For Brooklyn-based designer Zeynab Izadyar of the label VVORK VVORK VVORK, a rice bag is not just a simple rice bag, but rather a layered piece of art. For the last few years, Izadyar has been unearthing the beauty in this everyday Iranian carryall and repurposing it within her clothing designs. The muslin sacks, ubiquitous in her native Iran, have understated but also transfixing, beautiful—often even cheeky—designs on them. Some incarnations feature the caricature of an Italian pizza man, while others are scribbled with playful slogans like “black skinny tail rice” in swirling Farsi calligraphy. A mix of rose reds and inky greens echo the hues of the Iranian flag, lending a striking effect to what is otherwise an overlooked, quotidian throwaway item.
Since launching her label in 2017, Izadyar, who grew up in Iran and later moved to the United States to pursue a master’s degree at Yale University for graphic design, has made integrating her Iranian culture into clothing her modus operandi. Even the label name—Work Work Work, but styled as VVORK VVORK VVORK—has a special meaning. “In Persian there is no W,” she says. “So you pronounce the W as a V in the accent.” But it was only a few years ago that Izadyar began to work with the traditional Persian rice bags that were piling up in her mother’s kitchen in Iran. “My mother was thrifty and never liked to throw them out,” she adds. As Izadyar began to splice and dice the bags, she began thinking about the connections between descriptions of food and the human body. “Whenever you speak about food, those adjectives work for the body too. ‘It is aromatic,’ or, ‘It is delicious,’ or, ‘Grade A: Best Product.’ I thought that was cool.” Since then, she has transformed the colorful rice bags into pockets for adjustable loose-fitting pants, or patch-worked onto jackets as decoration. Other pieces of work, like a series of T-shirts, take the emblematic designs of the rice bag and lend them a more erotic tinge, as Izadyar skews images of pubic hair and genitalia and “hides” them within the illustrations.
Izadyar’s fascination with the rice bag resulted in her traveling back to Iran to find out who designed them. When she last visited, she headed to the rice factory itself. “I was so obsessed with their designs. I was being such an ignorant person and I was trying to meet the designers, and the [factory owners] were like, ‘Who do you mean?’ and ‘What are you talking about?’” And while the creator (or possibly, creators) of the rice bag designs remains unknown, Izadyar still collects them by purchasing them in bulk from a factory in Iran—continuing to give the precious imagery created by this anonymous draftsman a wearable platform on the other side of the world.
Originally Appeared on Vogue