Left job to pursue her dream of fashion designing

Left job to pursue her dream of fashion designing
GK Photo

From her childhood, ShehlaArif - a Srinagar girl was a creative person, her dream of becoming a fashion designer kept her always on toes. She left a well-paid job to pursue her childhood dream and finally her work which includes reviving traditional Kashmiri dresses is being adored across the globe.

Shehla in her short span of designing career has started her own brand Shehla’s Designer Collection. She has been able to give a modern look to traditional attires such as kasaab which had become obsolete in the eyes of the younger generation.

Her work has won her accolades in America as well as in India, she recently designed costumes for music albums which were shot in Kashmir.

Shehla talks about her journey from her younger days to helming designing projects.

She says from my childhood I had a dream of becoming a designer, I was an inquisitive child, busy in creating new designs, painting, art, and craft. Since my early days.

I was not shy of doing new things, I always loved to do painting, sculpting and have won a lot of prizes and certificates at state and national level. I have also been a state level kick boxing and judo player and national level throw-ball team captain.

While I was evolving as an artist, money remained secondary and personal growth at a creative level was the primary concern.

Was it difficult to pursue a career in fashion designing: Shehla says that unfortunately, fine arts and creative fields are not prioritized as a career option in our society in Kashmir. This thing was bothering me a lot; I had an inclination to do something out of the box.

Though I completed masters in psychology from Kashmir University. Later I worked as an assistant cultural officer there. I could have easily become an assistant professor in psychology or become a counselor.

But my childhood passion came in between, I was not the one inclined to a job, rather I had entrepreneurial aspirations.

I must admit that during my stint at Kashmir University helped a lot. While I was working as an assistant cultural officer at the varsity during that period there was a NAAC team visit as a result of which the university had planned a number of cultural programs which were to be held. I got fully involved in this, all the preparation from training the students, designing the costumes, making sets for stage and writing the scripts were done by me and my husband RayeesMohiud din who is a famous artist.

After venturing into the creative field, I felt that my job was an obstacle for my growth as a result of which I resigned from university.

After my resignation from KU, I was a part of the core team which started the event management company Funtoosh. I was the creative head and all creative things like stage presence, set designs, costumes etc were done by me. Funtoosh in no time received a lot of love, support and appreciation from people and Funtoosh became a brand.

My tenure at this event company further gave me confidence that I could do well as a designer and it gave vent to my creativity.

After that I started my own venture, the best part about being a designer is that you are the trend setter.Whatever you design /create becomes a trend.

As a designer there are a lot of responsibilities, I can play a negative role or do good things for the promotion of Kashmiri culture.

Having my roots in Kashmir, I worked towards the promotion of our culture. Dresses which were obsolete in the eyes of the younger generation, I revived them with a modern outlook.

While designing I always make sure that cultural essence remains intact, my focus is revival and promotion of our traditional attires. I have revived the kasaab i.e. the burka our elders used to drape and young Kashmir brides are happily accepting it’s revived and upgraded look. I have done all these revival designs of our cultural attires by my label @shehlasdesignercollection.

These types of Kashmir traditional dresses like tumaar, kasaab, topi which were fading with time and we used to only get a chance to wear them at Nishat, Shalimar gardens for photo-ops. I feel proud in saying that I have successfully revived them and presented them in such a way that they are now being liked by all and especially brides are wearing them during their marriage functions.

Have you set any goals for yourself? Shehla says that I need to grow as a designer by introducing my own unique style that will be called my signature style. I am working hard on it.

Shehla credits her family for her success. It was impossible without their consistent support and encouragement. My parents, husband have always been there for me. Otherwise giving up a job and venturing into a field which is yet to be fully explored in Kashmir is a big decision which without their support would have been difficult. They always support my creativity and support me as a designer, they are my worst critics and my strongest supporters.

But at the same time I also made sure that my designs are socially acceptable in Kashmir. I make sure that my designs and dresses remain inside our religious and socio cultural boundaries.

Do you think that there is scope for fashion designing in Kashmir? Shehla says that as a designer I have noticed a jump in terms of the fashion sense among the people especially in girls. Now girls in Kashmir are more particular about their outfits be it casual wear or party wear. I have seen things have changed a lot for me as a designer which was not three to four years back.

As a result of these changes in society, I think fashion designing can be a better career option than running after jobs.

It is good to see that now girls here are doing fashion designing and the best part is that parents are accepting it as a career option and girls are getting support from their families.

Recently one of my interns said to me that I was not interested enough in fashion designing but my father pursued me. I was glad to know that people are gradually stepping out of the whirlpool of becoming a doctor, an engineer or a teacher. If it all goes at the same pace then I guess by next 10 years down the line Kashmir will generate the finest designers who will represent our valley at national and international levels.

Your advice for budding entrepreneurs? It's not easy to achieve and fulfill your dream but at the same time it is not impossible either. But you need to be focused and dedicated towards your goal, come what may.

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