Generations-Old Business Brings Central Asia to Sag Harbor

Temur Zamani's family business is several generations old. Rachel Bosworth photo
Temur Zamani’s family business is several generations old. Rachel Bosworth photo

By Rachel Bosworth

For Zamani Gallery, cultural values lie at the heart of the generations-old family business. Beginning in 1930s Afghanistan, the Zamani family has amassed an authentic collection of handmade rugs, textiles, jewelry, and artifacts from Central Asia. Having recently opened a Sag Harbor outpost, Zamani House of Heritage, company president Temur Zamani aims to offer these same wares to Hamptons clientele while honoring the history of his native country.

“This is a four-generation line of work that I’ve continued on in the hopes that I can bring out the beautiful side of the culture of Afghanistan,” Zamani, who opened this newest location at the beginning of the summer, says. “Something that is not seen behind all of those years of violence and wars.”

The walls and floors of the tucked away Main Street shop are decorated layers of rugs and tapestries; stories evidenced through embroidery and weaving. Rich hues of red, pink, and navy are mixed with natural tones of blue and green, among stocked tables of jewelry and intricately designed clothing, all inspired by nature.

“It’s very complex the way they came up with patterns,” explains Zamani. “The way they got designs was from nature and their surroundings. They would look at cloud movements and what form and shape it makes. They would throw a bucket of water in a section of the river and follow the pattern.”

Zamani Gallery’s introduction to the United States began when Afghanistan became unsafe for many in the late 1970s, particularly businessmen. Zamani’s father left for Saudi Arabia and began building a new life and expanding on his family’s business in the textiles industry. He held trunk shows with rugs and arts and crafts, establishing himself slowly. In 1989, he got his children out of Afghanistan and into Saudi Arabia, where they attended an American school. This was where Zamani first got acquainted with American culture.

Inside Zamani Gallery in Sag Harbor. Rachel Bosworth photo

Because Saudi Arabia didn’t allow ex-patriots to go to university, Zamani attended college in London while his brother went to the United States. After finishing his studies, he too moved to America. “I wanted to continue the family line of work here in Washington, D.C.,” he says. “I came here around 2001 and started working in the family business.”

Zamani Gallery works with museums like the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, providing arts and crafts to the gift shops. Zamani credits his family’s connections and long history to offer not just physical items, but a sense of culture as well. “It’s been natural progression for us from northern Virginia to Washington D.C., and now to the Hamptons,” he says, adding it’s been a great experience. “Along the way we have met so many nice, great people that have supported us.”

Having been able to continue working with the same artisan families as his ancestors – rug weavers, embroiderers, looms, jewelry makers — Zamani shares many of the newer pieces they carry are from Afghanistan, as well as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, noting each region makes different things. “These are tribes that exist in Afghanistan as well,” he explains. “It’s like a melting pot of Central Asia. You have all of these ethnic backgrounds that exist in all parts of Central Asia, but they also exist in Afghanistan.”

Despite decades of war, a new generation has come up with girls now going to school and women working in major offices being some of the achievements the country has seen, and something Zamani finds hopeful. He explains when visiting the city of Kabul, taking in the hustle and bustle, many may not recognize it had been a victim of destruction for around 40 years. For the families Zamani Gallery works with now, these are some of the best times they have ever seen.

“I talk to the families all the time,” Zamani shares. “I encourage them to send kids to school. I don’t work with any family that doesn’t allow their children to go. They can learn the craft after school.”

With customers in Zamani House of Heritage, the conversations are just as unique as the items. Zamani loves sharing the culture of Afghanistan and his family’s history. While in Washington D.C. the clientele typically opts for pieces to decorate their homes, Hamptons shoppers lean more toward fashion pieces. “They love vintage clothing and robes, they’re very fashion forward here,” he explains. “Their taste is more courageous.”

Thanks to the positive response the store has seen, Zamani plans to be open year-round. “It’s unique, people don’t get to see this,” he says. “Especially for me what is important is presenting the culture, it’s not about selling the items. The items are unique in themselves and people have a unique taste. They will buy regardless.”

The Sag Harbor branch of the Zamani Gallery is located at 78 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call (631) 899-3300.