After teaching at Shanto-Mariam University of Creative Technology for more than 15 years, Helena Nazneen Zobaida began to feel the need to create a space where she could be her true artistic self.
"I worked behind the scene for many years, representing my university in countless events. People would often ask me where my own studio or showroom is or why I do not start my own label. I would always answer that I am a teacher. I enjoyed teaching and my students as well as my university gave me a lot of respect over the years. But I was not getting the time to be creative," Helena shared with us.
But at last, she started her own label. Design Studio by Helena began its journey during the pandemic last year. It was launched online on July 30.
Although conceptual work is not new in Bangladesh, still the main idea behind it is whether the clothes would be saleable. Keeping that in mind, at first the type of cloth is chosen– whether it is going to be a saree or a kurti, and then the designs are selected.
However, when Helena works on a conceptual piece, she brings everything to it that inspired her to create it in the first place – be it African folk art or Mughal architecture.
She strongly believes in the power of conceptual work and her designer pieces rightly reflect it. "I try to bring in all the colours, shapes and motifs of that particular culture or period."
"If we think of a cinema, all the scenes make up a story. So why cannot we do the same with fashion? I want to continue working on conceptual designs till my brand becomes established," she said.
She also wants to concentrate more on customised clothes because she believes they are the most suitable way to reflect someone's relationship with their loved ones and their emotions and feelings.
"When making a couple set, I keep all these in mind, how a wife might want to express her love for her husband etc. I look at their pictures, and I talk to them to understand what they want and how," she explained.
Her team currently consists of a few tailors and designers cum artists. There is an embroidery section as well. They try to use as much local fabrics as possible. She said, "We only use imported fabrics when we absolutely have to. Other than that, we always use local fabrics."
Fashion, according to her, is not a complicated thing. Everyone has their own style and whatever suits oneself can become a fashion trend. Fashion or style is also not confined to the upper class or the wealthy only.
She believes there are two primary challenges in the fashion world – making fashion accessible to the middle class and adorning celebrities with 100% local fabrics like khadi.
Many families spend a lot on wedding shopping, buying expensive outfits from abroad. Helena wishes for this to change over time. "A lot of money goes out of the country. I wish these people would shop here in Bangladesh. That way, our local designers would thrive. However, it will be tough to change their belief. It will take time for them to decide that they will buy wedding outfits from, say Helena or any other local brands, and not from another country."
Within six months of opening her label, Helena began to receive good response, and she is grateful for it. "I also get many requests from abroad and once the shipment issue is fixed, the process will be smoother hopefully."
Helena is not concerned about the bulk or the number of clothes to produce. Instead she aspires to create beautiful, meaningful and inspiring designs. She feels there is a lot more left for her to do. "Honestly speaking, there is so much left for me to do. I want to do so many things, create many more new designs," Helena stated her wish.