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The Artful Muslimah: Crafting Communities with Firefly in Pakistan

Madiha Khan discusses creativity and the crafts community with the Firefly girl, Varah Musavvir.

Crafting is every little girl’s hobby and many women’s escape. Amid the hustle and bustle of life, some time away, solely dedicated to one’s craft can be deeply therapeutic for one’s mind and soul. Be it art, embroidery, poetry or prose, the process of expressing oneself through one’s craft can bring joy like no other. Indeed this is reflected in Varah Musavvir’s own words, “Happiness is handmade” – this is the mantra of the Crafter’s Guild, as well as the idea behind Firefly, Varah’s brainchild.

 

 
While writing this, my eyes catch a glimpse of a set of three Islamic-themed wall frames I bought from Firefly a few years ago. They light up the room with their cheerful mix of colours yet, at the same time, the beautiful calligraphy on them induces a sense of serenity in me. It brings to mind a quote by the novelist Jerzy Kosiński, “The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke”. This is true for all of Varah’s creations, be they something as small and dainty as her tiny messages in bottles, or her larger and more popular handcrafted photobooks. Each item displays the love and care she puts into making them. The colourfully vibrant pieces mirror Varah’s bubbly personality. Formed in 2010, her little enterprise ‘Firefly’ has since expanded and grown more popular with each passing year, and now is a well-known name in the crafts industry in Pakistan.

 

 

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However, there is more to the Firefly girl than just digitally created gifts and gorgeous handicrafts. Below her sweet and quirky exterior lies a single-minded determination to revolutionise the previously disappointing local crafts industry. Five years ago, any mention of Pakistani crafts would have brought up images of traditional weaving and conventional marble work done in the rural areas of the country. However, with the emergence of Firefly and partly due to the efforts of one young woman to transform the industry and empower crafters, there was something akin to a crafts revolution, and today we look at a completely transformed landscape.

 

 
Varah very humbly claims to have not planned for any of this to happen. She started Firefly on a whim and posted pictures of her creations on social media. The resulting response was phenomenal, and the little venture expanded from there. At the time, the styles and techniques of paper crafting in Pakistan were limited. Seeing the uniqueness of her crafts, she started getting requests for classes. “Within my first year and a half, I had hosted the first Crafter’s Workshop, where I had 50 participants and we went over the different products and materials available on the market for crafters and on diversifying the projects,” says Varah. Six months after that, she conducted a workshop in another city.

 

 
However, it’s one thing to conduct classes and workshops, it’s a completely different thing to host entire exhibitions, with tons of participants and a turnout numbering in the thousands. This is exactly what Varah has accomplished along with a dedicated team of volunteers. Again, she claims to have come up with the idea unexpectedly. “The idea was to link up all the people we had become friends with online as a craft community. It was just an effort amongst friends. We wanted to know our fans and do a meet-and-greet. The response was phenomenal. Within four weeks, we had energised the city of Karachi and we had around 2500 visitors in our first year.”

 

 

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Following the success of the first Crafter’s Expo, Varah started getting asked when she would do another one. Consequently, the Crafter’s Guild came into being. “I didn’t want to do these exhibitions and events under Firefly because Firefly is its own product and has its own identity. Whereas the Crafter’s Guild, although it’s under it, has a different umbrella of projects. It was a very humble effort that grew and without any sort of larger funding or influential backing.”

 

 
The Crafter’s Guild proved to be a blessing for many people, by not only uniting them, but also empowering them. The annual Crafter’s Expo and the smaller, but nonetheless just as influential Indie Arts and Crafts show serve many purposes. People get to promote their brand on social media through the event page, as well as do marketing for the event itself. There is usually a huge increase in product sales and orders because of the better exposure. According to Varah, many participants were recruited by a larger talent show, some were featured in a national TV programme, while others were hired by the Federal Chamber of Commerce to work with them, as a direct result of the latest Indie show. They also had great media coverage in the form of impressive write-ups in most of the papers.

 

 
Organising such huge events can be a challenge, but Varah manages to take it all in her stride. She regards herself as bit of a sheepherder trying to manage her flock. She maintains strict discipline when it comes to the involvement of the participants, as well as their role in marketing the event and their work. The sheer variety and talents of the participants makes the entire process so much more exciting. Varah claims it to be a very inspiring platform. She has so far worked with people from low-income households, with people who fly in from different parts of the country, even people from countries like Qatar and Turkey. There have been participants from different religious backgrounds as well. Each crafter has their own story, which adds to the richness of the whole experience. “It makes my heart melt when we see crafters with disabilities. We call them disabilities, but they are just differently abled from us. It’s very inspiring how they use their other sensibilities to put together works of art,” she says.

 

 

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Varah has always kept her religion and faith close to Firefly. “Whatever I have gained is through Allah’s help. So if I compartmentalise my religion or my faith, in terms of my work, I feel the blessings that come with it will also be restricted to areas I push it forward to,” she explains. For this reason, she has incorporated charity into her work as much as possible, whether it be through contributing a certain percentage of Firefly’s profits, doing pro bono charity work, affiliating herself with a certain charity for the year, or by awarding honorary stalls in the shows to people with underprivileged backgrounds.
Admittedly, juggling her day job at the Commune Artist Colony, her volunteer work with the Crafter’s Guild and her Firefly orders can get crazy sometimes. However, the support of her family, who are behind her one hundred percent, makes things easier. She hasn’t penned down a concrete plan for the future, because she believes that Allah’s master plan always supersedes our own plans. However, she hopes to see a nice little outlet for Firefly someday as well as seeing the Crafter’s Guild become a recognisable platform for Pakistani crafters. At the end of the day, the fact that she brings a smile to someone’s face through her work is what keeps her going and makes it all worthwhile.

 

 
You can follow Varah on her website www.whimsical-firefly.com and her blog www.firefly-girl.blogspot.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.

 

 
Madiha Khan is a risk professional, freelance writer and mother to a sprightly toddler. She enjoys baking, reading and travelling in her free time and occasionally forces herself to work out. She lives in the United Kingdom with her husband and daughter.

 

 

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