Half Hour With Nilofer Shahid

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In our latest March #WomenCare issue we were lucky to chat to the queen of fashion #NiloferShahid, about how to win at what you do!

You are a pioneering fashion guru and leader. Tell us where you find yourself today?

My work has never been a business venture; it has been a passion, a haven — and God has been very kind. Like magic things have happened, opening doors for me. I truly believe, as Paulo Coelho said, that when you take a positive step in one direction, the universe conspires to help you achieve it.

You’ve been an inspiration for men and women in the industry. Tell us more?

I was the first fashion house to hire graduates. My house was open to young people, my team remained so motivated, while they learnt the real hard way. You become role model if you work with originality, creativity, integrity and that it is immensely gratifying. And there are no politics allowed; there is no copying allowed — we look at trends and the colour forecast to determine our direction.

 Tell us about your ongoing dreams?

I continue to want to take Pakistan forward globally, continue to inculcate the spirit of pride in our culture, so that we as a nation are proud of who we are, from our hearts and our souls. What comes from within, hits the mark! While it’s been my passion to promote our culture, now I want to take it to another level and get the support of our government.

After three decades of work in Pakistan where do you see yourself now?

It’s been a long, tough journey. I would like my philosophy of design, and the culmination of my dreams to be realised in my mission to promote the soft image of Pakistan — our own culture, values, images, art, paintings, pottery, to show the world who we are— through fashion and more. We are not really maximizing our image as a nation; we need to come forward with the best of Pakistan — that has been my contention and the force that has driven me.

When I took my shows abroad in the 90s, to America, France, the UK; I showcased themes like Islamic calligraphy, Mughal art and architecture, Chughtai’s paintings depicting Allama Iqbal and Ghalib’s poetry; dialogues between Rumi and Iqbal and Noor Jehan and Josephine Bonaparte; and so many more! I paid tribute to great artists or poets; to great creative minds. The response was astounding.

I’ve also always worked on developing local textiles; hand-woven kamkhabs, designs and colour, developed gold wire, dabka and kora, created new forms of tissue and organza, I first introduced semiprecious stones in clothes and was the first to make accessories.

What would you consider your most outstanding qualities?

I’ve been like a warrior, never taking no for an answer. I’ve also been a bit of rebel, for example, my collection on Rembrandt was inspired by his rebellious spirit. It has been an uphill struggle to do things differently; develop our own ethnic crafts and textiles; fuse western techniques with eastern, and so on. My forte has been mixing diverse fabrics, inventing, reinventing, fabrication; a very couture technique.

How has your vision inspired other women?

It’s really gratifying when young girls or designers come up to me and praise my work. There are no short cuts to success, it is always a long tough journey. I started with 20k in a backyard, singlehandedly and worked hard to get where I am.

What message do you want to give to young people today?

Young people may be in awe when they think ‘designer,’, but it’s not about being a star or making money; for me it has always been about promoting the nuances of our rich culture and past. Fashion is not something to be treated as a tool to promote oneself— we must do it the right way, with our own signature and come together on one platform with a real vision.

What do you think the government should do?

We need to start a movement to promote the image of Pakistan. The government should have a clear cut agenda to promote the fashion industry in the international market.

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