The BoF Podcast | How the Power of Storytelling Is Igniting the Iranian Protests

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Protests erupted across Iran in September following the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested in Tehran for “improperly” wearing her hijab and then killed at the hands of the so-called morality police.

Those protests have now evolved into the largest civil rights movement in Iran since the revolution in 1979, uniting Iranians at home with those in the wider diaspora and igniting outcry around the world and across social media.

Looking for a way to bring storytelling to fuel the movement, creative leaders Moj Mahdara and Dina Nasser-Khadivi utilised their networks to establish The Iranian Diaspora Collective and @from____iran, an artist-led media collective that amplifies unheard Iranian voices, respectively. From Instagram to physical billboards, the collectives have centred Iranian people and maintained the ongoing attention of the West by focusing on human rights.

“The only way to move culture is through storytelling,” Mahdara said.

This week on The BoF Podcast, BoF’s founder and editor-in-chief Imran Amed speaks with Mahdara and Nasser-Khadivi to learn about the work they are doing to help people understand the intersectional solidarity of this movement and activate creative communities to share their stories.

Key Insights:

  • Social media has helped spread the word globally of the protests in Iran, helping to unite the Iranian diaspora with Iranians at home, while educating people around the world about what is happening on the ground. “The social media aspect of this movement, the reason why it was so important for me, it was not just about raising awareness, it ended up helping us identify who our allies were,” Nasser-Khadivi said. “And that is what then created an even stronger network.”
  • In order for this movement to be supported internationally, Mahdara believes that recognition is critical. “[The international community] can recognise this,” says Mahdara. “This revolution.”
  • The movement has collectively transformed the once-conservative perception of Iran to include tolerance as motivating progression towards a secular community. “This whole movement preaches tolerance,” says Nasser-Khadivi. “There are covered girls next to girls who are uncovered hugging each other. That’s the message. It’s tolerance.”

Additional Resources:

  • Iranian Fashion Retailers Pursue Growth Amid Sanctions: According to Shahrokh Keshavarz, director of the Iran Retail Show featuring 105 domestic companies — 30 percent of which were clothing retailers — and regional Iran market representative of the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres and Retailers, the aim of the event is to provide a physical platform for B2B activities and to help develop the market for participating brands.
  • Iranian Fashion Brands Go Upmarket Amid International Sanctions: The International Apparel Exhibition Iran Mode trade show saw 167 domestic exhibitors — ranging from clothing manufacturers and accessories suppliers to machinery companies and textile and yarn producers — present their products to buyers and other attendees. Software companies providing design and retail management solutions also participated in the event.
  • Inside Iran’s Underground Fashion Industry: Tehran-based fashion designers Shirin and Shiva Vaqar joined Hoda Katebi, an Iranian-American activist who founded America’s first apparel manufacturing co-op run by refugee women. They discussed the fashion industry in Iran, a country that has long been isolated from the Western world.

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