The old minarets of Herat are already visible from far away, when approaching the city. The minarets which are the reminiscent of the glorious Timorid era stand shakily on the northwest corner of the city. When you walk through the city, you can find, besides booming modern businesses and shopping centers, small shops doing very traditional business of handicrafts and local industry.
A small fur-making shop attracted us with its small leather furry stuffs hanging behind its glassy windows. When we entered an old man with a woolen hat was sitting cross-legged on a piece of leather sewing leather shoes.
Fur, which is made of leather and different animal skins, is part of an old industry in Herat. Although it has faced many ups and downs, the industry is still alive. The story of Ghulam Haider, who is 92 years old and has spent his life in this industry, tells us how it has survived until today.
A kind smile spread on his wrinkled face and he started to tell his story: “I was born in a village near the city. When my father passed away, I was eight years old and started to work at a leather-making factory. When I became ten, I was very deft in my work and many others were learning from me. I was observing how they proceeded.”
Ghulam Haider’s profession was always affected by Afghan political developments. “After the communist coup, the factory was closed and the workers became jobless.”
Ghulam Haider started to work at a small shop, where he is still working. This time, it was his own business and he was hopefu
l to expand to a large business. But it didn’t last long and he had to flee the country to Iran. Again, he set up his own shop.
“Some days after I settled, people came and suggested me to work at an Iranian factory and train other workers. I accepted.” Ghulam Haider worked 18 years in that Iranian factory and trained many students. He believes it helped the leather and fur-making thrive in Iran.
Then he moved to Turkey, where he worked at several Turkish factories. “After the Taliban regime, I returned to my home town and organized an exhibition of my works seven years ago.” He worked on short-term projects initiated by international Non- Governmental Organizations who were working to promote local handicrafts and revive the Herat tradition of fur-making and leather works.
When we ask about how his business can compete in the local market with industrial products imported from abroad, he pauses and answers that he is not worried too much: “Anyone looking for genuine local products will come to me.” However, he complains that the number of his customers have dramatically decreased since most of his customers were internationals and tourists visiting the city.
Although Ghulam Haider is in the ninth decade of his life, creativity is part of his profession. He is not the type of modern fashion designer, but he always keeps his keen interest in making beautiful stuffs alive.
Different kinds of coats and waistcoats are designed and hanged on the wall, each a proof of his hard work despite his old age. The Afghan government was never sustainable enough to build a support system for local handicraft. However, it is kept alive by the resilience of its creators. Afghan carpets are famous worldwide! Ghulam Haider hopes to receive more governmental support. He believes it’s possible to promote fur-making internationally by supporting people like him.
Afghanistan itself does not have any remarkable fur industry. However, it exports a remarkable number of lamb pets abroad, especially to Helsinki in Finland where it is auctioned off to fashion houses to be turned into luxurious women’s coats, among other items. The hub of this trade is the Northern part of Afghanistan, Mazar-e-Sharif where Newborn karakul lambs are bought and collected from shepherds. A small number of the best Karakul lambs are sent to Kabul where furriers style them into peaked hats former President Hamid Karzai made famous. A silvery or tan karakul hat can be sold for more than $1,000.