Through the birthday month of HPM Sheikh HasinaHerNet TV & HerNet News presents the “WOMEN LEADS, Inspiration HPM” column to pay tribute to all women who are playing a vital role in this unprecedented empowerment and progress. Today we’re sharing the journey of Sarah karim, the uncrowned Queen of fashion Couture in Bangaldesh.
Why did you decide to choose fashion designing as a career ?
Actually it chose ‘me’ rather. It was my Nani Shashuri who started this organization as a charity. She wanted to create employment for artisans who no longer enjoyed any patronage from erstwhile Nawabs & Zamidars. She further trained these artisans and gave them better designs & color palettes to work with. When old age prevented her from being as active as she used to, she was always concerned about the future of the artisans. That’s when I stepped in and took over the business. We reinvented many designs & started a new line of formal wear with modern cuts & drapes. That’s how Sarah Karim Couture was launched. A few years later we started our bridal line.
You are definitely a great designer in the industry. What are the secrets behind all these wonderful creations ?
I think our greatest strength is the ability to blend antique designs with modern cuts & styles. Also, the artisans working for the brand have decades of experience… specializing in detailed zardozi, aari work, gotapatti and embroidery that dates back to the Mughal Era. Such timeless artistry juxtaposed with fusion cuts and designs is the hallmark of a signature Sarah karim ensemble!
Define fashion ?
I think there are two sides to fashion. One is your individual style and the other is what is in-trend at the moment. For me “fashion” would be a perfect blend of both. But it is important that your own individuality does reflect in what you wear. I know my clothes have a distinct look about them. Like clients see random pic on Facebook but immediately know it’s from our studio. That recognition is essential and it defines your work.
Describe about your internship period ?
Like I’ve said I was always passionate about design & colors & would informally help out at the organization. I remember when I formally started, I use my own money to design and create my first 12 outfits! This was still when my Nani shashuri was running the business. So, at one of her sales, I had showcased these 12 salwar kameez and they sold out in no time! Since then I never looked back and mashallah went from strength to strength!
What kind of technology or software you use while designing ?
Honestly not very much. We still use artists who manually draw out patterns. We use old antique motifs for most of our designs. The styling however is more in keeping with modern drapes.
But yes the job has become easier now where I can use the S-pen on my phone to alter some designs or see which color combinations look better. I can monitor the embroidery happening in the workshop through a video call rather than physically being there. So yes, those are convenient advantages of technology.
What kind of Work ethics you believe in?
I’m a perfectionist by nature. So I always make sure that our fabrics, our embroidery and materials used are the best that is available anywhere. I can guarantee that some of the zardozi and karchop work we do can compare with the best in the world! I think our products provide great value for money and for that our clients keep coming back to us. And we make sure a client is never disappointed and go out of our way to ensure that.
Speak about a few of the challenges that you met and how you handled them ?
Well the current situation with the pandemic has definitely been one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my career. We’ve had to keep the showroom closed for months. But even so we managed to increase our online presence and were able to break even & also make some profits.
Another challenge comes from the fact that we are basically an unorganized sector. Our craftspeople are more like family. So inevitably I get drawn into all their struggles.. whether it helps with building a house, a child’s marriage expenditures, parents hospital bills. I’m the one they turn to. I do the best I can.. but it’s taxing.. not just financially but also emotionally.
Are you passionate about something apart from fashion ?
Oh yes! I’m a passionate student of literature. I also have a gold medal from Dhaka University where I completed a second Masters Degree in English Lit. I’ve taught Shakespeare at both high school and at university level. Many of our bridal clients are in fact my ex students.. which is wonderful! At a recent visit to my sons school, the literature teacher was absent, so I volunteered to take an impromptu class. The children loved it, but I think my son didn’t talk to me for a full week.. ha ha !
Do you have any plans for improving the fashion industry ?
I think it is our responsibility to revive certain dying crafts, especially the ones which are labor-intensive like the Zardozi and fabrics like the Jamdani. It’s a real challenge in today’s world of fast fashion but thankfully there’s still a huge market for it if properly marketed.
Another aspect which is important is that the artisans get fair wages for their craft. Thankfully there is a greater recognition of the worth of hand-produced ensembles these days and artisans can expect to get their due.
I’ve also noticed a significant shift in the bridal market where more & more brides are opting to go for a luxury brand based in Bangladesh.. where they get the best quality, option to customize their outfits along with access to the designer.. rather than just buying readymade stuff from a shop outside the country! I’m delighted with this new mindset & this should definitely be vigorously encouraged.. both at the individual level as well as by the government.
How do you accept criticism ?
I think very well. But honestly, I’ve had to deal with very little of it. At best I’ve had people giving me suggestions & I always listen & accommodated as far as possible. My policy is that, in business sometimes one may suffer a loss, but a client must never feel let down or shortchanged!
Her Net is a revolutionary initiative in women empowerment, what are your expectations from this Platform ?
HerNet is a great initiative which has already achieved so much in terms of empowering women. I feel that women now have a voice through this very approachable medium. Kudos to Alisha for making this possible. I remember the support from the channel during our struggle to stop certain brands from across the border doing eid sales here without proper permissions/ customs etc. We feel we now have a platform where women & their issues can be heard because of HerNet!
What is your opinion and advice about Alisha Pradhan, the founder of HerNet, Asia’s first TV channel on women’s well being ?
She’s such a trail blazer.. full of energy & ideas! I remember I did one of her first shoots.. for her very first show ‘Style in the City’! I think what she’s doing is revolutionary both in terms of concept and in the way Alisha executes it! Wish her more success & needless to say I greatly admire her.
Mention few of your achievements as a pioneer Fashion Designer:
It has been a good run I think. Down the years we’ve done many fashion shows, both at home & abroad with some of the most famous showstoppers including international celebrities. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at some very prestigious platforms with regards to the revival of antique handicrafts, self-reliance of artisans & issues of women empowerment. I am also on the board of an NGO called Thrive which provides free meals to more than 3000 underprivileged school kids every day. My work and story has been published in many magazine covers & center spreads, including Vogue India. We’ve had some very concrete offers to open stores in Delhi and in London and it’s something I’m looking at seriously. We already do free international shipping to more than 25 countries around the globe! So it’s been a happy journey so far, but as they say “…miles to go before I sleep” …Inshallah !
A Message for HPM Shekh Hasina’s Birthday:
Having interacted with the honorable PM on a personal level, I am totally awed by her grace and humility. Her exceptional warmth and genuine interest in those around her is remarkable. Even though a traditionalist at heart, she is essentially open minded and such a progressive person! Recent data shows that Bangladesh ranks No.1 in South East Asia when it comes to gender equality and a lot of the credit goes to her. On the occasion of her birth anniversary, I wish her good health and continued success at the helm of this nation.