The story of Afghanistan told to the world for the past several decades revolves almost completely around politics and war with little emphasis on the country’s rich culture. Mohammad Sadat, a 2020 graduate in business administration, seeks to fill this gap in the narrative through his streetwear brand AFGNSTN.
Sadat, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan in the ‘80s, wanted to share with the world the vibrant and beautiful Afghan culture that his parents shared with him.
“There are people who are much better at speaking about politics,” Sadat said. “I like to speak more about the culture, the history and the beauty of the country and shed some positive light on it.”
Sadat is seeking to reclaim Afghanistan’s creative narrative and uplift its artistry. Part of his drive to create AFGNSTN was a lack of recognition and credit for Afghanistan's creations.
“I've noticed a lot of French fashion houses or European fashion houses still stealing a lot of designs, colors and aspects of culture from the Middle East and from Central Asia,” Sadat said. “That's something that's a huge conversation within our own smaller communities.”
Sadat, who creates the designs himself, incorporates symbols of home into his work. He conveys symbols of hospitality, love and music through illustrations of plants, instruments and architecture. The RABAB collection focuses entirely on pictures of Afghanistan's national instrument, the rabab, to convey the influence of music on the country’s culture.
“When people going forward hear ‘Afghanistan,’ I want them to think of our carpets, our fruits or vegetables,” Sadat said. “Small things like that that we hold very dear to ourselves but that the world doesn't know about.”
AFGNSTN’s clothing also represents, according to the brand’s website, “a bridge between Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora.” Sadat combines the streetwear style with both Afghan symbols and values of modesty. In this way, he displays the overlap of U.S. and Afghan cultures that was present in his and his siblings’ lives growing up.
“My parents made sure we took the good from both cultures,” Sadat said.
To Sadat, family is both a vital inspiration and an integral resource for his designs. Much of his creative inspiration comes from conversations where relatives share their memories of Afghanistan. He relies on his siblings to gauge how successfully he has represented an idea, story or emotion.
“It's good to get their advice on every design I make and what they think,” Sadat said. “Once I get my family’s approval, even if other people don't like it, it doesn't really bother me.”
Sadat launched the brand in November 2020. After getting laid off from his previous job due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to move to California and finally pursue his clothing line, which he had dreamed of since high school.
“I moved out there, and it was probably the best decision of my life,” Sadat said.
What followed was several months of difficult preparation and organization, most of which Sadat completed by himself, turning to YouTube and online resources to ensure that everything was ready for the launch.
“It was a very very tough period, I'm not going to lie,” Sadat said. “I spent day and night watching YouTube videos on how to start, what I need to do, and I wanted to do everything from the get-go properly. It was a lot, but it was the best time of my life.”
Ten months later, Sadat continues to run the brand almost completely by himself. Though stressful, he enjoys the chaos and creativity that come with the job.
“I love being busy,” Sadat said. “The couple weeks before I launch a seasonal collection, I love how fast paced and stressful, and I love seeing the reaction from people when I've done something that nobody expected.”
In addition to spreading the culture of Afghanistan, Sadat is committed to using his business platform to make a difference financially. AFGNSTN donates 15% of all profits to Afghanistan through the humanitarian agency Islamic Relief.
“We also run periodic campaigns where we donate either 50% or 100% of profits from a particular design to causes in Afghanistan, in the United States or anywhere that requires some sort of emergency relief or a cause that is dear to us,” Sadat said.
In light of recent political turmoil, the company is currently running a campaign to donate 50% of all profits through the end of the year to humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.
Sadat hopes for his clothing to one day be featured at Nordstrom. In the meantime, he remains focused on telling the story of Afghanistan.
“This line isn't just about clothes,” Sadat said. “It's about storytelling, sharing information and culture.”