The fashion industry saw a lot happen this weekend at the Textile EXPO 2023 but while fashion may have taken the main stage, what happened backstage far eclipsed the show. A dispute between two models, Nimra Jacob and Hasnain Lehri, has everyone in the fashion industry talking about workplace safety and harassment. There are a lot of conflicting statements about what happened, so Images reached out to the three main parties involved to find out what went down.
Jacob has accused Lehri of abusing, threatening and harassing her, which he has denied. Videos from the event show a distraught Jacob saying Lehri “put his hand on [her]” while Lehri repeats “This is unacceptable”.
Images spoke to the models and both say the issue arose after they bumped into each other while walking for sportswear brand, Spartan.
Nimra Jacob’s version
Jacob told Images that she went up to Lehri afterwards to tell him that he should have left way for other models to cross but instead, he bumped into her shoulder. “I saw the colours on his face changing and he started getting loud and rude,” she said.
“People saw that he is getting worked up, so they started holding him back. He made personal attacks on my family. There’s a narrative that I made a personal attack on his father, which is completely false,” she said.
“He then went on to threaten me, he said, ‘I will punch you in the face’. [Some other] female models came to me to ask if I was okay, but I clearly wasn’t — I was flustered, shocked, numb and I couldn’t complete the finale,” she said.
Jacob said that she also went to the organiser, Tehmina Khaled, to complain to her about the incident but Khaled was “either brushing it off or siding with Lehri”. The model claimed that Khaled said, “No Nimra, he already came to me and told me that you’re the one who cursed at him. You said something about his parent.” She called it “extremely disheartening” that the narrative was twisted in such a manner. “I just knew that the situation was being manipulated,” she said.
“She started walking away but I started following her and tried to make her understand the seriousness of what I had brought to her attention. I wasn’t really processing why the threat of physically harming me was being taken so lightly. I mentioned it to her again, but she stopped and looked at me and said, ‘he won’t punch you and we’ll deal with this later’.”
Jacob said that when she went back to the dressing room, other models came to her and told her that they witnessed Lehri threatening her and said they would talk to Khaled about the issue as well. She said that when they went back to the organiser, she told them that they would deal with it later. “I felt my safety was not a priority,” the model said.
“After the show, we were looking for Tehmina, but she was nowhere to be found. I don’t know why she left so fast, everyone was still there,” she added.
Jacob said that she along with her colleagues went to Lehri again to speak to him but he was getting “loud and aggressive” so she started recording him on her mobile phone, because she believed that he would physically assault her. “I could see that he was being aggressive and I could feel that he would hit me any second, so I took out my phone and he hit my hand so hard that my phone dropped and he took it,” she said. “People could see that he physically assaulted me,” Jacob said.
She said that Lehri later gave a “bunch of excuses” as a sort of apology, but she did not accept it.
“People love to claim a woman is being problematic when she does not allow others to take advantage of her/disrespect her. Claims like ‘she isn’t easy to work with’ or ‘she is being too difficult’. This narrative is done and dusted. It’s too outdated at this point,” she said.
“How about we look at what actually happened and understand the situation for what it is —bullying, harassment, abuse, and a horrible power dynamic at play between talent, management, and who can play politics better than the other. I just refuse to get caught up in games. I will, however, speak up for what is right. I don’t just speak for myself, but every model that has been taken advantage of, exploited, bullied, harassed, and much more. This is to protect us from further harassment at the workplace,” she told Images.
Jacob said that she is standing her ground when it comes to what happened. “I was threatened, I was bullied, I was intimidated, I was harassed, I am still being intimidated, people are trying to get me to be silent [but] I am not going to be silent about this situation.”
She also posted a series of messages on Instagram on Sunday in which she did not name Lehri but discussed the “toxic, abusive culture” of lack of accountability in the industry. In those messages, she wrote that the management should have taken action the first time she mentioned concern for her safety.
“I’m lucky there were eye witnesses to this man’s horrific actions. From his threats to his violence, there were people who witnessed it all. As traumatised as I am, I’m not standing alone,” she wrote.
Hasnain Lehri’s version
Lehri has denied the allegations of physical violence and said that the other models at the event were “extremely unfair towards him”.
