This week I interview Samrina Haseeb, entrepreneur and owner of Sanaaz, a South Asian fashion boutique in St. Louis, MO. Find her on the web at www.SanaazDesign.com. And return tomorrow for an EXCITING GIVEAWAY CONTEST sponsored by her. For now, enjoy an exclusive conversation with the owner of Sanaaz boutique…
Shopping for South Asian clothing can be stressful. Options in smaller U.S. cities are usually limited. A common problem for me is that I shop for these clothes at the last minute. When I visit St. Louis, my mother might tell me there’s a community wedding to attend. That means I need to find at least three outfits to wear – for one wedding! You would think that each guest is actually a member of the wedding party with the level of detail that goes into choosing jewelry sets, heels, chudiyan(bangles), tikkas (head adornments), parandas (long braid attachments), and of course the dress.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I heard about Sanaaz boutique. At Sanaaz, you’ll find both Indian and Pakistani fashions, as well as jewelry, shoes, and purses. You can easily walk out with everything you need for an event – and probably a few more things that you don’t need, but can’t live without! Customers may choose from high profile designers like Neeta Lulla and HSY or from designs especially by Sanaaz. The styles are gorgeous and customers are devoted. Samrina Haseeb is the beauty and brains behind this operation. She is bubbly, sharp, and ultra fashionable. Her business has taken off and she’s been kind enough to tell us her story.
Sanaaz Valentine’s Day 2011 Fashion Show, St. Louis, MO
BB: How did Sanaaz boutique come to be?
SH: Design has always been my passion. I was educated in interior design in Pakistan. It was my wish to have my own boutique for years. But then life happened. Since I was so busy with my kids, family consumed my time. But deep down, I knew one day I would own a boutique.
When my kids went to college, I had so much free time that I decided to start my business. And people encouraged me immensely. The boutique is named after my daughter, Sanaa. When she was born, I thought of her as a lucky baby. And for good luck, I named it after her.
BB: How involved are you in the designing of outfits? Can you describe your process?
SH: Certain clothes we get from designers. Others we design ourselves. Material comes from Dubai and Pakistan. I sketch the look, determine the color scheme, and inform my tailors how to arrange the design. My sister, who has her MFA, finalizes the process.
Typical examples of South Asian embroidery on Sanaaz designs
BB: What are the upcoming trends?
SH: More vibrant colors are coming now. People like long length, a style that is universally popular in European and Arab countries. Pajamas are a little tighter. Salwars (a tapered pant) are making a comeback. Mukeshembroidery is also returning as well as gotawork (fine flat metal ribbon fashioned into common Indian shapes, a style traditional to Rajasthan).
BB: What types of collections do you hope to branch out into in the future?
SH: I want to bring more classic designs into my showroom including chikankari – handmade embroidery in India and Lucknow, rare to find, and originated from Queen Noor Jahan. I also adore mukesh work.
BB: How would your prices compare to those in Pakistan and those of your competition here?
SH: It can be a big hassle for individuals to go to Pakistan and shop. My prices are very reasonable, especially compared to those in Chicago. When determining my prices, I have to factor in overhead including DHL (shipping) and tax. Although at times less expensive, I don’t like the suits sold on Facebook. Sometimes the outfits shown are not what you get. The material isn’t great. It makes a difference when you see the material, try it on, and buy it.
I believe shopping in person is an important part of the experience. At Sanaaz, shopping is by appointment. That means you don’t have to deal with the busy bazaars in Pakistan or the impersonal communication of Facebook. You receive my undivided attention, styling suggestions, and professional expertise.
BB: In the global world of fashion, where do you think Pakistan stands?
SH: Very high. The top designers are launching their fashions in American markets. They have a fashion week every year in India and Pakistan– one each in spring, fall and winter. Sharmin Obaid Chinoy, Academy Award winner for a documentary short, wore a suit by Pakistani designer Nomi Ansari to the Oscars.
BB: What is the difference between the Pakistani and Indian aesthetic?
SH: The Indian look is more about short shirts and churidar (similar to a legging and gathered at the bottom). The embroidery is entirely different. Pakistani stitching and material is different. They like longer pieces. Indians like more lenghas (short blouse and long flowing skirt) and Saris.
BB: What can you tell me about the industry here in the US that you’ve learned since starting?
SH: It can be discouraging at times to learn how competitors act in this industry. Some actually take pictures of my designs, copy them, and sell them as their own. For now, I focus on building my business rather than getting deterred by these maters. My business model is working well in the U.S. Sometimes I would like a bit more encouragement from my peers. Running a business like this is a serious venture for me, not a hobby.
BB: What are some of your major hurdles in establishing your business and how might you overcome them?
SH: I have a registered business and pay taxes. I do everything by the book. Others may go to Pakistan, bring back ten outfits, and sell them from their suitcase. It’s not legal because they are not registered. It can be discouraging to me as I have aspirations and am in it for the long haul. These types of one-off sales detract from my business. Because they don’t pay taxes, their prices are often lower and that can cause unfair price comparisons. I want my business to flourish and practices like these make it harder.
BB: Tell me about your fashion shows or any you have coming up.
SH: Next February 28, 2013, I will have my fifth fashion show in St. Louis, MO. I had one in Dubai last year in October.
BB: How can someone get in touch with you to purchase if they don’t live in St. Louis, MO?
SH: They can call me at 314-971-1300 or email me at [email protected] If they contact me, I can send them some pictures or they can look at my web page. If they tell me what kind of things they need, I can send them a folder with design ideas. I’m also the contact in the U.S. for designers Zarmina, Hamza Rasool, and Sara Rohail Asghir.
BB: What advice would you give to those who are interested in starting their own line like you?
SH: Be very patient. This doesn’t take off right away, but slowly. Don’t get discouraged. Try to bring in new stuff. Patterns should be dynamic, not repetitive. Watch the trends. Be knowledgeable of your patrons’ tastes.
BB: What’s most satisfying about what you do?
SH: This business is all about socialization. I’ve come to know about different people and cultures. Now I know the taste of people. I get to dress people up and style them. They look good. I feel happy. And if they like my advice, that makes me happy too. // The End.
Do you love the couture pictured here? Are you interested in learning more about her fashions? Visit www.SanaazDesign.com for more information. And let me know what you think in the comments below!
Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for an EXCLUSIVE CONTEST GIVEAWAY from Sanaaz Designer Couture.