Representing the creative future

Zaib Ahmed Quazi reminds us that fashion is its craftspeople

The Indian designer shares his views on sustainability and presents a photographic series in collaboration with James Robjant

London College of Fashion graduate Zaib Ahmed Quazi declares himself as a designer with a voice, and anyone who speaks with him about his work could only find this statement to be true. Born in India, the land of textiles, beads, and embroideries, Quazi experienced the inner workings of Indian craftsmanship, when travelling around the country with his father who was producing documentaries that explored the world of Indian crafts. Smitten by the opulent history of Indian materials and techniques, the designer considered a future in fashion inescapable. After building a career as an in-house designer of reputable labels in India, Quazi moved to London to pursue an MA in womenswear. With the strict objective to make fashion that represents his beliefs, Zaib has sustainability at the head of his work and craftsmanship at the heart.

Working with craftspeople and local businesses, the materials, the artisans, and the manifesto behind Zaib Ahmed Quazi’s process is as important as the clothes. The designer collaborated with London-based fashion photographer James Robjant to capture the essence of his final collection and shared with us the thinking behind his creativity.

Where are you from and how did you get into fashion?

“Fashion is about two things: The evolution and the opposite.”- Karl Lagerfeld

As I look back in retrospect, this statement has inadvertently been the guiding principle in regards to my career in fashion to date and most certainly acted as the backdrop to my impassioned journey of self-discovery with respect to my creative vision for fashion.

What made you want to study fashion?

Since I was a child, fashion has always been paramount in my consciousness. My mother who is an extremely tall, elegant, and stylish woman was always swathed in layers of the richest and most fluid gossamer fabrics, adorned with the finest embroideries and intricate hand beading.

Growing up in India and travelling extensively around the country with my family as I child I was exposed to some of the most luxurious materials and surface techniques. In India, the silhouettes are quite conservative as per the requirements of the society, but the surface embellishments are sumptuous and varied. Fashion was inescapable for me, so I decided to pursue it and commit to turning my passion into my profession.

Can you tell us a bit more about your background? 

My initial journey in fashion began in 2006 after I enrolled in NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) in Mumbai, India. NIFT gave me a structural foundation with which I was able to organize my scattered creative thoughts. After graduating from NIFT, I began my career as a professional designer with a very well-known design house in India, ‘Ogaan’. That experience helped me understand how the fashion industry really works. It was this environment that taught me how to apply all of my academic knowledge and skills to the commercial market. The next big step in my career was working with the well-known design duo Pankaj and Nidhi, a very reputed Indian label, known for their contemporary and eclectic designs. Heading off their design team for six years was a transformative experience. In order to oversee the brand globally, I was often required to travel to places like Dubai, Singapore, and London which brought me closer to international fashion. I just got my Master’s degree in Fashion Design Technology: Womenswear from London College of Fashion, but still, my soul yearns to reach even further in order to sharpen my skills and move to a higher level when it comes to my craft.

“My design practice entails an enduring interest in artisanal methods that privilege manual skills and handmade products.” – Zaib Ahmed Quazi

Photography by James Robjant

What is your work about? 

On the 28th of March 2020, the UK announced a national lockdown. During the Spring months, friends who shared rooms in my halls left, choosing to return to their loved ones. At the time, I lived on the 10th floor of a 16-story building and I soon became one of the very few people there. My only connection to the outside world was my view across the window, some video chats, and a grocery shopping trip once in 10 days. I was in a completely disconnected state. I started going through pictures of those moments as a memoir, photos of the view from my window, my own shadow on the wall….

A question came to my mind: what are the elements that make a picture special? I started observing emotions, pictures, art, craft, and surroundings with a new pair of eyes. The philosophical dimension of disconnecting enabled me to use this methodology to critique imagery and offered a new approach to visual analysis. Being so far from my country and family inspired me to better understand the cultural heritage and identity in the context of craftsmanship. My design practice entails an enduring interest in artisanal methods that privilege manual skills and handmade products. For this project I collaborate with specialist craftspeople from local businesses:

  1. “Cutfoam” a London-based company specialized in developing foam products.
  2. London based macramé designer Pauline Dujancourt and Leanne J Callon.
  3. “Wool and the Gang” for various recycled yarns.
  4. EE exclusives Nederland-based Jacquard manufacturer.

