The Designer Shedding Light on Iran's Women-Led Uprising

The Designer Shedding Light on Iran's Women-Led Uprising

by Ava Lahijani

At Vancouver Fashion Week this fall, Afsaneh Reihanifard went viral after her show featured Iranian models cutting their hair on the runway in support of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died under suspicious circumstances after allegedly violating the government’s hijab standards.

Her death ignited unprecedented street protests from women in Iran and sparked a global movement against the country’s Guidance Patrol, or “morality police,” which patrolled the way women dress and act in society, specifically the coverage of their hair and body. (Iran recently announced its plan to disband the group.)

Reinhanifard, who was born and raised in Tehran and studied fashion technology and sewing at Soureh University, began her design career there until she moved to Vancouver to further pursue her passion. Below, the designer opens up about the design process of a collection that touched millions.

You took a very large societal issue in Iran that has only recently come to light internationally and expressed your view through a collection that has been making waves on social media. How exactly did you start that process?

I had no plan to be a part of Vancouver Fashion Week until I saw the uprising in Iran. It came to mind that it would be a good idea to use this highly watched show as a platform for the people of Iran. Normally for Fashion Week, we start the process of designing, preparing, and selecting models around six months before. People around the world were doing everything they could to shed light on the situation and it felt necessary for me to do the same. So I sat with the organizers of Vancouver Fashion Week and they agreed to allow me to design a collection 10 days before the show. I completed this whole collection in 10 days.

Regarding the models cutting their hair on the runway, what message did you hope to spread to non-Iranians in particular who are not updated on the events transpiring?

Well I didn’t want any depiction of someone bleeding or violence because there was enough of that on social media. I wanted a more approachable vibe. I wanted something beautiful. I knew I had to use art to shed awareness, in particular, because fashion has this way of reaching a lot of people in a certain manner. And when those models cut their hair on the runway wearing the Iranian flag, I felt it was a reflection of everyone. That everyone was doing what they could to communicate their anger.

You worked in design for various apparel companies in Iran before moving to Vancouver to expand your career. How have those experiences informed this collection?

Working in the Iranian fashion industry I was mainly designing cover-ups, which I had no problem with because I was catering to the needs of Iranian women. When I moved to Canada my expertise in design grew. A lot of people tend to look at fashion and think That’s not meant to be worn, when in reality what I design isn’t about wearability, it's about the message I want to communicate.

Seeing that the models had a large role in conveying the message of the show, what was the process of selecting them like?

After all the designers selected their models, there was an excess number left over. I went through them one by one, about a week before the show, and made sure to choose all Iranian models because it was important to me to have people on the runway that knew the magnitude of events transpiring in our country, how this is such a turning point built up for years.

Your collection featured the words "Woman, Life, Freedom" on sweatsuits in the Iranian flag colors. Why was it important for you to depict those exact words?

We were all on our phones watching innocent lives being taken away in our country and every day I was just thinking I wish there was something I could do to help. Artists around the world were doing anything they could to amplify the voices of the people in Iran. Singers, dancers, painters, and photographers were all using their craft to help enact change and to spread this message that was encapsulated in these three words. So, it meant a lot to me to have that represented through this collection. I also spent extra time looking for a good video and photo team and the right music because without that the show wouldn’t reach a large audience.

What was the day of the show like?

Everyone was very emotional, whether they were Iranian or not. A lot of people had tears in their eyes.

Post-show, how did you react to the attention your collection was getting?

After it was all done, it just felt like I did something right and with my soul. I got tons of phone calls and messages. I just couldn’t believe that so many people were watching and that it touched them. Now I am beginning to design another collection with the same message to be showcased in January 2023.

Photography: Amanda Morie