Rastah co-founder Zain Ahmad started his clothing brand to bring some Pakistani representation into the fashion world and the world is finally acknowledging his unique art of storytelling through clothes. Ahmad has made it to Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list under the Arts category!
"Honoured to be on the Forbes 30 under 30 list Asia for 2022! Thank you @forbes @forbesunder30! Amazing to see many bright and talented individuals on this list," he wrote in his Instagram post announcing the news.
In a conversation with Images, the designer spoke about his reaction to the news and what it means to be part of the list. "It's an incredibly immense feeling because being on that list is something that I've dreamt of for such a long time now," he said. "It gives so much international recognition, especially being based in Pakistan where the rest of the world doesn't really give us the attention that I think we deserve."
Ahmad said he started Rastah because he noticed an immense lack of representation globally for Pakistani fashion. "What really surprised me was that a big chunk of the fashion world manufactures in Pakistan but at the end of the day the credit is given to another brand. For example, Adidas is going to manufacture a lot of its clothes and footballs in Pakistan but who gets the credit? It's the brand Adidas.
"Same way Hugo Boss, Tom Ford, Gucci — a lot of these brands actually manufacture some of their clothes in Pakistan but we never seem to get the credit for any of that work," he lamented.
The designer added that a lot of these brands turn to Pakistan and India for design inspiration yet it's a French or Italian designer who walks away with the acclaim. "So I wanted to create something that could allow us to tell our own stories," he explained. "I think it's very important for Pakistanis and South Asians to have ownership of their own narrative and be able to tell their stories."
He shared the meaning behind the name of his brand, saying he started it right after graduation and unlike his peers who were getting "nice, high paying jobs", he rebelled. "I was in that state of wanting to do something for myself and basically carve a path out for myself. Rastah is coming from me wanting to get on my own path, my own Rastah and doing something that is true to me."
When asked about the source of inspiration for his unique designs, Ahmad said a lot of it stems from personal experiences, stories, narratives and the way he looks at the world. He walked us through the process of how his designs materialise, saying, "I'll write out three to four pages about how I'm feeling about a given idea or a concept, share that with my design team and then we build it up. So a lot of it has a deeper meaning attached to it and there are a lot of personal stories etched within the design process."
He added that the studio has a policy that bars them from looking at trends and sales reports to keep the clothes "personal". "What we try to do is create something that we feel is very unique to ourselves and if it sells, it sells. That's not in our hands. We just want to create pieces of clothing that are true to what we're thinking about in terms of the theme or the narrative, just very raw and authentic."
The designer spoke about his collaboration with Indian actor and producer, and Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor's son, Harshvardhan Kapoor, saying they have known each other digitally for a year or two now. "He got in touch with me through a mutual friend. I sent him some clothes, he loved them and ever since then, we've been sharing pieces from whatever collection we put out with Harsh.
"Recently, he was wearing a piece that I'd actually given to him a year and a half ago — he wore it with his dad for a photo shoot for his next Netflix project and that garnered a lot of attention," he said, adding that Kapoor has a tonne of Rastah pieces. "We have a very good relationship, he's very nice and he really, really believes in the brand. He [also] just loves the idea that Pakistan and India can come together despite all these political differences."
Ahmad sees a future where his brand continues to grow really fast and becomes one his team feels proud to call their own. He said they want to generate funding as well. "[It's] because we want to protect our employees and give them a better future. For me, it has always been about the team and giving them a vision that they can fight for as well. So I'd want a future where our team feels like they're proud of themselves and they've really created something alongside the founders."
The designer revealed the brand's future plans include flagship stores in Lahore and New York. "Other than that, we have a few potential celebrity partnerships coming up that maybe you guys will see in six to seven months or so," he said. "And just continue the hard work and see where it takes us."