Work and Money
Designing Ready-To-Wear Fashion For Bicultural Identities
What does it mean to “fit in”? For Nyla Hasan, that’s always been a complicated question.
Her mother is of French Canadian and European descent. Her father is from Pakistan. Hasan spent the first decade of her life in Connecticut. She then lived in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-biggest city, before moving back to the U.S. when she was 16 — just after Sept. 11.
“I never felt like I could fit in [in] either place,” says Hasan. “I always felt like I was in this space of trying to prove my identity in spaces I existed in.”
It’s this experience that informs and helps define the other, a new “slow fashion” line that Hasan — who has worked for designers Tory Burch, Elie Tahari, and Tanya Taylor — launched in 2021, after years of working behind-the-scenes on big and small brands.
With its pieces made-to-order via small batch production, the other blends traditional South Asian designs and craftsmanship with nods to so-called “western” styles.
Currently, Hasan is selling several colorful dresses, tops, and pants, many that incorporate window-pane tie-dye technique or embroidery. Both techniques have origins in traditional South Asian clothing, where collarless, loose-flowing, long cotton tops are often dubbed “tunics” when described in English. Hasan plays with that word, calling one of her pieces — which comes in two versions — the “Kurta Not a Tunic,” using the traditional word for the garment. In her own twist, she adds hand-embroidery on the sleeves of a menswear-inspired shirt and a belt to cinch the waist.
Hasan was inspired to create the other to reflect her bicultural identity, but also to leave the New York fast fashion world behind to carve her own path. the other uses a slow fashion production process, meaning pieces are made to last with ethical, sustainable practices. They are manufactured in India by workers who are paid a living wage and receive benefits.
“I don’t want to be part of this fast-fashion hamster wheel that doesn’t care about the people behind the clothing or the impact it’s had on this planet,” says Hasan. She began sewing at age 10 and earned a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology before joining Elie Tahari for her first full-time position in 2007. Afterwards, she co-founded and launched womenswear line Eva Khurshid, which focused on modest fashion for women inspired by her and her co-founder’s Muslim upbringing. She freelanced for The Limited and Ralph Lauren before joining Tory Burch, where she focused on surface textile design and embellishment.
She later transitioned to leading design at Tanya Taylor, which she left in 2018 before beginning a two-year journey to bring her new line to life. This included travel and study in Pakistan to research textile manufacturing and fashion history. Hasan says that journey and the birth of her first child spurred her decision to create a line that reflected her background. She hopes her line appeals to people who similarly carry multiple identities at once, whether they are of South Asian heritage or not.
“Fashion is the first visual representation of who a person is. It’s the outer shell you put forth into the world,” says Hasan. “I wanted to express my own identity and storytelling through fashion. The cultural codes we — that I — live in and how we adapt to our surroundings.”
One of those cultural codes or concepts close to Hasan’s experience is code flexing.
As the other website explains it, “Code flexing is the flipside to code switching. It’s the conscious choice to flex our ability to live amongst different cultural codes, selecting what part of our identity we put on display and when. The clothes we wear are part of that display.”
While she’s grateful for her experiences in big-name fashion, Hasan says going independent once again has put her back in touch with her roots. That includes not just her heritage but also her love for creating her own unique pieces that connect back to when she was a teen sewing her own clothing.
While she’s no longer part of a large team, she also in many ways feels less alone through the community and connections the line has fostered. On Instagram, Hasan has started a series called Where are you from? that interviews those that are mixed race and people of color about their backgrounds and responses to the common, if complex, question.
“As a person of color, I’ve always been the minority on the design team. Not just being mixed raced or being South Asian. But also being a Muslim. There are very few people who are Muslim or South Asian represented in the industry,” Hasan says.
“I see that slowly changing. But now with the other, I no longer have to work within that system for the change. I don’t have to go with what’s trending or follow the traditional seasons for product rollout. I don’t have to worry about how seriously my work will be taken but just make sure I do what I believe is the most honest and true to myself.”