Interview of a Modest Fashion and Unique Abaya Designer

IMG_9953How and why did you start A’baa?

A’baa came into being, with the help of Allah (swt), in  January 2013. I, with my parents, started A’baa when I was in my first semester. I was new to entrepreneurship. Before becoming an entrepreneur, and joining an entrepreneurship program at IBA, I had always wanted to be a designer, but due to cultural reasons, my parents did not agree on letting me join the Fashion Design program. So I ended up joining IBA, and its mysterious entrepreneurship program. (I didn’t even know what the word meant at that point in time. (laughs). I started A’baa because I had always loved to create elegant, modest clothing. My main passion was to design casual and evening wear, full length gowns. But then, when I started wearing an Abaya, which was back in 10th grade- I became interested in designing Abayas, because of their lengths and grace. I, like many others, did not find any appropriate Abaya to wear. I had always been very conscious of what I wear. I had an eye for cuts, details, fall and flare. I used to spend hours designing my lawn dresses. So, that thing also reflected in the Abayas that I wore when I became a Hijabi. And thus, A’baa came into being.

The story behind the name “A’baa”?

There is an interesting incident behind the name. Before A’baa, my venture was a partnership with a friend- who was carrying out her Abaya business at a small level, from her home. My parents, who were quite reluctant for a business in the starting, advised me to partner with my friend (so that I would stop bothering them with my business idea). It started, and my mother surprisingly became active and got a collection ready- regardless of the presence of my friend’s help. We called for an exhibition; the turnout for my designs was surprisingly good. But due to the difference in speed, long distance and mismatching goals of me and my friend, we parted ways within 25-twenty five days.

I was good with social media; I branded and put in a lot of effort to make our combined brand’s page. I got pretty heartbroken when the page went to her, with the brand name. It all began with such difficulty; my family is completely non-business minded, and I thought it was the end. But Alhumdulillah, my mother encouraged me and asked me to create a new page. I was pretty hopeless, but at the same determined. I created the page, started thinking of names, but couldn’t find a single suitable name; and one day I searched for the Arabic translation of ‘gown’, and one of the words showed up to be A’baa. It was small, easy to pronounce, seemed attractive to me. So I picked it up.

What is the philosophy of A’baa?IMG_9950

A’baa is not just a venture, or a home-based business that is there to make money. A’baa is a story of passion, dedication and unwavering strength of its team, to make a difference to the world, translated into a brand, that exists to serve the modest women and those who wish to choose modesty in future; to help them find timeless elegance, versatility and style in their modest wardrobe, with no compromise on quality, and affordability of price.

We design the modest wardrobe in ways that allow no one to have the audacity to label Hijab or Pardah as something lowly, backwards, or insulting, be it a western or an eastern culture.

Describe your experience running A’baa as a Facebook-based business. Best experience and most annoying one. Spare no details!

Working for A’baa has been an absolutely excellent experience, including the good and bad. There has been a lot of learning, for both professional and personal growth. Every day I learn new things. Good customers motivate me to keep working with the same passion and bad customers teach me where I can improve, by showing me the gaps and weaknesses. And my tailoring team teaches me patience. (Inside joke)

How much scope do you think there is for the Pakistani Muslimah to run a passion-fueled business like A’baa? Any tips and advice you have for someone considering on cashing in on their artistic/creative talents?

The modest wear fashion industry has a LOT of scope, if you do it the right way. Right now, the industry is being run by business men and tailors who usually copy and import designs, and sell. Pakistanis also have an eye for making money from copied stuff, since it’s easier and less risky, but to be successful, you need to learn to fall in love with what you do. Industries are always led by the mad men of the field, who know how to work and bring new things. And the reason, for almost no existence of a proper modest wear fashion industry is that there have been very few or almost no big dreamers who could make a difference. Copying takes you nowhere, but close to a few bucks of money. Originality and passion are the two names of the game.

IMG_9949What made you venture into designing modest non-Abaya fashions? How much is the scope for selling this sort of attire?

Non-Abaya means casual or evening wear gowns. There is a small scope in Pakistan for that, but it’s there. It’s small because it’s not something cultural, and people usually prefer traditional dresses like Kurta, Qameez etc. Yet it exists, and it’s growing due to the global culture overcoming the regional culture. My idea behind non-Aabaya modest wear is to promote modesty, because even in our traditional wear, modesty is often compromised, which is just sad.

You use a mannequin or faceless photos for showcasing your pieces. How difficult is it to follow Islamic guidelines in the course of your work?

Islamic guidelines. I think the question is rather flawed in its nature.
I don’t know why we assume it’s difficult to do a business following Islamic guidelines. It is not actually. Trust me on that. Using a faceless mannequin or model is rather easier, because it’s so hard to find a suitable, beautiful model who could go with the feel of your brand, (laughs).

Yes, models actually contribute a great deal in building the image of the brand. So it is easier and better for the brand, because the face always catches more eyes than the dress, and I think that’s bad news. Doing faceless promotion converges all the attention on the dress, fulfilling the purpose of marketing the brand’s pictures. However, planning out how to deliver the feel and identity of your brands to the customer is rather a difficult subject; but that has nothing to do with Islamic guidelines, because it’s pure creativity and that’s exactly what has bothered the marketers throughout these years. Islam has always made things easier for us. And when people use un-Islamic ways in the name of Shariah related businesses, I feel sad for them. They might even get to the top in this world, but they are just making things harder for themselves in the hereafter.

Tell us about your blog, “BLAK”.

BLAK is a self-made nickname that I found for myself. I didn’t know what to do with it, and I loved to write, so I started a blog with a Facebook page of that name, sharing random thoughts, quotes, ideas and passions, and on it. I have been unable to update the blog due to the tough routine, but I keep updating the page, which is less time consuming.

A’baa is a family-run business. Your advice to parents whose daughters wish to go into business?

Tough question. It feels guilty to make things so hard for your parents. I would not encourage girls to go on a rebellion, but I will not ask them to give up. (And please do not do something that you feel has a lot of scope, or money; do something that you genuinely feel passionate about.)
And, I would definitely request parents to be less rigid about girls dreaming of doing something. Rather than nipping their ideas in the bud, and risking them going rebels- parents should facilitate them, and they will also start understanding their parent’s imitations.

IMG_9951Your message for girls of your age?

Stay clear headed, do not run after apparent attractions. I have seen that when girls become religious, they all start selling Abayas and Hijabs, when their passions could be something else. They are in reality following a Islamic stereotype, after exiting a non-Islamic stereotype. It is not true that practicing Muslim women have to give up their worldly passions and interests; and forget everything that exists outside the four boundary walls of their house. Islam encourages individual interests turning into something meaningful. Islamic Society needs people with varying interests. We need female doctors, engineers, teachers, shopkeepers, researchers, mathematicians, physicists, entrepreneurs etc., with an understanding of the Shariah. Pardah cuts us from the inappropriate and strengthens us with the appropriate; it doesn’t limit us from being functional in the society. If females stop participating in the society, and just do Pardah and sell Pardah, the society will become truly patriarchal.