Nestled underneath a solitary backyard tree in Adelaide’s outer northern suburbs is a tiny tin shed, the kind used by schools to store sports equipment. But inside it are no Sherrins - just the sparkly studio of one of Australia’s only Kurdish clothing designers.
Arazu Hassan, her husband Aziz and their six children fled their home in northern Iraq, a region they call northern Kurdistan, as refugees. They lived in Turkey, mostly unwelcome, for four years before immigrating here.
“We came to Australia because of the war and the kids couldn’t study properly in Kurdistan,” she tells SBS, with her daughter Taban translating because she doesn't speak much English. “I wanted my children to have a good future.”
After four years they settled in Adelaide, a decade ago, where they embrace their new life.
And a slice of their homeland lives on close by - the backyard garden, proudly tended by Aziz, teems with pomegranates.
Hassan’s venture into Kurdish clothing design wasn’t something she initially sought out.
“I didn’t know how to sew Kurdish clothes when I was back in Kurdistan but I would sew my children’s clothes when they needed to be fixed,” she explains.
But when her daughters complained about their clothes in Australia and she discovered a distinct local lack of Kurdish designers, Hassan decided to experiment.
“I learned myself by using old traditional Kurdish clothes and looking at them to see how they were made and then try to replicate them. During my practice process, I wrecked two dresses but then after that, I became a ‘professional’. It’s was all about trial and error.”
Her humble studio has enough room for her Gumtree-sourced sewing machine and table - and that’s it. To walk in, you have to avoid knocking the spools of material or bumping your head on the roof (although Hassan doesn’t have that problem). In summer, a portable air-conditioner helps her through the stifling Adelaide heat, but in winter that gets turfed as even looking at it makes her cold.
Hassan has managed to source the material she needs to do the job properly, sometime from interstate or overseas.
“I usually shop at Spotlight or sometimes when someone goes overseas I will tell them what kind of materials I want," she says.
"When I’m in Sydney I also pick up materials at places like Cabramatta because it's cheaper and different to Spotlight. The Vietnamese and Chinese materials there are similar to what is needed for Kurdish clothes."
And she keeps an ear to the ground for what looks she should aim for.
"I like to check what fashion trends are in at the time and also ask my daughters and people their age what they like. Then I add my own little touches to the designs to make them a bit more unique.”
Her style of clothes would often be worn daily by the elderly, especially in Kurdistan, but is also considered formal wear for special occasions such as engagement parties or Kurdish events. They're in demand as the basic style and colours haven't changed over the decades, offering a sartorial link to the past.
Taban, a photographer who manages her mother’s social media channels, is glad that she and her sisters complained to their mum about their clothes - because now they get to see her rising success.
Hassan says, “When I go to events [fairs, markets], different people from different cultures (like Afghans, Iranians, Persians) come up to me and are interested in buying the designs.
"And, of course, Aussies have bought my dresses as well. It’s not offensive at all for other cultures to wear my dresses. It’s an honour, for me, for them to wear them.”
Some responses have been edited for clarity.
Listen to Arazu's interview with SBS's Kurdish Language Program.