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Wearing woke

  • Published at 02:43 pm September 29th, 2019
Photos: Zubair Hasan

In conversation with Mahenaz to learn more about her new upcycle fashion label, Broqué

In this fast-paced era, when choices are made based on how Instagram worthy they are, the fashion industry seems to be at its peak in terms of demand. But in all of the glamour revolving around this industry, it’s hard to ignore the kind of carbon footprint that is left behind with a practice that is highly wasteful. Freeing herself from the claws of consumerism and all its false promises, Mahenaz Chowdhury began her journey as a fashion designer, with the sole purpose of giving new life to your existing wardrobe as well as reducing the detrimental impacts fashion may have on the environment. We got in touch with Mahenaz to learn more about her new upcycle fashion label, Broqué, and how it came to be.

Tell us about the brains behind Broqué. Is it a one-woman team, or do you have more people working with you?

Yes, I am the creator of Broqué, where the designs, styling, branding and art direction are all done by myself. But I believe there is no fun or success in a one man show, because I love team work. The goal is to create unique pieces of art through upcycling clothes and accessories. It's an exciting transition from being an aspiring artist to an aspiring fashion designer. Taking up fashion designing is a process of learning by doing for me, which is guided by an expert tailor team with a cumulative experience older than me. Most importantly, Broqué has an incredible support system of critical thought partners, who genuinely believe in my vision and support me through my glitches and ditches, and are helping me bootstrap. A lot of thought and research is being put into creating an article and then communicated online. The vibe needs to be communicated accurately to my audience, which my friend and visual storyteller, Zubair Hasan, does on point -- and brings my designs and curations to life through his ideas and dream-like photography.

How did you first come up with the idea? How long did it take for you to decide that you want to bring the idea to life?

I took a career break, after what seemed like forever, for two years to focus on myself and figure out a few things in life. Being an aspiring "artist", who worked in corporate and later the development sector summing up to 7 years, I was really done working for others. So I decided to take up my Masters degree from IUB specializing in Environmental Science and Management. And that was it! Art and sustainability had to be my footings forward. I was broke, but I had style! So, I was no regular broke, I was Broqué! It hit me that I needed to get into fashion designing. And as someone who is a product of this media globalization, I find it extremely difficult to find and connect to our culture/roots, value relationships and value belongings. Culturally, as a Bengali, I have always seen my grandparents, my mother and aunts recycle, re-purpose, give away hand-me-downs to their favourite ones, or swap clothes. In fact, my best friend Shaima and I have always swapped clothes since we were teens. I found that to be such a wonderful thing to do, to share and create funky looks for one another. We just loved doing that over stay-overs, before going to underground concerts and casual Saturday school days. I see that culture is fading fast as we are immersed in this wormhole of social media that drives fast fashion -- relatively cheap, poor quality, replaceable clothing and accessories. We forget to ask how much a kameez/shirt costs the environment in Bangladesh and our neighbouring countries where a lot of fabric is imported for the local market consumption. The garments industry is what this nation thrives on, but the environmental aspects are always negated, because of capitalist foreign buyers who would drive business away over 10 cents of extra expenditure, let alone investing in environment friendly infrastructure, Anyway, so being part of all this capitalism, I wanted  to design and create things, which rebelled against traditional consumerism. Thus, Broqué happened. I thought of translating my artwork combined with my styling aesthetics on to textile by up-cycling pre-owned clothes, do custom orders so people don't have to throw away their clothes anymore -- no more wastage! Second is to collect and curate vintage clothes and accessories and stylize people, all of which is operated within the framework of a circular economy. Nothing goes to waste. My main objective is to re-enforce our culture of wearing hand-me-downs or second hand clothing. It is such a fun activity by and in itself to swap and exchange. This entire brainwork took me about a year to actualize the idea, and with a big push from my friend Roma who organized an interesting event around plastic pollution and awareness on sustainability. She wanted me to exhibit some of my upcycled designs and that was a great deadline I set myself up for! It was a fantastic boost for me and it continued to get to where I am in this early stage of my bespoke up-cycle fashion label.

Tell us about the process: how do you pick the clothes you want to up-cycle, and how do you decide what to do with it?

