This Photograph was taken by Izdeyar Setna, hair & make-up by Rukaiya Adamjee
Feeha Jamshed has created waves in the fashion industry, and on a personal note, in my wardrobe. As a young expatriate returning to my homeland a few years ago, I was baffled by the daunting task of what to wear. To balance the practical requirements of the weather, cost, and the unending stares, I found myself frequently in a tizzy – a serious hazard in the field of journalism. I recall the day I met sisters and journalists at large, Saba and Huma Imtiaz, at a festival in Karachi. Amidst the heat and the crowd they looked unfairly stylish. Feeling jilted, I asked the two where they had gotten their fantastic clothes. “TeeJays,” they responded with delight. “A local brand!?” I gasped. And with that, a somewhat unhealthy fascination with the brand began.
The first time I saw Feeha Jamshed she was in one of her signature awami kurtas with a chooridar pajama. She walked with an ease in her demeanor that made me regret more than ever that I had chosen to raid my father’s wardrobe that day. Jamshed’s look is unique and yet such a familiar rendition of what is around us at all times that most people who see her must kick themselves for not thinking of it on their own. Usually – without an ounce of make-up, hair cascading down her back, and minimal local jewelry, – her style is effortless. Her fashion is the face of modern Pakistani fashion.
It’s plain to see the woman has fashion design in her blood. She is part of the Teejays fashion dynasty headed by her father, Tanvir Jamshed.“When I was 13 years old, my father, who I affectionately call TeeJay, asked me to make clothes for a television serial. They were for Atiqa Odho, and Marina Khan was the director. When the wardrobe for that drama serial became really popular my father asked me to join the business. But at that time my philosophy and my father’s philosophy were worlds apart.”
“Fashion is necessary; it’s a part of your life, the way you eat, the way you breathe. It’s self expression.”
Jamshed’s rebellious nature took time to tame, and although she eventually did join the family business, this was not easy. “Coming back was more difficult than if I’d joined initially, because my father didn’t really accept me. He’s a self-made man and he didn’t believe in nepotism. For me it was more difficult to establish myself in my father’s company than in the fashion industry.”
Jamshed established herself with strong brand association.“I started off with ‘Teejays by Feeha Jamshed,’ because I wanted people to know me as a designer without changing the label. I was more of the person behind the designs, not the label itself. Now that I’ve created an image, I don’t write that anymore because people know me.”
Jamshed has received standing ovations at her fashion shows and accolades from established designers. She has become the face of TeeJays as well as the face of what’s new and fresh. Her design aesthetic was born from the lack of availability of fashionable attire in Pakistan.
“I didn’t want to follow trends, I wanted to create them. And that’s what TeeJays has always been about; creating trends where you can easily walk down the road in Pakistan as well as France. It’s about making a global market but defining it through Pakistani culture. You can wear stylish clothes with sleeves, and walk down the road and not feel as though you’re being watched.”
Jamshed is imaginative within the confines of her society. She redefines beauty and manages to be alluring without stumbling down the typical short, tight, and skimpy route. “I feel ‘why create role models when you can be your own role model?’ It’s the way you talk, walk, and wear your clothes. Your clothes speak for you sometimes. You don’t have to wear a short dress to look sexy. I think in Pakistan we let the clothes wear us. Fashion is necessary; it’s a part of your life, the way you eat, the way you breathe. It’s self expression.”
It is the drive behind the manifestation of her aesthetic for which one truly appreciates Jamshed as a visionary. The Pakistani fashion scene has been criticised for its emphasis on bridal wear and couture, with little to no attention paid to prêt. It’s also criticised for its glorification of western trends and complete rejection of indigenous styles. Jamshed embraces what is readily available and creates clothing that many women can wear in many places.
“It’s a big compliment when I see couture designers copying my designs, I mean it should be the other way around. We started doing pockets a year and a half ago, and plain cotton-wear down the ramp. Now other designers are following the trend. I’ve realised if I’m going to sell something that I won’t wear, it’s not going to sell. That’s what a designer does. We have a very particular look. I believe everyone can find something from my line that they would like.”
Many Pakistanis are frequently faced with the divergence between what they have to wear and what is fashionable. Jamshed manages to combine the two and was on trend internationally when she brought the jumpsuit back.
“I didn’t want to follow trends, I wanted to create them.“
“A lot of my friends take my stuff abroad and wear it. One of my friends was stopped in New York when she was wearing my jumpsuit. I love that you can only get my stuff in Pakistan.”
She’s not limited to jumpsuits, however; she’s made cotton look glamorous, and brought a new spin to east-west fusion wear.
“My take on the palazzo pant was a gharara pant. My idea of fusing east and west is not western cuts in eastern wear; I like eastern cuts in western wear.”
Jamshed’s risks with fashion reflect the confidence she has in her personal style, something she says was inspired by her mother.
“My style icon is my mother, Rukhsana. My first collection was TeeJays Roxy because she was named Roxy in Kinnaird College. She didn’t rely on adornment, instead she relied on herself; it was the way she carried herself. She would look so stylish going to a shaadi because the fabric takes a backseat if you present yourself a certain way.”
Jamshed’s views on fashion are much like her views on politics and religion, incredibly passionate. She’s not just the face of TeeJays, she speaks out frequently on her political and spiritual views, and regardless of whether she’s talking about politics or pantaloons her opinions are well thought out.
“Fashion means following trends, style is what’s innate. Let us say you walk into a room and without talking to you, your body language and how you are wearing your clothes says a lot about you. My favourite quote is ‘style makes man, man makes fashion.’”
Jamshed’s popularity sky-rocketed after her initial shows. Unfortunately, many complained about the availability of her clothing. What most people are unaware of is that since joining TeeJays, Jamshed has been struggling with a company that has been coping with serious family issues.
“My father had a heart attack, we were about to lose him, and we couldn’t pay the hospital bills. That was a big financial crunch. We had to sell two of our shops in Karachi. We had eight now we have six. On top of that, for the past few years my sister has been very ill. She couldn’t be treated in Pakistan, so we sent her to France. What we thought was a three month stint has now turned into a two year rare case study. It’s not easy sending money to support her and my mother in France, one of the most expensive places in the world.”
Slowly, but surely, the family came together and overcame the personal hardships, but production suffered. “We had to cut down on cloth and labour – essential elements of production. When I joined TeeJays, my father was shutting the company down, but I convinced him I could turn it around. I got the production going but not at the level that we used to. Things are much better now.”
Indeed they are. Jamshed has turned down design offers from huge international companies like H&M, as well as an offer to stock from Saks Fifth Avenue. Intent on building her brand and focusing on the Pakistani market, Jamshed carries out her social activism through her fashion.
“For me it was more difficult to establish myself in my father’s company than in the fashion industry.“
“Pakistani people inspire me. People who want more than what’s offered inspire me. When I was a kid we used to go abroad a lot where I picked up a fair amount of my wardrobe, but as a teenager I was really lucky that we had a factory which allowed me to create my own clothes. I know I have a lower-middle class market and I love that. I also love that working women who cannot afford to take out the time or the money to get designer gear can pick up my outfits.”And she stands by her word, as most Teejay outfits are capped at three thousand rupees.
Jamshed truly is a people’s designer and cannot be defined by just one label, even her own. At a time where our identity as a nation is increasingly fragmented, it’s refreshing to see a young woman who has embraced her natural surroundings and used innovation to create a brand that speaks volumes on an international scale and represents Pakistan in a modern way. Jamshed is many things: a designer, a fighter, an innovator, a traveler, and a Pakistani. Through her designs she has embraced adversity and created art for every woman.