By  on February 12, 2002

LONDON -- It's not often that designers are called upon to fashion a battle plan, but, living with war and its consequences has, for some, become part of day-to-day business.

Small accessories and ready-to-wear companies that rely on specially woven fabrics and hand-embroidery from Nepal and parts of India are preparing backup sourcing plans as insurance, should using their regular vendors become impractical in the weeks or months ahead.

Designer Sophia Swire goes to Nepal to have her silk accessories hand-embroidered and beaded. She also sources her pashmina shawls in the narrow -- and once tranquil -- country, wedged between India and Tibet.

But she's not sure how long she'll be able to continue working there.

"Nepal has a rising Maoist problem," she said, referring to communist activists whom the Nepalese government has accused of terrorist acts. India has also charged that terrorist organizations based in Nepal were responsible for the 2000 hijacking of one of its commercial planes.

Swire, who also works as a freelance journalist covering the region, added, "There are a lot of al Qaeda members who have escaped to Kathmandu to join members of other terrorist networks.

"In case anything happens, I've set up alternative manufacturing in Calcutta, Bombay and New Delhi....I'd be able to shift production to India overnight," she said. "If you're working in the developing world, you have to be aware of the political situation. You must not be too reliant on any one region, because you don't want to be a victim of world circumstances. On the other hand, you don't want to pull out of a certain region, and deprive people of jobs, if there's no immediate threat."

In that spirit, Swire is planning a trip to Afghanistan in the spring to see if she can employ local women to make hand-loomed silk scarves.

"They have a wonderful tradition there of hand-looming and hand-embroidery, and I'd like to encourage trade rather than aid," she said.

Allegra Hicks, who opened her first London store just a few weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, said in a telephone interview from New Delhi that she, too, has had to adjust the way she does business.

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