Raleigh clothing designer taps into his heritage and gives back to the country that is his biggest creative influence

For many Americans, the name “Afghanistan” conjures up images of bombed cities, soldiers with machine guns and weeping refugees. For Mohammad Sadat, however, Afghanistan is a second home, a place rich in food, music and art.

Sadat, born and raised in Raleigh, is a second-generation Afghan American. His parents, who came from Afghanistan as refugees, immigrated to the United States in the 1980s. As a child, Sadat grew up in a traditional Islamic household, he says. His upbringing was a blend of modern American culture and the Central Asian customs of his parents.

“I grew up watching American television, Nickelodeon, family quarrel, lively. I even listened to a lot of American music, not only what was popular at the time, but also the great classics that my father liked, like Tom Jones, Elvis Presley,” Sadat says. “All this while my parents were still teaching me their heritage, their traditions, their history and my ancestors. I was told the stories they were told at bedtime.

It was in high school that Sadat first started thinking about creating his own clothing line, he told the INDIA. Seeing European and French fashion houses take on Middle Eastern culture sparked her interest in fashion.

“Versace [iconic baroque print], it’s something that’s very synonymous with Central Asian culture,” Sadat says. “I grew up wearing these kinds of designs in traditional clothing. It really inspired me to start concocting ideas for my own fashion line.

Last year, that dream came true when Sadat founded AFGNSTN Clothing Co., a fashion line that celebrates the culture and beauty of Afghanistan.

For the past 20 years, the war raging in the Middle East has dominated international news and permanently influenced many people’s perception of Afghanistan. Today, Sadat wants to reverse that trend, showing North Carolinians the vibrant cultural tapestry that lies just beneath the stifling political rhetoric.

“I want to show the positive things the country has to offer,” Sadat said. “When people hear the word ‘Afghanistan’, they usually associate it with negative thoughts. I want to change this perception of the country.

Sadat also pledged to make a difference on the ground. Even though AFGNSTN Clothing Co. is only a year old, it donates 15% of all profits to Afghanistan through the non-profit humanitarian organization Islamic Relief. Sadat says he hopes to one day open a manufacturing plant in Afghanistan.

The clothing line itself features minimalist designs printed on t-shirts, hoodies and snapback caps, a kind of rapper chic. Like many popular brands today, it also makes a social statement.

Simply wearing a T-shirt printed with a silhouette of Afghanistan shows support for its people. Wearing a cap embroidered with the letters “AFGNSTN” shows membership in a particular group. In the Triangle, the community of Afghan Americans is growing rapidly, as refugees flee the Taliban and join family and friends who have lived in North Carolina for years.

“The same way people wear French Connection clothes or clothes that say ‘C’est la vie, Paris,’ I want people to represent Afghanistan in a cool way,” Sadat said. “It’s going to take time, but that’s where I see this brand going.”

Sadat was inspired by West Coast streetwear that features graffiti designs, he says. He tries to emulate this style in his own work, creating casual and colorful prints. Sadat’s favorite design so far is his mosaic recreation of the rababthe national instrument of Afghanistan.

The stringed instrument, which dates from the 7th century, is a bit like a lute or a banjo. It’s hard to find in the US, but the nasal melody it creates is instantly recognizable.

“For me, the sound of this instrument is almost transcendental,” says Sadat. “It’s like reliving the memories of my ancestors, almost, when I hear that sound. I listen to a lot of music.

Another AFGNSTN design features the saffron flower, from which the saffron spice is made. Afghanistan has long been recognized as the country that produces the best saffron in the world, Sadat says.

Similarly, Afghan artisans weave some of the finest carpets in the world, with distinctive patterns and colors. Sadat also draws inspiration from these motifs for his designs, he says.

“Taking these meaningful things and putting them on Western clothing styles, on streetwear, that’s where the mix comes in,” Sadat says.

He sees his clothes as a combination of American and Afghan culture, something that can represent the experience of Afghan Americans.

“I take elements from my heritage, from my parents’ tradition and their culture, and bring a minimalist touch to it,” says Sadat. “Anyone who loves mountains, pomegranates or even flowers can wear clothes from AFGNSTN Co. What makes it special is that the inspiration comes from Afghanistan.”

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Follow editor Jasmine Gallup on Twitter or send an e-mail to [email protected].

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