Fashion, in many ways, saved me. I discovered a passion for fashion at a young age while learning how to fit in as an immigrant teen from Lahore, Pakistan, in a small town in New Jersey. It was my unique fashion sense that saved me. Ironically, I did not enter the fashion world professionally until decades later. My career in New York City began in finance. Even though I did quite well within the financial sector, my heart was not filled with joy. I realized I needed to quit my job and pursue my dream of becoming a fashion designer. So that is what I did, and I didn't take the traditional route to do so.
Instead of going to fashion school, I spent the next five years working in Milan and Paris, learning all things fashion as on-the-job training. I took any paid or unpaid jobs that I could, as long as they were in the fashion industry. Eventually, I had the great privilege of working with Dolce & Gabbana and Dior as a hand embroidery and production consultant. It was at these luxury houses that I started to develop my own sense of style, which led me to want to start my own brand in NYC. The journey of building my own brand took many twists and turns, but eventually, with sheer force and determination, I built AYSHA NY in 2016, against all odds.
Sustainability and ethical manufacturing are two pillars of the AYSHA NY brand that have always guided our business practices. These practices include working with artisans locally and in rural parts of the world, reducing our carbon footprint by manufacturing locally in New York City to support the Garment District, reducing the use of plastic and paper in our showroom, keeping inventory tight to avoid textile waste, and incorporating dead fabric into our pieces.
Sustainable fashion is important to us at AYSHA NY, and our entrepreneurial spirit enables us to pivot and follow through on that value, unlike big brands that manufacture outside of the country.
When the pandemic hit, and the city went on lockdown, it was terrifying. NYC was hit hard, and I personally wanted to play a role in bringing it back. During the summer, I had a choice to move out of Manhattan and re-start our brand outside of NYC as a less expensive option, but I chose to stay. In addition to staying in the Garment District, we doubled downed on our manufacturing values in NYC. I moved our design studio closer to our factory and committed to our suppliers to continue to produce our current Dressing for the Now and future collections in NYC.
Dressing for the Now collection is our COVID pivot launch that is available nationwide through our e-commerce site. We designed this relaxed, luxury capsule collection intended for days when you need to go from running morning errands and attending a Zoom meeting to an outdoor dining experience. The signature piece, The Only Pant velvet jogger, is 100% manufactured in the Garment District, employs 11 different companies in NYC, and takes 8 different trimmings (all sourced locally in NYC) to complete. Nothing is sourced from third-parties or online vendors.
New York City has provided me so many opportunities and has allowed me to live out my dream of building a fashion brand. Now it is my time to give back to this glorious city that is going through tough times. I want AYSHA NY to be part of New York City's come back story.
I have learned a lot as an entrepreneur, fashion designer, and business owner surviving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are my tips for building a successful fashion brand and company:
1) Have a clear vision of what you stand for. If you don't know why you are starting or running your business, you will not have a solid foundation or vision. A vision that is deeply rooted in your WHY will differentiate your brand from the competition so that it can stand out in a very crowded space.
2) Build the right team. Hire the right people for your brand - it can be difficult when you are just starting and what you are offer can be limited. When you have a clear vision for your brand, you can easily share this with them to see if they are right for your brand and vice versa. Test them out before making a long-term commitment and have that conversation with them from the start. Be very honest and direct with them--from my experience, the right person will take you up on your offer.
3) Cultivate a network by being social and putting yourself out there. Many people create a network within their industry only, which is a bad idea that is limiting. Knowing successful and smart people from all walks of life will serve you well. Most importantly, contribute to your network so that the give and take are reciprocal. Before asking for anything, ask yourself what you can do for them first.
4) Design a product the consumer market needs and wants to buy at a price you are charging. If you are unsure, test the product with a small production first. Host focus groups. Listen to your customers. They can provide free advice on how you can improve your product. Don't get emotionally attached to your designs--be open to critique from paying consumers.
5) Know your end consumer. It is important to know your customers like they are your best friend and be aware of their needs before they even know. Once I had that clarity, it transformed my business as I was able to design styles that surprised and delighted them. Our pandemic pivot line, Dressing for the Now, is a relaxed luxury capsule collection that is a success because I knew my AYSHA NY customer so well. Even though it was a complete departure from our past collections, it was an instant hit because I understood: what her needs were, how life had changed during the pandemic, and what would make her feel good about herself and smile.
WRITTEN BYAysha Saeed