I came across Shafigheh Qias’ GoGet Funding campaign on Facebook and I was curious to know more about her story. Having moved from Italy to Australia in 1991, I am familiar with the challenges in starting from scratch different country implies. What I haven’t experienced is how it feels having to leave your country because of persecution, embarking on a long and terrifying journey, arriving to safety only to be put in a prison camp. This, and a lot more, is what Shafi has endured. Nevertheless she hasn’t given up hope, she gathered her strength and marched on, following her passions and refusing to be a victim. Her story is one of many, I am honoured to be able to share it.
Shafi was born in Afghanistan but moved to Iran with her family when she was a child, to escape the Taliban.
After going back and forth between the two countries, Shafi and her family started the difficult journey to Greece, through the Iranian mountains, across Turkey. Finally arriving by boat to Lesbos, and being placed in the notorious Moria refugee camp in 2017.
In Lesbos she soon started to experience the horrors of life in the worst refugee camp in Greece, and became especially aware of violence women have to face daily.
Within two weeks of her arrival at Moria, she began a protest in the town square with her brothers and sisters.
When I first meet Shafi, through my phone screen on Whatsapp, I am immediately aware of her strength and determination:
“I believe in the importance of using our own power to change a situation, to follow our dreams” she tells me.
I can’t help feeling a rush of admiration for this young woman on the other side of the world.
The protests and hunger strikes in Lesbos lasted three months, but finally the local government relented and sent her and her extended family to Athens.
Theoretically she is now a free woman.
She was granted asylum in Greece as a political refugee, which means she has an ID card and the right to move within Europe if she wishes, although in reality this can be difficult.
Her mother, some siblings and their children have indeed left Greece, where the economic crisis makes it hard to find jobs. They are now living in Belgium, although their first application to remain there has been declined.
Shafi decided to stay in Athens for now and, once again taking her destiny into her own hands, she is following her dream of becoming a fashion designer and creating her own fashion label.
She started sewing as a young girl in Iran and worked as a tailor since the age of 14, returning to it now, in Athens, whenever she can pick up work.
She has always wanted to transition from producing other people’s designs into designing fashion that she’s envisioned herself.
“I love to create beautiful things that make people happy”, she says. This creation of joy and beauty is what drives her, providing her with the springboard to follow her fashion dream.
Shafi has named her first fashion collection FLAME, inspired by the burning flame of creativity that keeps her going.
She developed the acronym FLAME:
Feminine in celebration of female aesthetics,
Loving to all people from all places,
Artistic in its approach to design,
Modern for our ever changing world,
Elegant because it shows self respect.
The clothing she is now making reflects these values, which are close to her heart.
The collection of 9 catwalk looks is made up of 13 individual pieces, which she will show on 5 models at an intimate event hosted by Action for Women Halcyon days project .
This event will take place next month, in a beautiful neoclassical atrium in Athens.
Besides being a very talented designer, Shafi is a keen observer and understands the importance of belonging to a community.
Her plan is to continue to focus on getting an education, most urgently new language and computer skills. Then she will channel her energy into becoming familiar with European fashion culture and aesthetics.
Shafi emphasises the importance of being proactive rather than passively observe and of trying to change things you don’t like in your life.
She speaks with pride about her mother and how she brought up eleven children in very harsh conditions, teaching them the importance of learning skills and being independent.
As a mother and a woman I can’t help but being in awe of this amazing woman and Shafi laughs when I call her “Superwoman” but she is definitely my new hero!
In the future Shafi sees herself going to Canada to get a more formal academic education, before making her mark in the fashion industry.
An inspiring and brilliant young woman, she is determined to make her fashion dream come true, she ends our conversation with a message to all women:
“Time doesn’t wait for you. So keep going with power and make a beautiful world together.”
Barbara Amalberti (Barbaraexpat)