Images

Updated 13 May, 2024

An interview with designers Farah Talib Aziz and Maliha Aziz — the mother-daughter duo headlining the eponymous Farah Talib Aziz ‘FTA’ label — could very well simply be a fashion feature. From a small business helmed by Farah from the basement of her home to the present day, when it is one of the country’s most coveted bridal brands as well as a titan in the lawn market, the story of FTA’s rise could be a case study in the business of fashion.

But it is also a human story — of how a woman, who was passionate about creating clothes, decided to make it her career when her eldest son left for university abroad. And then how, eventually, her younger daughter and son joined in, designing and strategising and expanding and advertising, until the FTA stores were packed choc-a-bloc with customers on a daily basis.

It is a story about the business of fashion, yes, but it also fits like a glove into the theme of Mother’s Day being celebrated today. And so, I sit across from Farah Talib Aziz and Maliha Aziz at the FTA flagship store in Karachi’s Phase 8 DHA commercial zone.

Dressed head-to-toe in FTA formal wear, they’re the classic interviewees for Mother’s Day — finishing each other’s sentences, reminiscing over the same memories, growing older together and also, working together.

Farah may have created the label 25-odd years ago but Maliha has also, for many years now, been very much the face of the brand, actively involved in the designing process, interacting regularly with the media, and enthusiastically outlining details of every new collection and campaign.

It’s a partnership that has worked wonders. I’ve been in this space several times before and I am not exaggerating when I say that it has always been crowded. It’s always shaadi season or Eid season or I-want-to-splurge-out-on-new-clothes season in Karachi’s ‘it’ circles, and the ladies that dominate it tend to be FTA aficionados.

Today, for once, the bridal studio on the first floor where we sit is empty although, by the time we wrap up, I realise that customers have been waiting patiently on another floor for the interview to be over.

Would your business have grown as much had you not been joined in it by your children, I ask Farah. “No,” she replies immediately. “I have worked very hard, but there are so many different aspects of this work that are now divided between me and my children.

“I have always been very vigilant about quality control, scrutinising every design and watching out for errors. But now, the brand extends over so many different genres of design, from bespoke bridals to ready-to-wear to unstitched lawn. It would be difficult to keep an eye on everything if I didn’t have my children helping out. If I am ever occupied with one particular thing, I know that I can delegate the rest of my duties to Maliha and Umar [her son, Umar Aziz] and trust them completely.”

“Mom isn’t very business savvy,” says Maliha. “Her strength lies in the creative aspect of design, so it helps that she has people that she trusts working with her.”

Farah adds, “I was very happy functioning from my home’s basement. It was Maliha who kept pushing me to expand and diversify.”

Maliha nods. “My mom would keep telling me not to take on too much responsibility by opening a store. I told her that we wouldn’t know whether we could manage it unless we gave it a try. Eventually I convinced her to set up an additional workshop. From there, we expanded to a retail store in Karachi’s E Street, one in Lahore, the studio in DHA Karachi and, most recently, a store in Houston [in the US].”

“And for the longest time I didn’t want to delve into lawn!” Farah laughs. “My first-ever lawn was created in collaboration with the Lakhany Silk Mills (LSM) group and they had approached me several times and I had refused. Maliha, however, was persistent. I remember that she had just got married at the time and was leaving for a trip abroad. Once she came back, she really got to work on the lawn.”

“It was such a challenge,” Maliha says, “and it continues to be that way. How do you come up with a design that appeals to someone who is 16, as well as someone who is 60? From the colour to the embroidery patterns, to the print on the dupatta to the materials used — every detail has to be looked into! And we can’t even utilise our most popular colours from a year ago, because then customers will think that we have got repetitive.”

Farah adds, “We also have to keep the prices competitive, which is increasingly difficult, because raw materials and the manufacturing process have become so expensive.”

Was Maliha always inspired by her mother’s creative streak?

“Always!” says Maliha. “I remember when we used to go for vacations to the US when we were young, my mother would buy dresses for me and even bedsheets and use them as samples when we got home. A lot of international brands weren’t available in Pakistan at the time, and so my mum would recreate the designs on her own, adding frills to the bedsheets and stitching pillows. She would also create similar clothes for me.”

Farah says, “I have always loved Eid and I would lay out new bedsheets in all the bedrooms on Eid day. I know how to cut, stitch and embroider, and I would create festive ghararas and shalwar qameez for Maliha. I’d add cancans to her frocks and really doll her up … “

“Every mother thinks that her daughter is a doll!” Maliha laughs. “She even used to embroider my clothes herself. And she’d also create pleated skirts with little blazers for me and inspire me by saying, ‘You look just like Lady Diana!’”

Nevertheless, a fashion design business can be a behemoth that is hard to rein in, with responsibilities ranging from implementing the nitty-gritties of design to deciding upon prices and production quantities. Was Maliha inspired enough to want to join her mother’s atelier? “Yes,” she says, “I don’t think that I can imagine working anywhere else.”

“Honestly, I don’t consider my work difficult,” Farah observes. “I really enjoy it, and my workers have been with me from the time that I first started out. Initially, I started out with a single embroiderer. Then, I got a tailor on board. Eventually, I had seven embroiderers working with me. Slowly, the team expanded as business grew. Today, they are all like family to me.”

