Brands, beads and a beautiful beginning

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A light conversation about self doubts and fashion with Nishat Khan

2019 is all about the online market; designers are coming aboard with their passionate skills and now everyone has something new to offer. While this is mostly a good thing, the abundance of new businesses online makes finding something extraordinary much harder. If you do happen to stumble upon a unique designer for the wedding season, congratulations. In its hunt for a premium designer, Avenue T sat down with Nishat Khan over some tea to learn how her passion project has become the Dhaka fashion scene’s best kept secret.

But, who is Nishat Khan?

Since the age of seven, a little girl dreamt of being a fashion designer. Holding on to the dream, the Nishat grew up, went to fashion school, and now has her own eponymous couture boutique. Nishat’s Eurocentric accent, warm personality and personal style telegraphs her commitment to quality.

What are you famously known for?

Bead work. I am all about bead work and if any of my clients sees a dress they can instantly tell that this bead work design is definitely done by Nishat. 

With zero marketing, how do people know that your couture line exists?

Honestly (pauses), I am mostly known through word of mouth. I should mention that it was after I designed my own engagement dress. Then people would come to me and ask “Can you make me a similar dress?”. From that, more clients started coming to me, making dresses and talking about my work. 

There are already an immense number of designers out there. Do you ever worry about the competition, or the future of your brand?

No, actually. You already see so many garments [companies] and individual designers, competing with one another, and it’s sad to see that many mass retailers have now shut down. You cannot sustain when you don’t have much to offer for your clients and for yourself. I believe, designers on the other hand are going to survive the industry in the next six years. When you put your heart and soul into so much work for different clients, you will love continue designing and you will find success. 

What was it that inspired you to be what you are now?

Since the age of seven, I dreamt of being a fashion designer. I watched FTV I loved the flow of the dresses and designs, and I always thought to myself that is what I want to do. Even during art competitions, when we were asked to draw what we dreamt to be – I would draw myself with a measuring tape around my neck. I always held on to that passion. And from that I started doing my internship at O2 and a fashion designing course from Raffles Design Institute. I learnt all the nitty-gritty, technicalities and the colour theories from Raffles. I had the chance to work with two diverse local brands, such as Beximco and Indesore. While working extensively for other brands, I came to a realize that it was high time I did something for myself. Then in 2016 I landed on the couture line by my name and so finally I am here.

Having studied at a fashion institute and now having your own signature line, would you call yourself, ‘the’ designer?

Oh no, I cannot call myself that. Not even an established designer. I would rather call myself a ‘designer-in-progress’. Because everyday there is still so much to learn, so much that I have not explored yet.

You always wanted to be a designer but when did you realize you are really good at this?

I remember, before I joined Raffles I made 15 outfits since I loved designing and making dresses. I invited my friends and family over. Only one outfit was sold. And I started doubting myself. I started thinking that all my life I wanted to be a designer and what if I was not good at it? Anyway, I remained firm about my vision, I joined Raffles, learned about the basics. After that I did one exhibition with my friend Nuzat and she said “Nishat I saw everyone coming out of your store with your ready to wear collection.” That was the happiest moment. Even though that work was very different from what I usually do, I was glad to learn that yes, I am capable of doing this. When I designed my own engagement and wedding dresses, everyone was scared and kept doubting me, saying “It’s not possible do it. Buy an outfit if possible.” But I was determined to do it. Either I do it absolutely right or I do terribly wrong. If anything happened in between I wasn’t scared of it at all. After few months of finally making the dresses, I absolutely loved them and everyone loved them. They said I had an eye for it. And now I see that. 

How do you, when working with craftsmen who are pivotal to your work, ensure your quality, on which your reputation rests?

Once, my lecturer told me “Nishat, honey, no one cares what crisis you had or if your tailor didn’t do [the work]. At the end of the day they are going to see your finished work and judge your work”. I resonated with that and I live by that. That’s what I tell my karigors as well. I tell them that the way I see your work, the same way my clients see me and judge my work. By the grace of Almighty I can say that  till date I have been able to maintain the reputation, where a client wear my dress with utter satisfaction. I give the credit of my reputation to my karigors as well. It took me two to three years to train almost 11 karigors that I have now. They were so used to the conventional designs that if I taught them any new design or pattern they would say “Apu, this is not possible”.  I would say that if people can go to the moon, anything is possible. Because you cannot move forward without new changes. So, I try to incorporate new techniques and designs as much as I can.

Who’s your fashion inspiration?

Bibi Russel. I absolutely love what she does. She has her own signature style and she is internationally recognized. If she can do it, so can I. 

What’s your designing style besides doing bead work? 

I used to do hand work only, now I do a lot of embroidery as well. My collections vary from bridal to party wear, luxury prêt collection, casual wear and other dress making such as customized jumpsuits.

Do people understand the value of your work? 

There are people who would complain about the price, because they don’t try to understand the quality and quantity of the work, and the tireless labour that has been put behind each dress. Would people go to Gucci or Manish Malhotra store and ask why the prices are bizarrely high? They won’t. But on the other hand, I am glad there are people in our country who actually appreciate your work. One person who wore her outfit in Dubai was asked by almost all passers-by: “Is this a Pakistani dress”. She would proudly reply “It’s made in Bangladesh by Nishat Khan”. It’s crazy that people cannot think Bangladeshi designers capable of doing great things. I designed bugs on my dresses even before Gucci introduced it to their collections, but who would believe that? 

What do you do when you face a creative block?

Whenever I do anything repetitive I get exhausted. I always have to come up with new ideas and new designs. The knowledge of new designs, patterns and the histories surrounding it, excited me and that keeps me going.

What’s your proudest moment?

I worked with an NGO once and there I had the chance to teach women a few hand works. I was so fascinated to see their enthusiasm. The idea of them doing it as such an incredible work and approach me for work related to this made me very proud. That was the day I learnt that women enjoy and want to work in this field.