. And at the time we saw a real gap in the scarf market that we wanted to help fill.
Our first jewelry collection was an experiment and somewhat of a shot in the dark – we had no idea how our customer would respond. We ourselves had always imagined APT as a lifestyle brand, and we knew we’d add product categories over time. It’s interesting now to hear that some people consider us a jewelry brand first and foremost – in terms of numbers, sales across the two categories are split 50/50.
What are the first steps in collecting inspiration for a new collection?
It depends – we’re equally inspired by travel, art, cultural movements…at times it can be something very specific like Bauhaus, while at other times it’s something more broad like the Ottoman Empire. Once we pinpoint our seasonal inspiration we go deep on researching it – Dana spends lots of time at the library. Then we get to work determining how it can be best translated and realized using a specific hand technique.
How do you choose the region for each season?
The traditional aesthetic of each region doesn’t always factor into our decision. Our search for artisan groups is often driven by a specific technique we want to incorporate. If we’re really feeling block-printing or bone-carving, we research regions where that specific craft is a part of the local tradition.
What does it mean for your brand to be part of the CFDA Incubator program for 2014-2016?
Being involved with the CFDA in any way feels like a huge stamp of approval from the industry, and it’s a great honor. It also gives us a chance to explore ways to incorporate ethical production practices into larger business models through some of the CFDA partnerships.
What aspect of the CFDA’s support do you anticipate will make the most impact?
It’s all about access – there is such an incredible network of people. One thing we’ve been struck by is how generous everyone has been with their time and wisdom. We’re also huge fans of all the other brands in the 3.0 class, so it’s very creatively inspiring to be sharing this experience with them.
In what ways do you both incorporate the sustainable lifestyle into your non-fashion lives?
While sustainability is extremely important to us in our daily lives, here we must note the distinction between “sustainable” and “ethical.” People often conflate the two, which is understandable as they often go hand in hand. But in our case, our first priority is to bring work to communities that desperately need it, and to resuscitate handcrafting techniques that would otherwise be forgotten. Beyond that, we try to incorporate sustainable practices whenever possible by using recycled materials and being mindful of our packaging and shipping materials.
We both try to shop conscientiously across all categories – our food, clothing, home and beauty products. Buying goods that don’t wreak havoc on our natural and human resources is easier now than ever because consumers are really asking for it and manufacturers are responding to the demand. Every small change counts, and it’s important to be proud of making sustainable choices, even if you know you can’t do it 100 percent of the time!