Barjis Chohan has made a decision to stop taking part in Fashion shows. As everyone was curious to know the reason behind the bold decision, we thought we would do a Q& A with Barjis Chohan.
Her brand BARJIS is well respected in the industry: she is the pioneer in high-end modest fashion, a veteran in rug designing but she is not seen at the fashion weeks and modest fashion events.
We wanted to get a better understanding of the face behind the designer powerhouse…
Who is Barjis Chohan?
I was born in Karachi, Pakistan; my dad was a Marine Engineer. We moved to London when I was three and I was raised in Tooting in South London. My formal training is in Fashion – I went to London College of Fashion and completed my MA at Central St. Martins School of Art /Design -followed by working with Vivienne Westwood. I have studied executive education at Cass Business School.
As a creative, I believe that if you have the skills, you can expand your creativity into other areas of Design. I am a Designer and will just design, whether these are shirts, bridal dresses, cushions, stools, furniture, scarves or even rugs. I just work on making beautiful work for beautiful people. I focus on the pieces and let it be the focal point of the discussion.
What makes you different?
The prints and textiles are the focal point of my work – everything works around this. The statement prints have a narrative for each collection – whether these are women shirts, scarves, cushions or rugs – the emphasis is on the textiles – which are hand drawn in the studio, using high quality materials – all ethically produced. I want to create beautiful pieces that customers will treasure for life – knowing that they were made with love and care. How the work is made is important to me and my customers.
Don’t you think it is important to specialise in one area then trying to do everything?
I do specialise in one area – it’s the print/ textiles. This is what I am about and what my customers like. These hand drawn prints are then made into women fashion, silk scarves, cushions and rugs.
Are you a Modest Fashion Designer, Rug designer, Scarf designer? We are quite confused as you are good in many things. You are the veteran in rug making and won Entrepreneur of the Year for your special rugs, you are the pioneer in high-end modest fashion? In addition, you received unprecedented publicity for your work. Your fashion pieces will be shown at a special exhibition in the Fine Art museum in San Francisco… So how do you manage everything?
I was born to design – this is my calling. Now what I design is irrelevant – it is the story and journey of each collection that matters. I just serve the market and feed them with my narrative of my life through my work. I strongly believe whatever you design – you should try to be the best in it. Then leave everything in God’s hands.
Fashion and interiors overlap and even though Fashion is great it still has its limitations, as customers are less daring to experiment with fashion. While with interiors, customers are willing to be bold and try out different colours and textures for their homes or a commercial space. Hence as a lover for textiles, prints and colour, I can explore my creativity at a deeper level in interiors than I can in Fashion. I think this is why you see many Fashion Designers entering the interiors market.
I have been very fortunate that whatever I have done so far whether these are rugs, scarves or clothing – my work has been appreciated. I feel privileged that I have worked on some amazing projects in rugs such as Emirates Towers Dubai, Hotel Cayre in Paris, Hotel George in London, and The Landmark House Building in London and so on. I am truly humbled to have received so much love for my clothing line and it is taking me places where I could have never dreamed of. Whatever you do in life it is important to aim high and try to give it your best shot.
As a modest Fashion Designer, you tend to keep your distance from modest events and shows. Why?
When I started, my modest line in 2011 there was a genuine interest to serve the market that has been deprived of high quality modest clothing. However I soon realised that there was not a level playing field and everyone is just having fun with the word ‘modest’ and there was no real creativity in the market. The genuine care for supplying modest clothing was soon replaced by a ‘celebrity culture’ and everyone is just interested in gaining maximum coverage without any real substance in what they are doing.
Therefore, I just quietly design and serve my customers without the drama and noise created in the industry. The industry right now is a fun place to be in but it requires a lot of maturing – once they start focusing on the creativity, I will be a part of it. I am waiting patiently for that day when the modest fashion industry starts focusing on the aesthetics and less on the hype and grabbing headlines… I am very hopeful that the change will happen.
You have stopped doing shows at the peak of your career. Is this a reckless move or a brave decision?
To be frank modest fashion do not need fashion shows. It defeats the purpose of the definition of ‘modesty’. I have only done 3 shows in my entire career and if I had to be honest – it didn’t feel right as there was a contradiction on what I was conveying and how I was feeling.
I have stopped doing shows and shoots that objectify women and using size zero models – I do not want to show a distorted superficial definition of beauty to the youth. For some people, it is seen as a reckless action while others will see it as a brave move. I just do what I feel is right – when it does not feel right, I stop doing it. I am taking accountability for my negative contribution and correcting it – it was the right thing to do. I do not like how both industries (mainstream and modest fashion industry) are objectifying women whether these are through models or through hijabi you tubers in the modest fashion industry.
Do you think the modest fashion industry is a fetish or will it evolve into a respected fashion industry?
Currently it’s a fetish – everyone is just trying to grab the biggest piece of the pie at any expense – trying to make the maximum noise possible (to get noticed). However as the market matures and we get some trained designers with formal/ apprentice training on board – who are ‘artists’ and not just into ‘business’ or want to become ‘celebrities’ – we’ll see a shift and this is when things will get exciting ( I hope!)
Which designers do you respect?
I love Erdem and Valentino in Fashion and Nourison and Helen Yardley in Rugs. I love Timorous Beasties for their prints, aesthetics and the one, and only Indian Designer Sabyasachi for his artisanship and aesthetics of his line.
Why is your work on the expensive side?
I like to have full control over how my work is produced – with 3 kids it is difficult to travel around South Asia and Far East to check who is making my work hence all my work is produced in the UK and in Europe. The only work that is produced abroad are my rugs but as I have been in the rug business for 17 years, I have built a good relationship with my suppliers. I cannot live with myself if my workers are treated badly and they are using kids to make my products. This would break my heart and I would just stop! I think as consumers and as Designers we are directly responsible for the impact we are having on the disadvantaged people of our society and most of the time cheap and low prices are not helping these people. You buy a scarf for $8 – imagine how much pain and suffering those workers have endured to make that product at that price? We need to look at the bigger picture – those workers have a family to feed…
What do you do in your free time?
I am a hands on mum – I love being around my kids, helping my kids with their homework and baking cakes. I don’t believe in nannies and maids! I read a lot and watch bollywood movies. I also love architecture and history so any excuse to travel is always welcoming.
During your travels, which places inspired you most?
I love Istanbul – at times, it feels surreal to be around so much history. I also love Venice and Florence. Karachi – my love – the smell of the earth when you tread foot on that land is so familiar and accepting- brings me back to my fond memories of visiting my extended family as a kid. Finally my hometown- London brings me to life – it is the best place for creative’s and businesses – all my memories are embedded in this amazing city! . I love culture, architecture and history – anywhere that have these combinations will inspire me. I hate high rise modern buildings – so places like Dubai, Singapore and New York don’t appeal to me.
Where do you see Barjis London in 5 years?
I would like to try my luck in my country of origin- Pakistan. I want to launch a separate line for my Pakistani customers. I would like to open my own showroom in London to display all my work under one roof… It would be a dream to have my work stocked in Liberty’s – my all time favourite store! I will continue doing what I love and hope that my customers will appreciate my work. The day they do not, I will stop and find something else to do – I am not afraid to start all over again!