Suhaila Niazi is one of the few designers who creates clothes just to make her customers feel good, and not to make money. She started Al Shakour clothing with her business partner Razi Khan because she wanted to give women clothes that would make them feel special. After speaking with Suhaila, I found that she is a designer who has been able to find the perfect balance between her passion and her values.
(BestFan): You were working in the fashion industry for 20 years before you started designing. How did you know you wanted to work in fashion? Why did you recently change direction with your career?
(Suhaila): I studied fashion at La Salle College, and when I graduated, I was told that I could not pursue this field because of the competition…So I started to work in the industry as an assistant, and on the floor at stores, and I didn’t like it at all…When I hit my best job ever it was becoming a buyer, and I noticed that a lot of the pieces that were being bought were not being sold in the industry properly. I noticed I was selling dresses and people were saying “do you sell this dress with a jacket? Does it come with sleeves? Does it come with a long slit?”…Customers started giving me feedback on what they wanted. Because I was working in retail – at that time I was working at Holt Renfrew as a personal shopper – more and more people would voice their opinion. People assume that because you’re a personal shopper, you’re like superwoman – you can find anything because you’re a personal shopper. Then, my business partner, Razi, and I were at dinner and I told him people just want so much and I feel like I could do it, and he was like “then why don’t you just do it?” so it was that push, that he threw me off the cliff.
(BestFan): You’ve been in the fashion industry for a long time, and worked with a lot of different people. Is there anyone you’ve worked with that’s stood out to you?
(Suhaila): One would be Annie Horth, she’s actually the stylist for Celine Dion. She hired me to do her launch for her album, and that was one of the best experiences I ever had. I got to fly to Las Vegas and Chicago and los Angeles, and we got to meet Oprah and Ellen. It was awesome. I got to dance with Ellen in the green room. That was the most amazing experience because Annie believed in me to go with her. She was like “I trust you, I value your opinion, you have a good eye.” And we meshed well. To me that was really amazing. She influenced me a lot to stay in this field. To work with Celine was just amazing. Second I would say Luko Marion. He’s from Cashmere and gave us the opportunity to make a dress out of bathroom tissue for Cashmere. He liked what I did, he saw my designs, and he saw my collection and said, “I think you’d be perfect for this.” He gave me that break to get involved with something like that. They make you feel like you’ve not done it wrong, you’ve done it right.
(BestFan): You only create a limited number of each design. How do you think that affects your line overall, and how have customers responded to that?
(Suhaila): What I do is made to measure and the reason I do this is because I don’t want to do mass production at this time. Let’s say you were going to a big dinner and you know half of Montreal is going to be there. It’s having more control over what I’m doing, and I find having that luxury, and having the woman feel like she has that one beautiful unique piece so she’s the only one wearing it. If another woman comes and is going to the same gala and wants to buy a dress from me, I’m going to make sure she’s not buying the same fabric.
(BestFan): You donate a portion of the proceeds from every collection to charity. What made did you decide to do this?
(Suhaila): The goal was if we do something like this, I want it for a purpose too; I don’t just want to be designing and making things. So we decided that we would like to open up a school back home for the unfortunate. So we booked out tickets and went travelling, and that’s where I saw the fabrics and the suppliers and the people. And the poverty in the world was unbelievable, so it gave me more motivation to do what I had to do, because I knew if I was going to be making money I could put it to another direction as well. I donate 5% of every piece sold. Because at the end of the day, you’re not going to take money with you, so if you can have a bit of it to share and to help someone else profit from it, I think that’s a really good feeling.
(BestFan): You’ve worked as a buyer, stylist, and a designer. Of all the different sides of the industry you’ve seen, what are some of the most exciting things you’ve encountered?
(Suhaila): Meeting amazing people. I find everyone is a celebrity. There’s a quality in everyone that they’re a celebrity. I love every single person I meet. You know they say when you look at a celebrity you’re in awe? I’m in awe of everyone.
BestFan Quick Questions
Christian Lacroix, and Christian Dior, and Tom Ford. Tom Ford, I wish I could wear his clothes. It’s just like sex on a hanger.
Favourite city you’ve visited?
It’s not a city, but Dubai.
Person you would most like to design for?
Every woman that feels like she needs to have a beautiful piece of clothing.
Cookies, or brownies?
Brownies, because they’re mushy and they don’t make crumbs. You’ll never have to clean up the mess.
Lipstick, or mascara?
Movies, or music?
Johnny Depp, or Brad Pitt?
Wedges or stilettos?
That’s a tricky one. Can I say both? Both.
Al Shakour’s lookbook and new collection will be out this winter. To stay updated on everything Suhaila and Razi are doing, check out the Al Shakour facebook page.