Sleepless nights, meltdowns, stress, blood, sweat and tears. Meet Zara Khan, the 23 year old womenswear designer who through sheer hard work has created a powerful collection infused with her Welsh-Pakistani heritage. Not one to shy away from controversial ideas, Zara has spent her final year at Birmingham City University creating a collection that will leave you spellbound – both visually and intellectually. Zara challenges notions about identity and society through embroidery, embellishments and colour. We catch up with Zara to hear more about her personal journey behind her collection, favourite designers and plans for the future.
The Fashion Conversation: Your graduate collection was inspired by your Welsh-Pakistani heritage, drawing on details like embroidery and embellishments to convey meaning about the culture, ways of life and their influences on your development. Can you please share the journey of your collection?
Zara Khan: My intention was to most definitely produce a dramatic collection that would pull me out of my comfort zone stylistically. Initially, my concept for my collection revolved around identity – exploring my Welsh-Pakistani heritage and questioning why I felt the need to find out where I fit in. Over time, my ideas evolved and I started focussing on the issues that I was facing as a Welsh Pakistani. I began to wonder why I never entirely found my place in both cultures until I came to the conclusion that I was simply an outcast in society. I believe this was a positive conclusion, as I have never let, and never will let, society or culture define me as a person. I am very proud that I come from such rich, diverse and cultured backgrounds but I will forever rebel against the system and ways of society. I am not afraid of rebelling against the society I have been brought up in and the cultural norms that my friends and family live by. This rage influenced my collection immensely. Transforming these emotions and ideas into my work meant that the neutral colours I have used represent skin colours and how I feel that race should not define a person. Our definition is in our thoughts and opinions, our character and mannerisms. My collection is also heavily embroidered. Pakistani’s are known for embellishments and textiles, so I took those ideas further and develop my own embroidery design using arabic text of shocking, controversial phrases. It was necessary that these words were shocking to create a powerful impact.
TFC: You’ve interned with a pattern cutting studio, a sample studio and London based Jordanian designer, Reem Juan during your time at university. What are some of your favourite memories?
ZK: My internships at Grade House (pattern cutting) and Sample studio really helped me to develop my pattern cutting and sewing skills which was invaluable to my final collection. During my time at Reem Juan, I shadowed Reem at fittings and shows and I also made a few sample pieces for her. She nurtured my knowledge on design and fabrics. One of my favourite moments, was working on the embellishment design on a Reem Juan piece, which was worn by the actress, Maisie Williams.
TFC: Who are your favourite designers and why?
ZK: I have a few favourite designers. Amongst them, is Ali Xeeshan. His work always tells such a dramatic story and has so much culture and life in his work. Despite it not being the style of design I would go for, I do really admire his creativity. Other designers include the likes of Manish Arora and Zuhair Murad. Their work may be completely different stylistically but I feel that they both have an amazing sense of creativity, with a level of intricacy and detailing that I love.
TFC: What are your plans for the future?
ZK: I would like to work as a junior designer, gaining more industry experience. Eventually I would love to set up my own brand, but in the meantime, I plan to develop my brand as an online store, and see where it will go from there. In time, I would also like to undertake a masters course.
Have a look at Zara’s website www.za-ra.co