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Embroidery extraordinaire Asifa Mustafa, an artist weaving culture and business together

Brands of Maldives interviews Ashifa Mustafa, a young business woman dedicated to the traditional craft of ‘Kasabu’ embroidery

Mariyam Malsa
16 December 2019, MVT 16:07
Ashifa Mustafa, a young entrepreneur specializing in ‘Kasabu’ embroidery. PHOTO: MIHAARU
Mariyam Malsa
16 December 2019, MVT 16:07

Ashifa Mustafa, an enterprising, 39-year-old businesswoman earns a comfortable income through a rather unconventional trade, at least for these modern times.

A maestro of the signature shimmering, an intricate collar that adorns traditional Maldivian dress, Ashifa brings alive the art of ‘Kasabu’ embroidery by weaving together silver and golden thread on to the cuffs and necklines of ‘Dhivehi Libaas’, for custom orders.

Ashifa, a mother of four residing in the capital city of Male’ comfortably covers all her living expenses through her craft with undeniable talent and considerable patience.

Ashifa Mustafa, a young businesswoman. PHOTO: MIHAARU

The businesswoman states that the selling price of a small Dhivehi Libaas is MVR 1,800 while a larger one usually goes for MVR 2,500. Ashifa occasionally rakes in up to MVR 20,000 during the peak of the Maldivian tourism season.

While tech-savvy millennials living largely automated lives may find Ashifa Mustafa’s career choice strange, the businesswoman describes earning a deep satisfaction from making a living promoting a ‘dying craft’.

As there are very few, if any, remaining Maldivians that are knowledgeable in the craft of Kasabu-making, it is of great importance to both Ashifa and her family that her talents are passed down. In line with this, Ashifa is already teaching the craft to young Maldivians.

Dating back to the very first stitch

Ashifa reiterates how she was taught Kasabu weaving by her mother, herself was taught by Ashifa’s grandmother, dating back to a great-grand matriarch who first introduced the skill to the ladies in the family.

With a twinge of nostalgia, Ashifa mentions how she picked up the skill by observing the intricate craft being practised in her childhood home - never really out of a desire to generate revenue out of the work.

How old were you when you began weaving?

“I began when I was about 12 or 13”, said Ashifa.

“I started out playing with materials that were left out for weaving by my mother or grandmother when I was bored”.

When did Kasabu weaving develop into a business?

“It became a business when I created a Facebook page”, Asifa stated, adding that the page, established in 2013, had given her work a lot of exposure.

The businesswoman expressed her belief that the creations should be visible on a public platform since the family had been involved in crafting and trading for decades past.

Ashifa Mustafa, a young businesswoman. PHOTO: MIHAARU

Ashifa happily noted that collaboration with the Women Entrepreneurs’ Association of Maldives (WEAM) provided her with an additional opportunity to increase the scope of her business.

How long does it take to weave one Kasabu?

“Weaving one Hiru takes about three days”, enthused Asifa.

“If I balance other household activities, it takes a long time. In my house, my mother and the other family members are completely dedicated [to the work].

“It takes a minimum of 15 days to complete a Kasab. If I do this alone, it can even take up to a month’s time”.

What are the different techniques of weaving Kasab?

“There are about ten techniques of Kasabu weaving.”

“New designs can also be created if this work is to be pursued in earnest”, described Ashifa.

“This includes designs for commoners, middle-class folk and those favoured by more affluent folk. In olden times higher classes would adorn their dresses with Badhalaa Hiru while ordinary folk would wear Baagiyaa”.

What obstacles do you face within your career?

“Lack of access to materials is a key difficulty as I need to import the necessary items from abroad”, said Ashiya.

“In addition to this, selling a product can also pose challenges, since the traditional dress is not one that is usually worn in day to day life”.

However, she adds, “If I am unable to sell it on the desired date, I can usually make a decent profit during the upcoming season”.

Weaving a prosperous crafting career

“This a good craft to pursue, since there’s considerable demand from tourists visiting the country”, Ashifa adamantly claims.

“The Maldivian traditional dress is beautiful, and the demand is not only limited to culturally celebrated dates. There are several chances to market to tourists”.

For the future though, she would like to see more young people taking interest in her line of work, and perhaps carrying it on on a wider scale.

“Some may believe only old people do this sort of work; and claim it is strange when young people take it up - but that is not true at all”.

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