Peering down the runway from backstage at Australian Fashion Week, Afghan-Australian designer Mariam Seddiq could hardly believe what she saw.
One of the models in her shining light is 24-year-old Nazdana Bakhtiari, who just eight months ago fled Afghanistan with her mother, escaping a Taliban takeover.
“It’s amazing. I was like, ‘how did this happen?'” said the West Sydney-based designer.
“This time last year he was there (in Afghanistan). There’s no way he would have thought he would do something like this.
“A woman can’t even walk out the front door at this point.”
The pair first met when Seddiq was looking for a woman skilled in traditional Afghan beads, known as mora doozi, to use in her outfits.
Local contacts from Fairfield in Sydney’s west linked him to Bakhtiari, his mother Zakia, and a friend, who had just arrived in the country, having left Kabul airport on a military evacuation flight.
“I went to their apartment and I saw their work and I knew I had to get the beads back into my designs, so they would have the work but in an artistic way,” she said.
During their collaboration, the idea that Ms Bakhtiari might come out of the shadows to showcase her work emerged.
“While they were working, hand sewing, (Nazdana) mentioned she might want to model for me, so she’s been training for three weeks,” Seddiq said.
“It seems like a dream to take it one step further.”
Seddiq sees her designs, a mix of couture dresses, suits and jewelery as a way to empower women.
“It’s not just because of this Afghan problem. A lot of women forget how strong they are and what they are capable of. So it’s very important to bring it out from all walks of life,” she said.
Her show at Australian Fashion Week in Sydney featured models of all ages, sizes, gender and ethnic backgrounds.
“It just felt like a real show rather than a completely curated skinny model show,” says Seddiq.
The former Bankstown Girls High School student has gained a celebrity following, with his designs worn by Orange’s New Black actor Diane Guerrero, as well as Australian music stars Iggy Azalea and Delta Goodrem.
Seddiq said Australia was slow in appreciating the work of designers who were culturally diverse.
“I started in LA and got attention in the US before I started getting attention at home.
“It’s time for Australia to embrace its brown people. And hopefully this leads to more female breadwinners, more female bosses because it’s about more than just fashion.”