Skip to main content

Displacement to Designer

Writing by Leila Lois

Photo by Dian J Norton

‘Growing up in a world torn apart by war, displacement, and poverty, I dreamt of discovering new lands and planting my flag on uncharted territory.’ Donna Sherwani tells me, over a macchiato near Carlton Gardens – at full bloom in Spring.

Sherwani describes her mission to promote being a ‘kind rebel’, through an impressive portfolio of projects, a designer vegan bag company, a platform for refugee and CALD women entrepreneurs and ambassadorship for not-for-profit companies, such as OneTreePlanted.

‘Planting a flag’ to mark new territory has resonance in Sherwani’s story, as she is Kurdish, an Indigenous group from the mountainous region bordering Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Despite their indigeneity in the region, Kurdish people have been consistently denied sovereignty and basic human rights by successive racist national governments.

Sherwani’s own family fled from this oppression, traversing the treacherous borderlands of Iraq and Turkey on foot, when Sherwani was just twelve, before fleeing by boat to Australia for asylum.

Along this journey, they stopped in Bali, before hopping on a fishing dinghy, where for days all they had to eat were dried noodles and a couple of lemons, her mother heavily pregnant at the time.

‘My childhood was marked by constant upheaval and a sense of never truly belonging.’ She says, adding: ‘I’ve spent my life trying to fit in and be accepted.’ Because of her experiences, Sherwani makes it her personal mission to encourage women not to ‘blend in’ but to celebrate their differences.

‘As a fashion designer, I am proud to create pieces that tell the story of my journey and inspire others to break free from the molds and labels that society imposes upon us.’

Her bag and accessory range, launched this month, uses vegan materials, stylishly, via ethical production. Kurdish sartorial culture features bold colours and luxurious fabrics, which Sherwani uses as inspiration for her designs.

‘Elsa Schiaparelli is a great inspiration to me,’ Sherwani muses, a designer renowned for her audacious and opulent fashion statements.

‘With every design, I am paying homage to my roots and my journey and if there’s a way to put my home on the map, I’ll do everything in my power to make it happen.’ ‘It was from Mesopotamian tablets that I discovered the origin of our signature collection – the bucket bag. These bags are more than accessories; they are a bridge between ancient culture and modern fashion, as well as innovation.’

‘I want to transcend fashion and bridge the gap between fashion and diversity, culture and innovation.’ Sherwani says. And that she does, inspiring young women to aspire to realise their dreams too, whatever the struggles of their past.

Leila Lois

Leila Lois is a dancer and writer of Kurdish – Celtic origin based in Naarm/ Melbourne.

Leave a Reply