I first met Ayla Khosroshahi while volunteering at Alternative Fashion Week in Toronto at a venue with too many volunteers and too little things to do. We were assigned to set up a pile of freshly arrived pizza boxes after we started talking a little bit. It turned out that Ayla was trying to get some experience in runway so she could finally launch her line AYLA with fervour and great confidence. As for me, I always dreamed about making my own collections but I sure as hell wasn’t working towards it. I was just there for the shows. But after meeting Ayla, I realized for the billionth time in my life that anything is possible in this world, so I might as well pick up those threads and needles (That dress I meant to hem is still sitting in the basement.)
We were both passionate about social justice and the environment. We also loved fashion. I always thought you had to choose one or the other, but no. I had always wondered how I could combine my BA in International Development with something creative like fashion, photography, design or publishing. Ayla, having finished her MA in Human Rights at the University College of London, illustrates that one can delve into social consciousness while maintaining creativity and being who you are. It turns out that fashion is not just an empty form of production and consumption, but there are actual ideas behind it! Maybe those crazy designers have something to say and something to do in this bandaged up world after all. Think Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood.
AYLA is rather fresh, interesting, and filled with the dichotomies she speaks of like being “born in the east, raised in the west” and “always moving, [yet] grounded at home”. She is an emerging designer with a lot to say, and she will be showing her spring 2010 collection at The Clothing Show in Toronto this weekend (May 14 and 15). Want to know more? Then you’ll have to read the interview.
Hi Ayla! How are you?
Ayla: Great! Excited for the show this weekend.
You were at the Clothing Show last autumn and you are going again for the spring show on May 14th and May 15th. How was your last experience with that?
Ayla: We had a great time and a great response in September so I wanted to do it again. It was my first fashion show! Its a great space to showcase work, and since I am very young in this industry I am grateful for any opportunity there is.
Tell us a little bit about your recent collection (spring 2010) and what kind of message you are trying to communicate.
Ayla: The collection showcases two series of pieces: a ready-to-wear and an intimates line. This round AYLA explores the theme of ‘lust’. Exploring the ideas of limitation and temptation; the interplay between power and weakness. Each piece mixes conservative pieces with provocative elements giving in to the ideas of restraint and freedom, work and play, and masculine and feminine. Transparent slips are paired with tailored pencil skirts, and blazers are hijacked by bra straps. The collection gives into both softness and strength, using a variety of fabrics and recycled materials.
How did you get started within the fashion industry?
Ayla: I have always had a love affair with fashion. I have sketch books piled up in my room from when I was 6 years old. I would get my mom or grandmother to make me the new ideas I came up with, then I started playing with my own creations, taking scarves and making them into dresses, pillow cases into skirts, etc.
At the end of high school I was at a crossroad, Ryerson for Fashion Design or McGill for Political Science... I chose the latter. The road then further led me to a Masters in Human Rights and key leadership roles, working on projects nationally and internationally, with children, youth, and individuals with developmental disabilities in under-serviced areas and lower-to-no-income communities.
But, in the last year I started to flirt with the idea of re-engaging in my old love of design and seeing where it could take me. I felt something was missing, I had a need to be creative and create to regain a balance in my work/ life.
You mention on your website a responsibility towards human rights, the environment and social justice. How is this message conveyed in your fashion line?
Ayla: AYLA is a very young line in development, so I can not say that the message is "conveyed" per se, in those strong terms...at least not yet anyways. What it does mean is that while I am developing the line, making the clothes, promoting the brand, etc, I am very conscious of the materials I use and their impact on the earth, what type of production I am willing to engage in, etc.
Where did you get the idea to incorporate human rights into your fashion line, and how do you do this?
Ayla: When I decided to re-ignite my affair with design and see where it would lead I knew that I could not dismiss my education and work experiences. My ideals and responsibilities had to transfer to any new project, including a fashion line. As I explore ways to bridge my passions, I am researching "Fashion Ethics". It’s more than just fashion with a conscience for me – it’s about bringing context to concept – emphasizing quality vs. quantity. My international education and experience lends a unique set of tools and a global perspective. It’s more than just the clothing for me, it’s a belief and responsibility that I trying to realize through the designs, the company and beyond.
In what ways are your clothes manufactured? How is this reflected in the “social justice” aspect of your brand, if at all?
Ayla: Well for now, starting out, this is not a problem, there is no manufacturing, all the pieces are hand made. I do a selection of pieces to showcase for the fashion show and then take any personal orders that come in on a one to one basis. However as the line grows, manufacturing will be an area of concern. As I research how to develop the brand, ethical and eco-conscious manufacturing techniques are on the top of my list.
What kinds of materials do you use?
Ayla: I like to use fabrics outside of their comfort zones, incorporate mixture of textures and then throw in chains and lace accents. Always a bit of the unexpected. As much as possible I try to recycle materials, rework vintage pieces, use fabrics from various garments, take apart jewelry to use the beads or chains, etc... anything in order reuse and reinvent. As I develop the line I am looking towards organic and eco-friendly materials.
You mention on your website that each one of your pieces is “balanced through contradictions”, much like yourself. How do you think fashion can convey such an abstract concept such as “balance”? Is it strictly visual?
Ayla: The perception of "balance" is entirely personal, and goes beyond what we see to how we feel. I know for me ideas/things that are traditionally perceived as contradictory are those same ones that I have to combine to find my balance. By saying "AYLA explores the interplay of dichotomies while finding balance in their contradiction" really just means that the concept of the brand is that anything is possible. Fashion is seen as an inspirational journey through creative freedom, experimentation and self expression. Evolution and innovation are key ingredients in the brand, along with humour, passion, intelligence, irony, seduction, and provocation. Each piece has a soul and tries to tell a unique story.
What inspires you to design clothing? Again, I’m mostly interested in how it connects to your “responsibilities” in the third question.
Ayla: "Responsibilities" don't inspire me to design. The desire to create and explore inspires me to design. Art, energy, expression, travel, food, mood swings, attitudes, etc, are the things that fuel the desire. Where the "responsibility" portion comes in is when I decide how to do it. That's when I step back and think, how can I do this where it respects the earth, people and sends a positive message.
Where do you hope AYLA will be in the next 5 years?
Ayla: A prosperous ethical fashion line. Innovative in beliefs and design.
Photos: Susheela Willis | Hair/Makeup/Styling: Ayla Khosroshahi | Clothes: AYLA
Say hello to Ayla at the Clothing Show | The Better Living Centre, Exhibition Place, Toronto | May 14 at 6:30pm and May 15 at 1pm and 5pm.