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Proud moment for fashion designer as Afghan refugee who fled the Taliban steps onto the runway at Australian Fashion Week

By Maryanne Taouk
Afghan refugee Nazdana Bakhtiari steps onto the runway at Australian Fashion Week in Sydney. (Supplied: Lucy Alcorn)

Peeking out onto the runway from backstage at Australian Fashion Week, Australian-Afghan designer Mariam Seddiq could hardly believe what she was seeing.

Modelling one of her looks under the glare of the lights was 24-year-old Nazdana Bakhtiari, who only eight months ago fled from Afghanistan with her mother, escaping the Taliban takeover.

"It was incredible. I was like, 'how is this happening?'" the Western Sydney-born designer said. 

"This time last year she was there (in Afghanistan). No way in hell would she have thought she'd be doing something like this.

"A woman can't even walk out of the front door at the moment."

The pair first met when Ms Seddiq was looking for women skilled in traditional Afghan beadwork, known as mora doozi, to use in her garments. 

Nazdana Bakhtiari (centre) with her mother and a friend backstage.   (Supplied: Jack Evstigneev)

A local contact from Fairfield in Sydney's west put her in touch with Ms Bakhtiari, her mother Zakia and a friend, who had only recently arrived in the country, after leaving Kabul airport on a military evacuation flight.

"I went to their apartment and I saw their work and I knew I had to include beadwork back into my designs, so they'd have work but in an arty way," she said.

It was during their collaboration that the idea that Ms Bakhtiari might step out of the shadows to display her handiwork came about. 

"When I dropped them home after work hand sewing, (Nazdana) mentioned she might want to model for me, so she's been practising for three weeks," Ms Seddiq said.

"It just seemed like a dream to take it one step further."

Designer Mariam Seddiq surrounded by models backstage. (Supplied: Jack Evstigneev)

Ms Seddiq sees her designs, a mixture of couture gowns, suits, and jewellery as way to empower women.  

"It's not just because of this Afghanistan thing. A lot of women forget how strong they are and what they're capable of. So that's really important to bring it out of all walks of life," she said.

Mariam Seddiq at fashion week features bold colours and sleek designs

Her show at Australian Fashion Week in Sydney featured diverse models with a range of ages, sizes, genders and ethnic backgrounds. 

"It just felt like more of a real show rather than a really curated show of skinny models," Ms Seddiq said.

The former student of Bankstown Girls High School has gained a celebrity following, with her designs worn by Orange is the New Black actor Diane Guerrero, as well as Australian music stars Iggy Azalea and Delta Goodrem.

Designer Mariam Seddiq wins applause for her Sydney show.   (Supplied: Mariam Seddiq)

Ms Seddiq said Australia had been slow to appreciate the work of its culturally diverse designers.

"I started in LA and was getting noticed in the US before I started getting any attention back home.

"It's about time Australia embraced its brown folk. And hopefully this leads to more women breadwinners, more women bosses because it's more than fashion."

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Dive Deeper:
The Loop: The ABC enters the Chernobyl meltdown zone, Eurovision heats up, and the US surpasses 1 million COVID-19 deaths
Get up to speed on today's headlines with The Loop.
‘Enough of this plus!’ A paradigm shift at Australian fashion week
2022’s runways feature historically diverse casting, signalling broader changes in how the fashion industry could operate
Designers Carol Taylor and Jessie Sadler bring disability-friendly creations to runway for Australian Fashion Week
For the first time in Australian Fashion Week history, a runway show has been created by and for people with…
Daughter begs Government to save mum from Afghanistan and blasts Tory 'double standards'
Shabnam Nishat's mum has been in hiding in Afghanistan since thousands of troops were dispatched to Kabul to rescue UK…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
There’s Already A Heap Of Tea From Aus Fashion Week & The Influencers Have Been In Fine Form
Australian Fashion Week is in full swing and all the designers are showcasing their fabulous fashions at the shows. Naturally,…
Sperm-donor-conceived Queenslanders turn to DNA databases to track down biological fathers
When Kerri Favarato was conceived by donor sperm, the process was cloaked in secrecy, and her two-decade search was fruitless…
Get all your news in one place