Has some of the designing now been delegated to Maliha? “I do head a design team but, ultimately, everything has to be approved by my mum,” she says. “It’s like preparing for an exam. Even though she has selected the colours and patterns from before, we’re still very nervous about showing her the final designs.”

“And I can really scold her if I don’t like something or there is some flaw in the design,” Farah laughs.

Maliha herself has two young sons. Does she find it difficult balancing motherhood with the daily rigmarole at FTA?

“I think I am lucky that I work with my mother. If ever I am busy, she can take over for me,” says Maliha. “My elder son is now five and I have pictures of him everywhere in my workplace, him lying in the workshop, playing with scraps of cloth. We have a separate area designated for children and some of the working mothers in our staff bring their children along with them. Also, I live mere minutes away from the FTA studio, and my mother-in-law and husband are very supportive.

“There are times when I can pick my son from school, make sure that he’s had lunch and then return to work for three hours in the evening. There are other times when I am at a shoot that starts at seven in the morning and ends at seven in the evening and I can’t leave at any point. It can get difficult and hectic, but I am lucky to have people who support me.”

She adds: “I support them too! When my husband travels, I take on more responsibilities too.”

What are the challenges that Maliha faces as a working mother? “I think that there’s a lot of mum guilt, especially because everything gets posted on social media and you worry that you may not have done enough for your child.

“It’s an Instagram world and you may have spent an hour decorating a basket for your child’s school activity while other parents may have invested an entire day into it. And even though your child is happy, you start fretting that, perhaps, I should have made a better costume, or created a better basket.

“Also, people judge very quickly. You want to be there for your child but, sometimes, you can’t manage a play date that’s at 2pm or at 4pm. I don’t remember our parents ever facing such pressures.”

I wonder out loud whether pressures were perhaps different back when Farah started working on her design business. Was she the odd one out at a time when not many women worked?

“Yes,” she says, “but I was lucky that my husband was very understanding. Also, I started small and only built up my business over time. Yes, a lot of my friends would constantly be meeting and I wouldn’t be able to, because I was at work. I have been very lucky — I love what I do and everyone around me has been very supportive.”

Maliha seems to have inherited a similar love for the brand. I reminisce about how FTA initially started making waves on social media with the aid of creative campaigns, celebrity collaborations and fun behind-the-scenes (BTS) footage from shoots.

Maliha says: “I love marketing, I’ve studied it too. We started coming up with BTS content back when very few people were doing it, and I enjoy curating campaigns for new collections. But I do think that what I enjoy the most is the designing process. I know that it’s important to keep an eye on profits and set targets, but we have people who worry about all this. If I started thinking about finances all the time, I feel that my creativity would suffer. And my mum’s the same.”

Like mother, like daughter. A love for design binds Farah Talib Aziz and Maliha Aziz together as does their love for each other. Mothers are usually the number one women in their children’s lives. In the case of this particular mother-daughter power pair, we could perhaps add in number one boss and mentor.

And Maliha can be number one employee.

Photography: The Rohail | Hair & make-up: Nabila’s Concept & coordination: Umer Mushtaq | Special thanks to Mindmap Comm

Published in Dawn, ICON, May 12th, 2024

Comments

1000 Characters
Zarro May 13, 2024 11:52am
I would like to complain about your boutique at Clifton block 4
Recommend Reply
Saleha Khan May 13, 2024 01:16pm
Extremely expensive for no reason most outfits are not even very attractive in designs
Recommend Reply
Ameneh Khanum. May 13, 2024 01:47pm
Aoa,My hat's off to the beautiful Mom and Daughter for so very amazing work. Beautiful and elegant pieces of work and designs I came across were very good. Best of luck. My very best wishes to you. Ameneh Khanum.
Recommend Reply
Donnie May 13, 2024 04:33pm
People complaining about expensive = This is not a brand for you. You can still shop are your local malls and bazars. People complaining about how the dresses look = Keep in mind, looks are in the eyes of the beholder. Most find it attractive hence it is a success dear. No hard feelings. tata.
Recommend Reply
Shaista Siddiqui May 13, 2024 08:26pm
I really admire mother and daughter’s journey and relationship. They work hard to achieve this success. I love their dresses and I am buying sometimes and also it is true bit expensive side but as she said competition is very high.Everyone wants to buy good quality and simple attractive dresses but in these days too much heavy work even on lawn dress. Please try to make lawn simple. Thanks but I love your even sometimes I can’t afford.❤️
Recommend Reply
Taj Ahmad May 14, 2024 12:40am
Like Mother Like Daughter, nice photo.
Recommend Reply
Saleem Gopalani May 14, 2024 01:30pm
Congratulations. Wish you success in all your future endeavours.
Recommend Reply
Dinar Shah May 14, 2024 06:31pm
the success story of mother and daughter, is worthy and inspiring. Your contribution towards quality of production is appreciateable. Dinar Shàh from Gilgit.
Recommend Reply
Madiha Sultan May 16, 2024 12:48am
Awesome duo!! So proud of you guys!!
Recommend Reply