A young Bangladeshi woman took her passion for animal rights, social issues and heritage into fashion. The world is taking notice
When she was an undergraduate student, Afsana Ferdousi participated in a Euro-Bangla Fashion show competition in 2010 and all of her dresses quickly sold out afterwards. She also received some orders.
That was when she realised she could actually start selling clothes. Subsequently, her clothing brand, Afsana Ferdousi (AF for short), started its journey in 2014.
The young designer's creations are connected to life – her items are not just clothes, they tell stories.
Her collections have been themed on Bon Bibi- the protector goddess of the Sundarbans, khadi, sheetal pati and jamdani.
She even combined jamdani motifs and knitwear for one of her winter collections, which is a unique initiative.
In a conversation with The Business Standard, Afsana Ferdousi said, "I am vocal about animal rights and environmental rights. Issues such as rape and racism deeply concern me. My designs reflect my language of protest."
"People inspire me all the time. I still remember my participation during the Alchemy Exhibition held in 2014 in the UK. Every day I was introduced to numerous visitors to talk about my collection and where they could purchase it – all of these immensely motivated me to start my brand."
Each year AF makes at least one collection that tries to raise awareness about different environmental and social issues such as global warming, abuse etc.
"We want to be a brand which will not only deliver beautiful products but will also make people aware and happy. Moreover, it will make them considerate about not harming others and, they will try to think positively and behave sustainably," she explained.
"At the same time, the brand AF tries to promote our heritage and our artisans in the global market. We try our best to ensure employment of these artisans so that they can lead a good life. A number of women are involved with AF; our everyday motto is to empower them mentally and financially. We believe all these little contributions would help Bangladesh to achieve the SDGs," she said.
Who is the person behind the brand Afsana Ferdousi? She is a fashion designer, an activist and a fashion expert.
She has been working in the RMG sector for over eight years as fashion designer and product developer.
Afsana is also the Bangladeshi country coordinator of SDC International Design Competition, the chief expert and mentor of World Skills Bangladesh and a council member of the Fashion Design Council of Bangladesh (FDCB).
Seeing her elaborate works on nakshi kantha stitch, we asked her whether this was her primary focus, or does she have other areas of interest.
She replied, "Nakshi kantha plays a big role in our collection, whether it is in the stitching itself or in getting some theme or inspiration from it. I do use other mediums like hand embroidery, sometimes machine embroidery works as well."
"I love to do experiments while designing or setting thematic works. Whenever I make a collection, I try to give it my best by blending traditional motifs with international themes, patterns etc; mostly with interesting silhouettes."
Afsana brings some of the nakshi kantha clothes from Jashore and she has a few seamstresses in Dhaka who work at RMG factories during the day and work for her at night.
She said, "When I work with traditional motifs, I try to keep them original but at the same time, give them a makeover with new elements and embellishments. For example, for one of our potochitra (cloth based scroll painting) collections, we took the colours and shapes based on how they were originally made in folklores. Then we added the story of khadi from the Mughal period to the present day, and made our very own potochitra story. AF even made a song called 'story of khadi' for this collection. Each of the lines from the lyric represented each of the dress."
On her preferred cuts and patterns, she said, "Everything we do with our patterns is thoroughly researched; significant attention is put into details. We love to mix and match motifs and patterns. In every collection, we try to use new patterns. We want our clients of all ages to feel happy and confident in AF clothes."
Sustainable fashion is one of AF's mottos, so the brand tries to use materials such as cotton, linen, jute, tencel (a fibre made from wood pulp), viscose, and recycled fabric.
They also try to make accessories like buttons from coconut shells. Natural dyes and handloom fabric are also among their preferences.
In the last six years, Afsana Ferdousi has had quite a few proud achievements.
She has participated in TREsemmé Bangladesh Fashion Week, Khadi Festival, Dhaka Summer Runway, and Flavours of Season.
Besides, she also attended the Bangladesh Fashion week in London, the Borneo Fashion Week in Malaysia and the North-East Fashion Weekend in India.
Currently, the brand Afsana Ferdousi offers menswear, womens wear, children's wear as well as jewellery, bags and shoes. They will be introducing home furnishing soon.