My work had sought to address issues surrounding sustainability through exploring crafts such as macramé, foam carving, jacquard weaving, and material like foam and jersey fabric. The key philosophy of my work is: recycle, up-cycle, reuse and reduce.

Can you talk us through your design process? 

The design process started with images, photos taken during the period of 12th March 2020 through to 10th of April 2020. During this window of time, I became aware of the silence in my building and documented the notion of stillness. The photos charted the movement of light and its relationship with objects in my room and me. Drawing and sketching allowed me to study shapes and forms.

The second step of the process was a series of collages. I used textures, shapes, colors, and lines collected from the research of my images. Meanwhile, a conversation with my tutors pushed me to explore techniques and materials and to analyze my collage with series of sketches. I ended up using various materials like foam, jersey, and recycled yarn, as well as various techniques such as macramé, fabric bonding, foam sculpting, and minimum waste pattern cutting. During this entire practice, I also worked on sustainable methodologies such as recycling, up-cycle, and the reuse and reduce principle.

“The key philosophy of my work is: recycle, up-cycle, reuse and reduce.” – Zaib Ahmed Quazi

What was the biggest learning of the last year for you?

The ability to adapt to the current times and situations. To keep an open mind and solve any problem creatively can change your entire design philosophy.

Photography by James Robjant

“Craft provides employment opportunities, and the ability to earn an income. Craft contributes to the longevity of cultures, and communities. It provides a cultural heritage and identity.” – Zaib Ahmed Quazi

How was your university experience? What did you like and did not like?

The entire university experience was unpredicted with lots of ups and downs. At LCF all my classmates were international students and that opened up a new understanding of fashion for me. Dedicated tutors and helpful staff were part of the beginning of my course. I was given access to some of the most advanced technologies, machinery, libraries, and studios, but due to Covid-19, I was limited to my bedroom which was one of the biggest drawbacks.

Our tutors tried and modified the course according to the current scenario and they were there for us as much as they could but we lost valuable technical experience.

Where you think you belong in the industry?

I want to create art-couture: a design that is an artistic expression, a reflection of the society, and an illustration of a person’s identity… it is a journey that gains experience from the past, understands the needs of the present and explores the innovations for the future.

“This is the time to ask who made our clothes and find out the exact percentage that goes to the workers. It is time to consider the need for a better, fair way to do fashion, and explain how each of us can be involved.” – Zaib Ahmed Quazi

Is there a part of the industry that you think it doesn’t make sense and would want to change?

As I grew up in India, Indian crafts are very much part of my design philosophy. They are, historically, passed down along a line of inheritance. The concept of ‘sustainability’ in relation to Indian crafts is connected to environmental, cultural, and economic concerns. Craft provides employment opportunities, and the ability to earn an income. Craft contributes to the longevity of cultures, and communities. It provides a cultural heritage and identity. The country is still under lockdown and it’s safe to say that over the past several months, the workings of the fashion industry have been turned on its head. This unprecedented time exposed another problem; last year, as factories were shut, the supply chains got disrupted and orders got cancelled due to the pandemic. The crafts community, one of the largest sources of employment in India, found itself stranded without a source of income. This raises the issue of disconnect in the fashion supply chain.

There’s been a rise in conversations on sustainability, craftsmanship and how much we value our craftspeople. This is the time to ask who made our clothes and find out the exact percentage that goes to the workers. It is time to consider the need for a better, fair way to do fashion, and explain how each of us can be involved.

What are your goals for you and your work?

As a designer, I would like to create a brand with a voice

A voice that is creative and expressive

A voice that makes a difference and stands out

A voice that teaches through stories of the past

A voice that creates awareness

A voice that talks about social issues

A voice that wants to creatively contribute to society

1 Granary

Magazine Issue 6

With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

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