“I indubitably deny all accusations of physical altercation. I can’t ever hit a girl, I come from a very respectful family, I have a mother and a sister at home that I take care of and I would never show violence to another woman,” he told Images.
“Ever since my father passed away, I mind my own business and barely ever interact with people at work. I have no issue with anyone. While crossing next to me on the ramp, Nimra hit my shoulder. We went backstage and she walked towards me aggressively, asking me to learn how to walk on the ramp. This resulted in an argument and she brought my deceased father into the conversation. I just told her to leave. I didn’t want to extend the issue since the finale of the show was starting.”
He said that he spoke to organiser Khaled and show director Nubain Ali about the incident. “I raised my issues with them, they told me that Nimra has been causing issues with other models and brands too,” he said.
“When the show was done, I packed my bag, readying to leave. Ali approached me and asked me what the issue was. As Ali and I were discussing [the issue], Jacob returned and started the argument again. We both were abusing and that’s when she took out her phone and started recording me.”
The model said that he told Jacob not to film him four times before he snatched her phone. “This isn’t acceptable and I took her phone. That is all I did. I took the phone from her hand and kept it with me because she was recording me without my consent. She just wanted to show her side of the story,” he said. “I wish I had taken out my phone and started recording how she was misbehaving as well.
“With God as my witness, I can swear on the Holy Quran that all I did was take her phone. I didn’t assault anyone, I didn’t physically abuse her. Her three friends teamed up against me. They will support her,” he claimed.
Tehmina Khaled’s version
Both Jacob and Lehri mentioned the involvement of the police. Jacob said she called law enforcers and Lehri said he spoke to them after they arrived at the scene. Khaled, however, told Images that there were no police called. The CEO of Take II PR said security at the venue “handled the situation”.
“The area has so much security already and there were many [people] hired for the event. This is a TEXPO exhibition, which TDAP has annually where more than 300 exhibitors and 500 buyers of all nationalities were present. The prime minister attended the inauguration. It cannot be that such a VIP event doesn’t have security,” she said.
“This incident happened almost two hours after the show was wrapped up. Everything was fine after the finale, we all met each other and took pictures. There was no tension and once most of the designers had wrapped up and models had left, my management team also took off to attend the culmination event at Governor House.
“However, our security team was still there. The whole incident happened after we had all left, so how exactly is it our fault if those two are bringing their old feud to the event? Hasnain told me that they had some issue two years back,” she said.
Khaled claimed that Jacob never came to her about the issue at all. “Nimra fought with Maha Tahirani during the rehearsal. Maha messaged me saying that she won’t come to the show because Nimra nudged her and misbehaved with her, to which I told her to come to the event and that I’ll handle it in person. But I never spoke to Nimra about it because I knew such incidents happen during fashion shows. Similarly, this was also a childish catfight between Nimra and Hasnain. I can’t possibly be making a big deal out of every petty issue,” she said.
“Some models tend to use social media to create issues of anything and that is wrong. I could see that they are ganging up against Hasnain because he was the only male model there. Nobody raised their hands on anybody. We all sat later and spoke about it. Hasnain even apologised but Nimra wasn’t letting it go.”
She then said that due to contractual agreements, she and her team may send out legal notices if people continue to blame them for the issue. “We have a strict contract with the girls. They cannot go and badmouth the client or anybody because these girls do this on social media nowadays. Their agencies have signed a contract with us.” Jacob told Images that she never signed any contract in relation to the show.
The industry reacts
Several members of the fashion industry spoke about the issue on social media, highlighting the need for safety in the workplace and protection.
Stylist Mehek Saeed said we must “promote respect in professional settings and make women feel safe and secure in their workplace”.
Singer Meesha Shafi also spoke about the importance of the implementation of workplace harassment laws, especially given that there is “no systemic policy in the industry” to protect employees.
Many people, including models Fatima Hasan and designer Feeha Jamshed called out people saying that the issue was a “personal matter” to be dealt with by the parties involved. Both called on the organisers to protect women in the workplace.
Model Zara Peerzada spoke about the importance of accountability and how it goes beyond holding a single man accountable.
Photographer Zeest Shabbir said this is not the first time the fashion industry has seen “hostile and erratic behaviour towards women”.
She vowed to take “every measure in the future to ensure that I will not work with self centred individuals who use their power and privilege to exploit others” and urged others to follow suit.