Spotlight on Bareia Ahmad, designer at London Graduate Fashion Week
Bareia Ahmad's 2016 Graduate Fashion Week collection (shown above), stunned the entire audience, myself included. The collection, which was inspired by the migration of the Pakistani and Indian women in the 1970s who lived in Uganda under British colonialism, features a beautiful cultural fusion of Asian and Western fashion. From the Sikh saris and traditional golden earrings to checkered kilt skirts and military jackets, Bareia's collection highlights the cultural integration of different ethnicities. Here to speak about her collection, Exodus from Kampala, and the experiences she has had as a recent fashion design graduate, is Bareia Ahmad herself.
Describe a typical Bareia Ahmad girl?
She is a bit like me. She is obsessed with the nitty gritty of stuff. That's the person I imagine wearing my clothes, a woman who has researched and appreciates every detail about the collection all the way down to why I decided to use a certain color. I also imagine her being multi-ethnic, similar to my collections which merge different background and cultures.
Where would you want your brand to go in the next 5 to 10 years?
It would be my dream to show my collection at the Fashion in Motion Catwalk at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a set of catwalk series which feature the greatest designers of catwalk couture.
What's your favorite piece of your collection right now and why?
The kilt over the long skirt (top right image in the collage above) is my favorite. In theory, the combination of these two fashion pieces should not have worked. The different silhouettes of a structured skirt with a loose Indian sari do not go together. But oddly enough, it did work! I think that's what really excites me about fashion; often pieces that should not work and fit together, actually do.
I am fascinated by the long earrings in your collection, how did you make those?
The earrings are made from actual horse hair that I sourced from a horse abattoir. When I was sent the horse hair strands, they even still had blood and skin attached to them! It smelled awful! So I had to condition and comb the strands so that they did not smell and would look good on the catwalk. The gold pieces that are attached on top of the horse hair strands are traditional jewellery pieces that Sikh women wear in India. It was definitely challenging making those earrings, but I am very happy with the end result.
What is one of the biggest problems of the UK fashion industry?
The biggest problem starting up in fashion is finding financial backing. Because at the end of the day, you can have the most brilliant and amazing ideas for a collection, but if you don't have the financial means to buy the materials and fabric, you won't have a collection. For my graduate collection I had to save up money from my student loan for 3 years! I definitely think that this low-paying nature of fashion is making it very difficult for new designers to come through. As the industry pays little to nothing to interns and entry-level employees, it makes it hard for people from less fortunate backgrounds to be able to get a foot into the industry causing the country to loose out massively in terms of the pool of diverse candidates.
How was the experience of having your collection showcased alongside the best UK fashion students at Graduate Fashion Week and how did that process go?
My university selected who got to be showcased at Graduate Fashion Week by going through the final collections of all the Fashion Design students and choosing 14 of the most innovative collections.
The day of Graduate Fashion Week was really emotional, because your collection combines so many years of work and it all leads up to that one day. My family also did not think I had it in me to express my heritage in the way that my collection does. So actually seeing my collection, which encompasses the clashing of my different cultural roots of being Pakistani and Indian but growing up in the UK, was very therapeutic for myself as well as I rarely speak about my heritage and the effect it has had on my life.
What advice would you give to aspiring students regarding the first steps to starting their own label?
A big problem with British universities is that they do not teach students adequate practical skills. So I would definitely recommend students that want to pursue creative degrees such as fashion design, to brush up on their practical skills by taking sewing or pattern cutting classes before they start university. Many students will do a foundation course before starting university in the UK, but I would personally advise students to take practical classes instead, as this will be much more beneficial in the long-run.
If you could have anyone wear your clothes, who would you want to wear them and why?
The British model, Neelam Guild. She represents the new British identity, because although she is labelled as a British model, she comes from an asian background similar to myself.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in fashion design?
I never had that 'eureka' moment of deciding to go into fashion. I just always knew I wanted to be involved with fashion since day 1. I think what attracts me to fashion is the way that it can change a person's perception. I will sometimes wear traditional asian clothing and sometimes I wear more modern, english clothing and can see a stark difference in how people identify me. So knowing that I have the power to manipulate people's perception through fashion is very intriguing.
Lastly, are there any good resources you would suggest for an aspiring fashion designer?
Fashion Design Sketchbook by Hywell Davies: it looks at 50 contemporary designers and their sketchbooks. This is very inspiring as you are able to see the sketchbooks of prominent fashion figures like John Galliano.
Show Studio: this is another good resource for upcoming designers. They have a lot of interviews with new designers and discuss the pitfalls they had and how you can avoid them.