Being an entrepreneur for most of her professional career, Sadia Siddiqui was raised in Pakistan, but moved to London after some time. She did her MBA in Business Marketing from Royal Holloway, University of London and lived there for nearly two decades before moving to New York. According to Sadia, her journey in fashion started after her son Jansher was born. Though she did not study fashion design, as much as she wanted to, Sadia’s entrepreneurial streak and her drive for a more diverse fashion landscape encouraged her to venture into the fashion industry and launch the first authentic Asian modeling agency, Caramel, in London. “Caramel was my first step towards building a career in fashion. I felt that Asians did not have proper representation in the field of modelling at that time in London,” she tells Instep in an exclusive interview.
“There was no agency that specialized in brown faces. South Asians are the largest ethnic minority in the UK, however, in the field of fashion we were extremely underrepresented. Caramel gave young Asians the opportunity to enter the field of modelling, with proper grooming and guidance. I ran the agency for seven years, then decided to branch out and evolve towards a different creative direction,” she says, adding that she also established the Fashion Parade in order to celebrate South Asian designers in an unprecedented manner.
A creative director, brand strategist turned designer Sadia shares that she was the difficult middle child (one of five girls) who simply loved fashion since childhood. Quite recently she has launched her luxury clothing brand, NACS, Not A Clothing Store, inspired by Brooklyn street style.
We got in touch with the very dynamic Sadia Siddiqui in a bid to know more about Fashion Parade and her designing venture, among other things.
Instep: What inspired you to get into this field?
Sadia Siddiqui: I remember endlessly sketching look books for Betty and Veronica from Archie comics. I think fashion is such a fun medium to express yourself, it’s constantly evolving. You can experiment and really try new and different things. I was not particularly inspired by any one thing – it just came naturally to me, like a natural extension of myself. I was always creative as a young child and I feel like creativity needs no formal training, either you have a creative eye or you don’t.
Instep: What was the thought behind establishing Fashion Parade and how has the evolution been?
S.S: Fashion Parade was established to celebrate South Asian designers as well as showcase the vibrant, colourful and unique creations from South Asia to the world. The success of Fashion Parade, as the first of its kind celebration of South Asian fashion and art, created headlines across borders. Fashion Parade has worked towards highlighting the potential of South Asia through its runway shows. It not only helped in changing the narrative about Pakistan, but also the negative perceptions of our region that has been hard wired into the minds of the international community through western media. This was a new gateway towards Pakistan and India, where the International press was invited to sit in the front row and see the potential of South Asia in the arena of fashion, design, craft and art. The press wrote raving reviews about the fashion show, appreciating the “wonderful take on beautiful costumes and craftsmanship” (WWD, 2019); and the South Asian Times describing it as “A mega success at Christie’s.” My role as a champion of diversity was also lauded with CNBC stating that “in New York, India and Pakistan reach a detente through fashion.”
Instep: You have been associated with PFDC for some time now. When did you take charge of directing PFDC shows and what is next?
S.S: Sehyr Saigol came to one of my Fashion Parade shows that was held at Mandarin Oriental in London. She really liked the show and reached out to me, inviting me to come to Pakistan and attend a fashion week. We started talking and along the way, she asked if I would like to work with PFDC.
I felt this was a great opportunity as I have always admired her work and her contributions to the fashion industry. Initially, I knew it was going to be a challenging task, as I was an expat and it’s not easy being a newcomer to an existing industry, especially if you want to introduce ideas, and new concepts. I feel overall it has been a great experience and I really cherish my time with this platform. As for now, I am working on PFDC fashion week 2022. This year the council is planning on creating some great digital content – the entire show will be a visually immersive experience. Stay tuned, the show will be very exciting!
Instep: How has the experience of working on fashion weeks in Pakistan been?
S.S: Overall, doing fashion shows in Pakistan has had its challenges but has also been extremely rewarding. While I was in London, I was promoting Pakistan in the field of art, craft and culture. So going back to Pakistan and actually creating shows with some of the country’s best designers was a wonderful experience. Moreover, working with Sehyr Saigol, who I believe to be an icon and creative genius, was one of the highlights of working with the council and directing the shows – it‘s been a joy working with her.
Instep: From directing shows to doing your own fashion show and now having launched your own clothing line, how has the transition been?
S.S: The transition has not been easy. Retail is a very tough market, it’s a beast of its own. I am a creative person so whether the creativity is coming through producing a show, doing the runway or in creating designs for a clothing line, somehow creativity finds a way to channel itself. The transition has been a transition of learning and still there’s so much to learn.
Instep: What’s the concept behind your luxury clothing brand, NACS?
S.S: NACS, Not a Clothing store, is a streetwear brand for the youth in Pakistan. I moved to Brooklyn three years ago from London and I absolutely loved the street style in America. In fact, my own sense of style changed and became trendy yet relaxed. During my trips to Pakistan, I felt there was a gap in the retail market for a unisex streetwear brand. My brand brings a very Brooklyn, New York aesthetic to streetwear. Brick and mortar retail was severely impacted due to the pandemic, so I thought it would be a great time to launch an e-commerce streetwear brand for Pakistan. Social media has made the Pakistani youth aware of what the trends are globally. My idea to create NACS was to bring luxury, limited-edition, high quality streetwear for the youth. All our MOQs are very small, the material is export quality, we’ve done a lot of our designing in Brooklyn, and all our specs are US sizes.
Our design philosophy for NACS is all about encouraging individuality and making a statement. It’s a luxury streetwear brand designed for the youth of today, who are non-conformists, have their own identity, are comfortable in their own skin and don’t want to follow stereotypes.
Instep: What sets your brand apart from other streetwear brands?
S.S: NACS is Brooklyn based and influenced by the street style there. I’ve been inspired by my surroundings, taken elements of New York and introduced them in our brand. Also our brand is strictly online and unisex. I believe people, especially the youth has the freedom to express themselves and not conform to perceived societal norms.
Instep: One thing you would want to change about Pakistani fashion…
S.S: For me the fit of an outfit is everything, so that’s the change I would welcome. I feel we are very focused on the workmanship of the outfits, but sometimes the most important thing is the fit and how the silhouette looks on you.
Instep: Fashion is getting more and more polarized here; your thoughts?
S.S: I think it’s not limited to the fashion industry, everybody is getting polarized, and everyone has an opinion. We are living in the age of social media where everyone has access to news, information and technology. The youth is very vocal, they have an opinion and openly express themselves. I am a supporter of voicing your opinion and taking a stand for what you believe in; however, I’m not a fan of cancel culture. I think sometimes social media can magnify our mistakes and create disproportionate views. Also, I don’t like the trolling culture online where everyone wants to be on the bandwagon of bullying, belittling someone or just eliminating them because they made a mistake. I believe that we all make mistakes, but the key is to learn from them, get up and start over.
Instep: What are your future plans?
S.S: Future plans are NACS. That’s my latest project and it’s a brand new start up. We all know how challenging and volatile startups are, so being very honest, all my focus is on NACS and nurturing it and giving it a chance so it can do well. I’m looking forward to directing PFDC and also want to do Fashion Parade again since it was on pause due to Covid. Life is unpredictable, especially these days, so for now, I’m just focused on my clothing line. The future is what you want it to be so I take every day as a new day and opportunity to learn, evolve and strategize.