Two truths and one lie.
I grew up dreaming of wearing pretty clothes every day. In fact, I cut up my mother’s saris to make ‘fun’ clothes for my dolls.
Being a successful fashion designer means you are good at math.
Fashion is the most difficult thing I have ever done.
Fashion seems frivolous to people not involved in it – glamorous people wearing glamorous clothes, photographed in pretty settings. Photoshopped to perfection. How hard can it be?
To the people who know me, the truth is obvious; to everyone else, they are probably guessing the math one is a lie. This is my chance to tell you it’s not.
I wake up at 6:30 a.m., get to work by 10:00 a.m.; not because I go to the gym or read the paper (I probably should be doing both those things.) Instead, like most women, I am chasing maids, the cook and the gardener – all while trying to optimise my day.
I start my day essentially planning contingencies, such as what will happen if the courier doesn’t show up today? Which orders require priority? Was order X cash on delivery or was it already paid for? Did I ballpark the yardage for the new design correctly? If not, how will it affect the retail price? Etc etc.
You see, I learnt these things on-the-job; I learnt these things by getting them wrong. I once had to physically search for a package at a delivery company’s warehouse because the client wasn’t home when they tried to deliver it. The company failed to reach me, since I was in a village with poor cell phone coverage. Determined to not lose a customer, more so as it was the last piece, there was little choice…
10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. It is about checking mail, cash flows and dealing with tailors.
As an entrepreneur with no background in business administration, this part of my day is my sink hole. If only there was a universal size guide, life would be simple; if only ‘medium’ meant the same thing.
Unfortunately, it does not. Worse, no one wants to make a client jump through hoops; let alone a new brand trying to acquire customers. I hate having to make my clients do extra work. Even though there is a visible size guide on our website, when someone writes: “‘I’m not sure of my size, but, I wear a medium of brand ‘X’; can you manage?” It takes about half an hour to word ‘no’ nicely.
Checking cash flows is usually a mental note about how many people one has to chase for money. The good news is, if you have an accountant, they will do the dirty work for you. I have learnt that the amounts are of little significance. The chase always requires the same level of persistence.
Fun fact: skilled labour is an oxymoron. That’s all I have to say about tailors and their ilk.
I work in 19 villages with over 200 women and though logistically it’s not a walk in the park, thanks to WhatsApp and cheap data plans, it is easier to connect with them than it is with this lot who work under my roof.
1:30 p.m. is school run (I’m always running late) and lunch.
3:00 to 5:30 p.m. is the slot for appointments with clients.
The validation you get when someone spends money on your product is incredible. When they send their friends, or better yet, return to purchase more items, the feeling of elation is second to none. Four years later this has not changed.
5:00 to 7:30 p.m. I am either in the bazaar or driving my daughter to kickboxing or a birthday, or on the phone, checking in with the artisans in various villages; it is impossible to connect with all of them on a daily basis. Initially, I made trips to Khairpur every three weeks – seven hours one way. There were times when the trip was for nothing; one of them was unwell, or it was clashing with the date harvest season.
I will never forget the time I decided to sample canvas weekend bags; the design had multiple zippers embedded in the embroidery. It took me close to three weeks to source the right kind of zippers (chunky and rust-free); after a few days of show and tell I left for the city, very excited about the end product. I left Karachi at day break because I wanted to reach Khairpur in time to see the bag the same day; that seven-hour journey felt like 24 hours! Upon reaching, the women kept showing me everything apart from the bag, sensing my impatience one of the elder ones called me to her charpoy and told me there was no bag.Turned out the (precious) zippers were ingested by a buffalo calf! Rest assured, I still haven’t made a weekend bag.
I get home by 8:00 p.m., just in time for dinner and bedtime with the little one. If I don’t fall asleep with her I get a couple of hours of face time with my incredibly supportive husband.
In all of this when do you design?
I graduated from The National College of Arts (NCA) in 2000. I worked in TV for 11 years. I don’t think I could have been here today had I not made those choices.
I think in pictures. I look at a fabric in the bazaar and imagine it with a rilli motif on the shoulder of a tunic. I am shown an old pillowcase in a village and what I see is a monochrome bolero paired with boot-cut pants – thus elongating the torso.
So, I design all the time. Without having a minute for it.
It’s been four years since I launched Inaaya. The idea was to use women’s craft skills to create luxury couture and jewellery that promised high returns for myself and the women. Four years of crashing nerves and rising joy. Of trying to learn accounting and marketing. Of pricing and percentages. Of changing perceptions. Of instilling hope. Of dreaming. Of collective prosperity.
We have grown from one village to 19, and from six women to over 200. Received a standing ovation. Awarded a fellowship by the British Council. Collaborated with Sana Safinaz. Appeared in Vogue India. Mrs Clooney was photographed wearing Inaaya jewellery. Exhibited in Dubai, London, New York and Singapore.
I also learnt how to fit five women in the back of a rickshaw and that the winding paths of Kabzi Bazaar will lead you to Khori Garden. That kids can communicate irrespective of language. That diarrhoea medication for children works equally well on calfs. That you can cut wheat with your bare hands. That hand-pumps have the coldest water and palla is my favourite fish.
I hope you understand that the essence of luxury is in human investment.
Naushaba Brohi is Founder, Inaaya. firstname.lastname@example.org