Oh, I am very particular about the collection process, because it's all about curation! Having the eye to pick out a pattern, texture and colour is essential for my designs. I travel from one end of the city to another to collect the clothes, pick and choose which ones I want to work with for my reinventions (creating new things out of the existing materials at hand). Secondly, clients can bring their pre-owned clothes to have them up-cycled for them. In that case, I work with their materials. It is a sensitive process because all of these clothes are special; they have lived a life that has so many memories to share. So, taking that into consideration, I have to be very careful with how I work with each article. Then, it depends on what they have in mind and what they prefer wearing -- what they want to wear. This process is about building a connection with them and understanding who they are, what's comfortable and what would look good. I like the fact that it is a time consuming process that allows me to explore my strengths and weaknesses, and challenges myself to create something I haven't before. As I come in from an artist's point of view -- every piece that I create is a simple, yet beautiful piece of art that has a story to tell.  

How would you describe your style? How much of it is represented in the clothes you up-cycle?

My style is very fluid. I don't like boxing myself under one identity or style. That's something I have always struggled with due to my body image issues. Being too skinny has been very interesting, especially coupled with a masculine attitude. So my style is somewhere on the spectrum, much like how gender is a spectrum. My designs celebrate all body types, all genders and, in fact, I like to keep it fluid. I feel fashion always goes full circle and all eras are relevant in conjuring up designs, because a crazy concoction can be made with mixing it up. My style is, however, inspired by 80's and 90's aesthetics, and colour blocking and patchwork. I love patchworks! That's an essential element to my creations. I love over-sized everything, so dad shirts are always my favourite article to wear. And I feel all of my personal style aesthetics are translated into my designs, because I simply want to share my vibe with others!

How much would it cost to reinvent an article of clothing?

Well, I charge a base price of Tk2500 to come up with the designs (it’s the same for one or more), because that takes a lot of research and time. And depending on what is being made, the making charge and percentage of new fabric/accessories that are added on each article. So, say you make a suit, it starts from Tk10,000 and upwards. The costing takes account if the person picks it up or if we have to deliver, research hours, sourcing, designing and labour costs. I also sell curated second hand vintage clothes and accessories. Lastly, I do makeover stylizing which I charge project and event wise. 

How involved is your client in the designing process? How long does it take to finish a project?

They are involved in the initial phase of the process and the designs are locked down once they are ready to roll with it. It takes about 2 to 3 weeks, including trial and final fitting. 

Broqué represents an idea that is new to most people. How important would you say this practice is for the general public? How would you say Broqué can inspire people in this regard?

Broqué is such a beautiful entity. Firstly, it’s about wearing who we are, celebrating individuality. Secondly, it promotes valuing relationships, nurturing the culture of second-hand clothing and wearing hand-me downs. I want to step out of the fast fashion culture and care for things of quality that can be passed on. So I am investing consciously, asking: “Why am I buying this? Do I really need it? Can I borrow it, can I swap with someone, can it be rented or can I re-purpose or upcycle it?” That's where Broqué comes in, to adopt zero wastage practices, to reevaluate your wardrobe and give second chances to your stuff. It can be totally revamped into something new and whacky!

How has the response been so far, considering you started fairly recently?

Response has been very organic, and I love that! And I am blessed with an amazing group of friends and family who are supporting me to grow and bootstrap! It is slowly growing with the custom orders for up-cycling. I am going to launch soon hopefully, as there are lots of plans in the pipelines, and still a lot of work to be done. I am pacing it, and I feel there is no rush to create, just because I need to. Quality over quantity, always!

Lastly, what message do you wish to send out with Broqué?

We are all Broqué inside -- let's celebrate that. I think accepting ourselves as who we are is the hardest thing we always have to do, but let's make it fun by being Broqué. It's about time we start caring about the impact of our actions, because our present and future depend on our ethical decisions of consumption. Our purchases create demand; that demand unhealthy and unjust repercussions on the environment and on every living thing. So, let's recycle and re-purpose to reduce wastage from our daily days. 

To see old clothing come to life, check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/broque.af/ or find them on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/broque.af/

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