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Testing the waters

Wardha Saleem makes her first splash
Splashing blocks of colours in her clothing and motifs that range from animals to florals, Wardha Saleem has, within the last four years, carved a strong and solid clientele for herself and she is now entering the lucrative world of bridals. Instep meets with the designer and finds out what's next for her…

By Ayecha Ahmed

Although the roads in town have made commuting very difficult, one was taken aback by the ease with which one found Wardha Saleem's bungalow that also has her studio.

Fairly new to the fashion industry and operating without an outlet, one really had to draw a picture in mind to the voice that explained the way to her residence.

On arriving, the busy designer was still talking to one of her clients on phone. Dressed casually in jeans and a cream coloured button down shirt with her haired tied in a loose ponytail Wardha seemed every bit like a professional woman who wouldn't want to waste even her Sunday from her overly busy schedule. After putting the phone down she led me to her studio.

Her studio is small with hot pink walls. One of them is covered with a built-in wooden rack where her pręt and formal collection is displayed. Across from it is the rack for unstitched block prints. The little room is as funky and vibrant as the clothes that Wardha designs.

Since one gets to see the unstitched lot first she began telling about why she has block prints in the first place. "Block prints are considered boring, generally and to an extent they are, so I thought of refreshing the art and bring it out in such a form that it would look stylish," explained Wardha who besides giving life to this dying handicraft also introduced animal motif in the stamps and is thrilled by the way it is taken by people.

"I didn't think the older generation would want anything to do with animal or bird block prints, but I'm amazed at the number of older women asking for it, I guess everyone wants to be different," concludes the designer who has been in the industry for the last four years.

To this hardworking, head strong designer, the journey so far has been a rewarding one and even though she has had her fair share of difficulties, she admits that in the end, it has been a learning experience. "Initially I would tell my customers very bluntly about what will suit them and what won't. I am the designer and I thought it was my duty to tell them about aesthetics. That made me loose a lot of customers, but now I have learnt to put my aesthetics across without offending theirs," remembers Wardha.

She has also had a tough time with her workers. "When I started off I had a couple of people, who ran away with my money and blackmailed me, but now I have a brilliant team and its fun working with them."
To Wardha, the hardships that she has endured are all part of growing as a designer.

A workaholic by nature, besides being physically present in every process of making an outfit, she also teaches in the Textile department at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.

A graduate from IVSAA herself, she enjoys the process of teaching immensely. "I enjoy it. Teaching opens up my mind. I think being a professional doesn't mean one shouldn't refer back to books. If I wasn't teaching I wouldn't be able to take myself out of difficult situations while designing and along the process one gets solutions." Teaching for almost three years now Wardha still feels its designing that is her profession and not teaching. "If ultimately I ever have to choose, my work will take priority,' cause that's my passion."

That said, she is a firm believer in education and feels that while talent is necessary to make it, education polished that talent further.

Being part of the competitive fashion industry for four years Wardha still doesn't own an outlet but that doesn't seem to bother her.

"I started off with three clients and today I have people coming in every second day. I think the kind of attention and interaction I can have with my clients individually won't happen if I had a shop. Besides, I don't think I'd be more involved in the process of designing an outfit, which is very essential to me. Going commercial right now isn't my concern, but with time I do see myself having an outlet. I want to take one step at a time."

She started stocking her clothes at Labels a year back but pulled out, as things didn't work out there.
Wardha feels inspiration can strike her anywhere and the process that she was taught while studying as a textile student at IVSAA of sketching out her thoughts has had positive outcomes so far and is something she never skips.

Known for her bright colours, she admits that colours are her strength, "I was known as a colour wizard at college," she reminisces.

Block prints, which are part of her pret and semi-formal line, are sold just as much as anything else she makes. Wardha believes that people continue to wear block prints, simply for the love of it.

Handling them innovatively, she has made an effort to bring block prints into focus. One has seen the growth of lawn in a rather dynamic way with more and more designers venturing into it. We've seen new ways of wearing lawns, letting imagination run wild. And for working women, who opt for ready-to-wear, the effort of buying lawn and getting them tailored is no longer a problem. With the availability of designers taking orders, it has become easy, even if it means dishing out an extra sum of money.

Block prints, on the other hand, have become redundant. But with a designer like Wardha Saleem playing out new ideas, motifs, it seems that fact is surely going to change. Her eye on trends, flair for colour and young ideas, are giving block prints an exciting edge.

Unlike other designers Wardha started out with her pręt line and has just ventured into bridals. "Pręt was my forte, I enjoy the fast process of making pręt wear. You get to innovate a lot. When I started they were very cost effective for me. Bridals and formals are one-offs and take a lot of time. Being of an impatient nature it wasn't something I wanted to start with. I'm all set for it now," informs the determined designer.
Like most designers in the industry, Wardha wants to do both, pręt and bridals.

Wardha feels the industry that is almost new to her is very kind and helpful. Although she is a firm believer in talent, she knows having contacts is important and to make them one needs to have strong work ethics and should market rigourously in this competitive field.

For someone who never thought of being a designer, Wardha is passionate about her profession and is quite satisfied with how things have turned out. Currently designing for a couple of advertisements, Wardha feels it's through advertising that the sense of style of the masses has improved.

Wardha has behind her a lot of experience and has worked with designer Nadya Mistry and has been an in-house designer for Khaamta and Threadz before she finally ventured out on her own.

She may not have a retail outlet just yet but she does have convictions and ideas that translate well into her clothes. Fashion is constantly evolving and if anyone understands that well, it is Wardha Saleem.

– Wardha Saleem's collection can be seen on Style Section.


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