Fashion brand Inaaya preserves craft instead of making a quick buck. Will it work?
“I want to go from one village to the world,” Naushaba Brohi has been known to say.
And she’s about to do exactly this.
This month Naushaba’s brand Inaaya will be exhibiting at Dubai’s Fashion Forward event. It’s an event where the who’s who of international fashion converge, giving talks, attending shows and milling through exhibits.
Within this rather prestigious arena, Naushaba will be showcasing her accessory line – strands upon strands of doris, mirror-work, beads and embroidery created by the village women of rural Sindh and sent out to the world at large.
But where has Inaaya been for so long?
Prior to this, however, Naushaba seemed to have had melted into the shadows. Where was Inaaya, one wondered about the brand until recently. It had started off strong back in 2014 at Fashion Pakistan Week. It did surface every now and then, in a small capsule stocked at Ensemble in Karachi or an accessory exhibit at the Canvas Gallery but nevertheless, it had been a while since it had made waves.
Apparently, Inaaya was having a bit of an identity crisis.
“I was trying to understand how I wanted to structure my business,” explains Naushaba. “I debuted into fashion at a time when every designer was launching into the high street. For a while, I tried to do the same until I realized that it would only dilute my brand’s signature."
"My work at Inaaya is grinding, where I train rural craftswomen to attune their skills to what I require of them," she continued. "There are so many stages involved, so many hands working on every single garment before it ultimately culminates into high fashion. It just wasn’t possible for me to try to churn out generic apparel in mass quantities.”
Over a span of months, Naushaba contemplated over the route she wanted Inaaya to take, finally deciding upon the road less traveled but often, more fashion forward. Not all ready-to-wear needed to be mass friendly. Fashion, preferably, should be individualistic and Naushaba’s Inaaya had always had a distinctive personality; strong, vibrant, statement-making.
“In these times of fast fashion, I decided that I wanted to create about five outfits of each design, with indigenous detailings worked onto contemporary silhouettes. Business, for me, has grown organically and now, I want to keep building it like this, step by step.”
Starting over at a new studio
She says all this with great emphasis. Now that she has decided upon the path she wants to take, Naushaba is raring to go. She already has a new studio in Karachi, unassuming and nondescript on the outside but with quintessential Inaaya interiors; scraped walls, bursts of greenery, comfortable furniture, raw but beautiful.
The fruition of Naushaba’s umpteen trips to interior Sindh – and subsequently, long Whatsapp conversations with her craftswomen – are displayed here and there. A mannequin wears a beige rilli skirt with a black bustier, another is shrouded in a beautiful chunri dupatta and there is a rack with tunics stitched from susi, tie-n-dyed, block-printed and twinkling with mirrors.
There is also new stock that’s arrived from the villages and is in the process of being sent out to clients or being stocked at Ensemble; dupattas and shirts worked with gota but in unique zig-zags and clusters. An artificial hand extends from the walls, offering out a red Gulooband with mirrors woven into the thread. Who wouldn’t want one?
This is craft that every Pakistani is familiar with but Naushaba lifts it out of conventions and makes it edgy. The jewellery, for instance, is crafted by women who make parandas and are now being guided by Naushaba to mold the same skill to create a range of accessories: necklaces, arm bands, earrings, teekas and maatha-pattis.
It catches the eye, as it has of various international fashion scions occasionally. Despite being a fledgling contender in the local fashion scene, Inaaya has been featured in the pages of Vogue India and worn by Amal Alamuddin – much to Naushaba’s surprise, who only found out when Amal was featured wearing the Inaaya Sindoor Dori in the Spanish edition of Hello!
More recently, her knack for tweaking traditional craft has led the Sindh Rural Support Organization to head-hunt Naushaba and enlist her to guide their batches of craftswomen towards the modern aesthetic.
“I am going to help them make designs for the SRSO and they will also be creating designs for Inaaya,” she explains. This means that the Inaaya workforce has multiplied manifold, from about a hundred women to now, thousands. Additionally, she is now getting fabric woven specially for her brand, from Matiari, deep within Sindh.
And yet, Naushaba has only opted to just take her jewellery to Fashion Forward and not her painstakingly created clothing line-ups.
“It’s what I know will sell,” she reasons. “I have been going to Fashion Forward since 2014 and have even had an impromptu pop-up exhibition there, organised by a regular client, where the jewellery has sold out from within my hotel room! I have met editors and many others who work the wheels of international fashion and it has made me realise that my jewellery will be appreciated much more easily globally as compared to the apparel that merges tradition with convention.”
“Eventually I may decide to also exhibit the apparel internationally but right now, I just want the jewellery to catch people’s attention.”
Will the clothing, then, be showcased at a more relevant local fashion week? “Not yet,” says Naushaba. “I have to have stock ready before I put out designs on the catwalk. There would be no point in merely showing sample pieces and then, taking ages to replicate them for retail.”
Far from the madding crowd, Naushaba may have her house in order now but she doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to gain profits. The upcoming exhibit at Fashion Forward is, of course, going to be a feather in her cap but locally, she is taking slow and steady steps.
Her business, for now, is limited to bespoke orders that can be taken at her studio, a rack at multi-label Ensemble in Karachi and an online store. She is yet to resume stocking at multi-labels in other cities in the country. “I will, when I have stock,” she promises.
Additionally, prices at Inaaya are typically on the higher side, easily rising above the Rs 10,000 bracket. “That’s because it is high fashion,” says Naushaba. “Yes, with Inaaya, I am helping in jumpstarting ecosystems and helping these women sustain their livelihoods but nevertheless, I am running a for-profit brand.”
“These are not sympathy products and I want people to realise this. My craftswomen are very skilled and they get paid fair incomes for their efforts. These are designs created with passion and I want people to buy them, not out of charity, but because they like them.”
And people have always liked Inaaya. We’re pretty sure Fashion Forward is going to like Inaaya. It’s good to have the brand back in action.