Bangladesh is a country where numerous forms of ethnic apparel artistry thrive. The magic behind this lies in the hands of the artisans who have passed down the blessing of impeccable craftsmanship over generations. In essence, these artisans can turn an ordinary piece of fabric into gold with their touch.
But this industry is on the verge of death from the mass-producing fast fashion industry. House of Ahmed - a Bangladeshi owned luxury ethnic brand - is striving to keep the artists and the legacy of homogenous artistry alive by targeting the niche, high-end market.
House of Ahmed was established by Tanzila Elma and Ahmed Tuhin Reza in 2019 with a vision to promote Bangladesh's local, ethnic hand-woven embroidery work on kameez suits, lehengas and sarees.
Their team of skilful artisans makes sure all the pieces are carefully created and according to the owners, the artisans are the backbones of the luxury fashion house.
House of Ahmed's luxurious ensemble of clothing has been created by their finest craftsmen. Starting from choosing the base fabric to the cutwork, to its patterns and materials, are all diligently planned by the artisans.
Thanks to their eyes for seeking out the best raw materials, these clothes make it to the display and engage customers with the brand.
Speaking about how House of Ahmed came into being, Elma said that her passion for designing pushed her towards materialising her dream of having her own fashion label.
"I have always loved designing. When I was in university, I used to design my own dresses and participate in exhibitions. Many attendees of those exhibitions used to praise my creations and asked me why I had not gone big yet. Once I graduated from North South University, I worked for two years to learn how to manage a business from scratch," said the House of Ahmed co-founder.
Elma refuses to call herself a designer. Rather, she likes to introduce herself as a fashion entrepreneur since she enjoys looking more into the business aspect of any company.
When it comes to clothing and fashion in general, Elma prefers donning attires made here by local artisans as opposed to the foreign ones.
"It is so because our local artisans have a kind of magic in their hands. They understand the intricacies of this art form and have inherited this talent from their ancestors," Elma told the correspondent.
Her passion for making it big took her to India, where she visited all the major retailers and learned that most of their clients are from Bangladesh.
This made her realise the importance of establishing a luxury ethnic fashion brand in Bangladesh that can easily compete with the likes of Manish Malhotra and Sabyasachi.
Elma said, "When I used to tour India and visit the retailers, they used to ask me from which part of Dhaka I belong. They know Bangladesh well, so our local client base has the money to be regular customers of Indian luxury fashion houses."
Observing this behaviour, Elma realised the huge market gap between Indian and Bangladeshi luxury fashion and saw it as an opportunity to tap into.
After extensive research and market studies, Elma came up with the concept of customers being able to express their ideas for their big day - whatever the occasion may be - and choose their attire from beginning to end.
House of Ahmed takes into consideration the clients' inspirations for the particular event and work from there, instead of having them choose from the premade selection of dresses.
"We try to understand what our clients want to wear to a particular event and what they may feel comfortable in. After careful considerations, we sit with our design team, sketch, make 3D models of the probable design and then send it to our factory. But before we start the needlework, we ask our clients to visit the factory and sit with the weavers to help them choose the fabric and handiwork. We want our clients to have all the options," said Elma.
House of Ahmed also has a fabric corner at their outlet for their visiting clients to take a look at. They can also select designs from the clothes displayed at the outlet and even customise them according to their taste.
"House of Ahmed is here to provide our clients with a platform to make any ethnic attire they want for their special day," Elma voiced.
When asked why House of Ahmed specialises in making ethnic wear only, Elma said, "It is not like we cannot make anything else, but we chose to stick to ethnic wear only because we want to portray the heritage of Bangladeshi weavers through us."
The Covid-19 pandemic had an adverse impact on most big and small scale businesses.
But for House of Ahmed, the pandemic gave them the time and scope to formulate strategies that allowed them to continue without laying off anyone from the artisans' team even during a pandemic.
"I was not ready to let any of my artisans go. Laying them off was not even an option for us; neither was closing the store. To sustain our business during such a vulnerable time, we introduced gift cards, vouchers and trunk shows. These are all old concepts but we revived them to make way for us to do something for our core community," Elma voiced.
Her main concern was to be able to support the artisans without a pay cut.
Due to the excellent responses from clients, House of Ahmed's collections went out of stock as soon as their Eid collection was launched.
This helped them raise Tk50 lacs with which the management bought Ramadan essentials for their artisans, worth Tk5,000 each.
The pandemic also gave them time to properly construct the House of Ahmed website, which shows prices in both BDT and USD.
According to Elma, House of Ahmed's motto is to keep the art of Bangladeshi hand-woven and handcrafted embroidery industry alive.
"Voluntarily helping out families in need is one thing but giving them the opportunity to have a dignified life is always a better choice and is sustainable," Elma elaborated.
Most female artisans at The House of Ahmed belong from the same family as the male artisans. This way, Elma and Tuhin have been helping to provide a better life to individual families by employing them at the fashion house.
Elma has taken it upon herself to encourage increased female employment at House of Ahmed.
She provides training to her female artisans separately in order to increase their skills and further nurture their talents.
As opposed to male artisans, female artisans have fewer employment opportunities which hinder their speed and craftsmanship skills.
Elma continued, "I see every woman as a part of me. Although I am self-made, and of course my parents have always supported me since the beginning, but I have gotten this far in life because I had the strength to work for it."
After two years of staying in the sustainable luxury clothing industry, House of Ahmed has successfully been able to grab a customer base that prefers to shop for luxurious clothing within the country instead of going to India. And this is something Elma takes pride in.
Elma strongly believes in the power of locally weaved fabrics such as muslin, jamdani, raw silk etc.
She wants to move forward by promoting and expanding House of Ahmed's collection with Bangladeshi fabrics and embroidery techniques.