Afghan Sisters Take to the Business of Fashion

Manizha Wafeq at her store in downtown Kabul.
Manizha Wafeq at her store in downtown Kabul
USAID
Clothing company's growing clientele spurs expansion, upgrades
“The timing couldn’t have been better. We were rushing to complete a collection for a fashion show. Thanks to the investment, we were able to finish on time.”

August 2015—When Sania and Manizha Wafeq noticed that women in Kabul were becoming more fashion conscious and that they had more disposable income, the sisters set up a clothes company to cater to the trend.

Wonderland Women Clothing Production Co., which designs and sews ready-to-wear and custom-made women’s clothing, opened the doors of its store in July 2012 with a collection of casual and work wear. Its target customers were Afghanistan’s growing ranks of working women and well-to-do housewives. Advertising helped build a strong customer base. The company's store, called Saleega, is located in downtown Kabul, making the merchandise accessible to casual shoppers as well.

The company’s rapid growth stretched its capacity. The sisters tried to secure a bank loan to fund their plans for expansion, but ultimately found the support they needed from USAID’s Assistance in Building Afghanistan by Development Enterprises (ABADE) project. The $105-million, four-year project, which started in October 2012, helps Afghan small and medium enterprises grow or diversify by providing equipment, technical support or training.

In February 2015, Wonderland received industrial sewing machines, overlock machines, a computerized embroidery machine and steam irons.

“The timing couldn’t have been better,recalls Manizha. “We were rushing to complete a collection for a fashion show. Thanks to the investment from ABADE, we were able to finish on time. Half the collection was sold on the spot and more orders were received from guests.”

Wonderland’s sales increased by nearly 50 percent after the fashion show. Manizha realized she needed to augment her existing workforce of 12 production and marketing staff to cope with the growth in sales. She then hired four experienced sewers and a full-time designer to constantly update the styles and keep a wider selection of ready-to-wear women’s clothing. She also hired four female apprentice sewers.

To maintain a good market presence, Wonderland started actively advertising through social media and has produced eye-catching cards and brochures.

So far, ABADE has formed more than 200 public–private investment partnerships with Afghan small and medium enterprises, more than 20 percent of which are owned or managed by women.

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