Jeremy Duval, Interior Designer

“ARZU STUDIO HOPE supports the reconstruction of Afghanistan by empowering women, their families, and their communities. Income generation opportunities support sustainable economic development, instill personal worth and build gender equality.”- Connie Duckworth, ARZU Founder and CEO.

ARZU STUDIO HOPE was founded with the goal of establishing financial independence for Afghan women who live in one of the poorest nations in the world, ranking 181 out of 182 in the 2009 United Nations Human Development Report. The downfall of the Taliban has liberated Afghan women and girls from the regime’s oppression, but left behind a generation of women who had been deprived of any education, healthcare services and participation of any kind outside the confines of their homes. Two decades of war have created a dismal legacy for these women and their children and ARZU is dedicated to empowering women and their families in effort to break the cycle of poverty. This also contributes to positive development of gender equality in this country.

“Opportunities often present themselves when we’re not expecting them,” Connie Duckworth wrote when she began her blog, STIR, in early 2010. For Duckworth, founder and CEO of ARZU STUDIO HOPE, this was definitely the case. Prior to ARZU, she enjoyed a long and esteemed career as a partner at Goldman Sachs, where in the 1980s and 90s she was a pioneering force for women. Shortly after she retired (after 9-11), Duckworth was invited to join the U.S. Department of State’s U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council. Her mission, as she describes it is “to make sure women have a seat at the table in the new Afghanistan.”

Having no professional experience with government or international development, Duckworth only had a vague sense of what she was getting into. Certainly, she did not anticipate the dozens of desperate mothers she would find in Afghanistan, living with their children in bombed out buildings with no windows, heat, furniture, sanitation, and little food or clean water. After her first trip to the region in early 2003, Duckworth recalls vowing to “do something, even though I had no idea what the something would be.” That “something” eventually found the form of a social enterprise called ARZU, from the Dari word for Hope.

When exploring ideas for a company, Duckworth wasn’t wedded to any particular type of employment; she looked for work that had the greatest likelihood of success both for production and export. Duckworth has made it a priority to work with the cultural, logistical, and operational realities in Afghanistan, which posed multiple challenges. “I initially thought garment industry,” she admits. “But in a war zone and in a culture where women would not be allowed to leave their family compounds, factories were not a possibility.” At every turn, practical constraints—no commercial shipping, no reliable water or power—led Duckworth to realize that rugs were the most commercially viable option, assuming ARZU could get them up to export standards.

Read the rest of the article about Connie Duckworth and ARZU STUDIO HOPE here.

As a way to elevate their product and profile, ARZU STUDIO HOPE is partnering with Steelcase and top design firms to host rug design competitions in major cities throughout the US and Canada. Several HMC employees participated in the Los Angeles competition and on October 3, a presentation was held at the Steelcase showroom in Santa Monica to announce the winner. Below are a few excerpts from HMC staff who submitted design entries:

Sandra Duval + Jeremy Duval – “Bound”

“The individual ball-like forms represent a singular Afghan woman. Individually, they are weak and vulnerable, but when collectively bound together, they create a strong bond. Similar to the individual strands that create a rope, when the women unite, they become stronger and stronger. The wool is a catalyst that binds the women and rug together, creating powerful results for the group; all with the hope of creating a positive effect that could help thousands in the region.”

Angela Dopheide– “Iris”

“Through the Iris’ intricate history, the meaning has come to conclude faith, wisdom, peace of mind, friendship and hope; the blue Iris particularly symbolizes hope and faith.”

Adrienne Luce and Karri Simmons of Nice Design – “Women Who Changed the World”

Helen Keller, Anne Frank, Georgia O’Keefe, Rosa Parks, Jane Austen, Coco Chanel, Jane Goodall, and Susan B. Anthony.

The winning entry selected by the judges was “Interwoven” created by Diana Chang from HOK. The design was inspired by patterns made by scaffolding.

“This collection is inspired by the patterns made from scaffolding. Like the relationship of scaffolding to the construction of a structure, the weaving pattern in the rug design represents the Afghan women who provide support to themselves and their families through ARZU’s program.”

This winter, ARZU and Steelcase will launch their Masters Collection, with new rugs designed by Frank Gehry, Michael Graves, Zaha Hadid, Margaret McCurry, Robert A.M. Stern and Stanley Tigerman.

To learn more about ARZU’s story, go to or

Important Statistics:

Life expectancy for women: 44.81 years (CIA)

Health care: On average, in rural areas, there are fewer than six doctors, seven nurses and four midwives available for every 100,000 women. (UNICEF, 2009)

Midwives: Five nurses/midwives per 10,000 population and 86% of births with no medical attendant

Maternal mortality: With an average 1,800 deaths per 100,000 live births, Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world (UNICEF, 2009)

Child mortality: 26% of children die before age five

Primary causes of death for children under five: Diarrhea: 25%; respiratory tract infections: 19%; measles: 15%

Education: Student enrollment of 4.3 million (grade 1-12) with 40% of female school-aged children attending school and 67% of male school-aged children attending school

Illiteracy rate for women over 15: 82%