Afghan immigrant brings high fashion to Minden
June 25, 2010
MINDEN, Nev. – Jazz Karmand was 15 when she first wore high heels through the streets of Islamabad, Pakistan.
“My first time in heels, I walked miles,” she said. “I loved the clicking sound.”
Now, Karmand jokes that she has no heels under 5 inches in her new clothing store in Minden, Get-Jazzed Fashion Clothing.
“I always loved dressing up Barbies. I was into fashion and makeup,” she said. “First of all, in America, I have freedom as a female, and I’m happy I don’t have to cover myself up to go out. I always believed the U.S. was the land of opportunity, and now I so strongly believe in that.”
Last week, the fashion model and aspiring designer was in her new store, adjacent to Ironwood Cinemas, with business partner and marketing director Max Cannon.
At 26, Karmand, known as “Jazz Cannon” in the modeling world, is tall, dark and dazzling. Pictures of her in various outfits cover the walls of her new shop. Dresses, tops, jeans, belts and shoes, of course shoes, among other merchandise, beckon in bright, bold colors, broken only by the refractory glinting of studded sparkles.
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“I have color everywhere. Women are always attracted to color,” Karmand said. “I believe in color regardless of weather.”
If intensity is the measure of color, then Karmand’s story is a colorful one, though spotted with dark, disturbing moments.
The daughter of a diplomat, Karmand was born in Afghanistan only to travel abroad with her family and live a “charmed” existence in the many countries her father worked in. When the family returned to Afghanistan in the early 1990s, after Soviet withdrawal, they found themselves in the middle of a civil war, a violent factional conflict that ultimately produced the radical Islamic Taliban regime.
Karmand remembers the staccato sound of gunfire, the whining noise of rockets flying overhead. She remembers seeing her 5-year-old cousin dying in the arms of her uncle after a stray bullet pierced his heart. She recalls her family’s subsequent journey over Afghanistan’s infamous Khyber Pass into Pakistan.
“My father had a lot of farmland, and my mother had a salon,” Karmand explained, “but basically we had to walk away from everything with a bag of clothes and money.”
Settling in Islamabad, the family of six, three children, two parents and one grandparent, shared impoverished tenements with other Afghan refugees. Because of racial discrimination, and later religious discrimination when the family converted to Christianity, the father was unable to work. It didn’t help that his name appeared on the Taliban’s “hit list.”
“At that time, my father was not able to pay our school fees,” Karmand said. “But he believed the best education was through English, so he would bring us these English books. He home-schooled the three of us; we would start at 8 in the morning and go to 8 in the evening, with a couple of breaks in the middle. He always said, ‘English is the language of food. If you can speak English, then wherever you go, you can get a job and get money to feed your family.'”
On the heels of the millennium, after graduating from her father’s rigorous English lessons, Karmand volunteered at the Australian embassy where she interpreted for Afghan immigrants. She was soon bumped up to a receptionist in the immigration offices and eventually served as the personal secretary for the Australian ambassador.
“Everything turned out at the right time,” she said. “At the embassies, we were making a good income and acting as the sole supporters of the family.”
Karmand’s older brother worked as an immigration officer at the U.S. embassy, and it was his position that eventually opened the gates to America.
Of Los Angeles, where her family relocated in 2002, Karmand said, “My first impression was that it was not the America I’d seen on TV.”
In the states, Karmand signed up for more English classes and found a coordinating job with a nonprofit group; but her heart drifted toward fashion, toward that inexplicable love of style and chic that had kindled her younger self, if only momentarily, in Islamabad.
“It wasn’t easy to get modeling jobs with the belief still in my family that this is not in our culture,” she said.
Yet in 2008, Karmand landed a modeling contract in Las Vegas where she did some clothing, billboard and magazine work. With the help of Cannon, though, she decided to push her career in a different direction.
“This was a good opportunity for me to own my own clothing store,” she said. “I wanted to invest money in something, slowly brand myself and design my own clothes. From here, I want the store to take off and grow big.”
The whole goal, Karmand said, is to start small, work out the kinks of her brand, then slowly expand into regional malls.
“I want to offer quality products for customers, yet keep prices reasonable, so anyone can have the chance to dress up,” she said.
Karmand routinely returns to Los Angeles where she handpicks everything for her store.
“The pictures on the wall in here let women know that Jazz actually wears what she sells,” Cannon said. “She won’t sell anything she wouldn’t wear.”
Karmand prides herself on quality fabrics and exclusive designs. In fact, to maintain exclusivity, she won’t sell the same dress for a specific event. She’s also a make-up artist and is currently remodeling the back of her shop into a small, private salon.
“I want to move fashion forward regardless of the economy, both as a model and designer,” she said.
Karmand is also proud to sell 95 percent American products.
“I respect U.S. troops very much,” she said. “These people are fighting hard right now in Afghanistan to bring peace, and I feel like it’s my obligation to give back to the society, the businesses here, by selling made-in-U.S.A. products.”
With ambitions as large as two continents, one wonders why Karmand and Cannon chose Minden as their launching point.
“This is the America that you see in the movies,” Karmand said. “First of all, it’s so beautiful, but I notice almost every house has an American flag. The people here are very patriotic. They make you feel safe. They’re so friendly to each other, too. They see you one time and remember you.”
Karmand said she feels privileged to be in the West.
“I look at the small details,” she said, “hot water, electricity, grocery stores will all kinds of food, an educational system with libraries packed with books. I still carry my culture wherever I go, but I can bring the best of Afghanistan to all the good things the West has to offer.”
Get-Jazzed is located at 1758 Highway 395, suite C. Business hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 309-4383 or visit Get-Jazzed-Fashions.com.