For many Americans, the name “Afghanistan” conjures images of bombed-out cities, soldiers with machine guns, and crying refugees. For Mohammad Sadat, however, Afghanistan is a second home—a place rich with food, music, and art.

Sadat, born and raised in Raleigh, is a second-generation Afghan American. His parents, who came from Afghanistan as refugees, immigrated to the United States in the 1980s. As a child, Sadat grew up in a traditional Islamic household, he says. His upbringing was a mix of modern American culture and the central Asian customs of his parents.

“I grew up watching American television, Nickelodeon, Family Feud, anime. I even listened to plenty of American music, not only what was popular at the time but also golden classics my father loved, like Tom Jones, Elvis Presley,” Sadat says. “All this while my parents still taught me their heritage, their traditions, their history, and about my ancestors. I was told the bedtime stories they were told.”

It was in high school that Sadat first started thinking about creating his own clothing line, he told the INDY. Seeing European and French fashion houses appropriate Middle Eastern culture sparked his interest in fashion.

“Versace’s [iconic baroque print], that’s something that’s very synonymous with central Asian culture,” Sadat says. “I grew up wearing those kinds of designs in traditional clothing. It really pushed me to start concocting ideas about my own fashion line.”

Last year, that dream became a reality when Sadat founded AFGNSTN Clothing Co., a fashion line that celebrates the culture and beauty of Afghanistan.

For the past 20 years, the war raging across the Middle East has dominated international news and permanently influenced many people’s perceptions of Afghanistan. Today, Sadat wants to reverse that trend, showing North Carolinians the vibrant cultural tapestry that lies just beneath the suffocating political rhetoric.

“I want to show the positive things that the country has to offer,” Sadat says. “When people hear the word ‘Afghanistan,’ usually they connect it with negative thoughts. I want to change that perception of the country.”

Sadat is also committed to making a difference on the ground. Even though AFGNSTN Clothing Co. is only a year old, it donates 15 percent of all profits to Afghanistan through the humanitarian nonprofit Islamic Relief. Sadat says he hopes to one day open a manufacturing facility in Afghanistan.

The clothing line itself features minimalist designs printed on T-shirts, hoodies, and snapback caps—a kind of rapper chic. Like many of today’s popular brands, it also makes a social statement.

The simple act of wearing a T-shirt printed with a silhouette of Afghanistan shows support for its people. Donning a cap embroidered with the letters “AFGNSTN” shows membership to a particular group. In the Triangle, the community of American Afghanis is quickly growing, as refugees flee the Taliban and join family and friends who have been living in North Carolina for years.

“The same way people wear French Connection clothing or clothes that say ‘C’est la vie, Paris,’ I want people to represent Afghanistan in a cool way,” Sadat says. “It’s gonna take time, but that’s where I see this brand going.”

Sadat was inspired by West Coast streetwear that features graffiti-esque designs, he says. He tries to emulate that style in his own work, creating casual, colorful prints. Sadat’s favorite design so far is his mosaic-style recreation of the rabab, the national instrument of Afghanistan.

The string instrument, which dates back to the 7th century, is a bit like a lute or a banjo. It’s hard to find stateside, but the twangy melody it creates is instantly recognizable.

“For me, the sound of that instrument is almost transcendental,” Sadat says. “It’s like reliving my ancestors’ memories, almost, when I hear that sound. It’s in a lot of the music I listen to.”

Another AFGNSTN design features the saffron flower, from which the saffron spice is made. Afghanistan has long been recognized as the country that produces the world’s best saffron, Sadat says.

Likewise, Afghani craftswomen weave some of the world’s finest rugs, with distinctive patterns and colors. Sadat also takes inspiration from those patterns for his designs, he says.

“Taking those meaningful things and putting them on western styles of clothes, on streetwear, is where the blend comes,” Sadat says.

He sees his clothing as a combination of American and Afghani culture, something that can represent the experience of Afghan Americans.

“I’m taking elements of my heritage, my parents’ tradition, and their culture, and putting a minimalistic twist on it,” Sadat says. “Anyone who loves mountains, pomegranates, or even flowers can wear clothing from AFGNSTN Co. The thing that makes it special is that inspiration comes from Afghanistan.”

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