Minneapolis has a lively art and design community, and I was delighted to connect with emerging local clothing designer Ayah Ahmed whose line, Talulah, features fun colors and trendy silhouettes. Ayah is a young woman but has already put in a lot of time toward building her design career, completing a degree in Apparel Design from St Catherine University in May 2011, working at MN Fashion Week, interning at a local bridal salon, and graduating from Teen Vogue Fashion U. I asked her to share her insights into the world of clothing design and offer any advice to others who might want to pursue this career path. Let’s hear from Ayah!
Have you always loved style and fashion?
Yes! I have always loved fashion and style because you can define who you are by the clothing you wear. Fashion and style give you so much room to be artistic and express yourself. I always like to keep up with trends and do my research. As a child I would collect magazines and make fashion/style journals. I was always the girl who would wear “weird” outfits as I child because I believed they were fashionable! I loved mixing colors and different fabrics together.
I believe style and fashion impact our world so much by defining who we are by what we wear. As humans we want to show and portray the kind of people we are and the things we like through the clothing we wear. From shoes to shirts, we are always defining ourselves.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in fashion design?
The first fashion show I ever did was when I realized I wanted to pursue a career in fashion. It’s hard to express how you feel after completing and creating works of art. You feel so proud because of what you created. My first fashion show was in 2009. I was in my sophomore year of college at St. Catherine University in St Paul. I created 3 looks. The title of my collection was Acacia Rose, which stood for beauty and femininity. I achieved this by using colors, florals, and lace in my collection. I felt so many emotions that day. I was nervous, excited, scared, and praying that everything would work out well. I had put so much work, time, effort, sweat and tears in to this fashion show. Thankfully it went beautifully. I got a lot of great feedback from family, friends, and people I didn’t even know. It was a great feeling to put something out there and get such a great response.
What do you see as your main challenges? What stands in the way of your success as a designer?
My main challenge as a designer is getting my name out there. Getting people to see what I’ve created. There are so many designers trying to make it big; you have to stand out to get noticed. To set myself apart I decided to change my aesthetic and try something different. Throughout my years of designing I’ve noticed a huge void in the market: Affordable, stylish clothing that is also modest. As a Muslim I have always wanted to create clothing like this. So for the past few months I have been gathering images and doing research to pursue this goal. When it’s finished, this new collection will be titled Zahra and I plan to debut it next year. The collection will feature long flowing dresses, long sleeved bodices, long skirts, and pants.
You’ve done a lot of volunteer work and interning. Which experiences were the most valuable?
Indeed I have, and all of them were valuable. I met a lot of great people, got to have some incredible experiences. I mainly learned a lot about the workings of the fashion industry. I learned that there will be a lot of trends that cycle through, and not to get too caught up in them. It’s more important to maintain a sense of who you are and stay true to your fashion aesthetic. I also learned how to run my own fashion show while working backstage at many fashion shows. I learned the ins and outs on what to do; I made many connections in the local fashion industry.
I was immensely inspired by my internship at L’atelier Couture bridal shop in St. Paul. I was able to work with stunning dresses while learning about the bridal industry. We carried a huge variety of styles at the bridal salon, and all styles sold differently to different brides. Each bride has a look she want to achieve on her wedding day. There was no one style that sold more than another. It all depended on the bride.
What advice would you offer to anyone interested in becoming a clothing designer?
Keep your nose to the grindstone and keep doing what you love. Grasp every opportunity that comes your way. Do your research so you’re sure about what you want to do. Stay up on trends, create a blog, get your name out there one way or another. Consider going to school to get a degree; it looks great on your resume. And intern! Get as many internships throughout college as you can. You will learn so much valuable information and make a lot of contacts that can help you in future endeavors. Always be flexible while working at your internships, and try to remember that there are probably a million people who’d want that internship and you can be replaced in a heartbeat.
Financial know-how is also very important in becoming a designer. Creating clothing can be very expensive, so you have to know how to balance your budget. Keep track of how many hours you work on everything, and keep your receipts! Never give away for free anything that you created. Many people cannot do what you do. Giving something away is a waste of your creations, it devalues them. You want to be rewarded for what you have created.
Becoming a fashion designer takes more than talent and drive; it takes determination, will power. There are many times that you will want to give up because things are not picking up fast enough. You didn’t get the job or internship that you wanted, but life will go on. Keep doing what you’re doing. If you don’t get the feedback you want, work on it. There will be many people that criticize you and look down on you, but always consider this feedback as constructive. Becoming a designer takes a lot of time and patience. Keep grinding because giving up will not get you anywhere.
Lastly work hard and take your time before launching your first collection. You want it to be perfect. Don’t leave everything till the last minute. You want to be proud of what you created.