Founded in 2017 by Ayesha Khanna, the brand Naurah USA has emerged with the vision to expand and diversify from its original Indian Couture line, which has been based in India since 2001. Born and brought up in India, Ayesha has been living in the New York City for more than a decade now. Her love for fashion fusion and bringing together fashions from east and west have inspired her to create Naurah USA brand from scratch. The general perception about Indian clothing is that it is heavy and can only be worn on occasions such as weddings or festivals, but Naurah USA exclusive collections are made to change that mindset.
Naurah USA has expanded to Milan in partnership with Dress You Can & TB Milano Showroom, and the Indo-Western ready to wear and custom made clothing line is getting an overwhelming response on this major success.
SNM: Dear Ayesha how are you? I spent a month in Mumbai and fell in love with this city and its colours. How did you feel when you moved to NYC for the first time?
Ayesha: Hi! Thanks so much for this interview. Its my pleasure to chat with you here. Your question is making me a bit nostalgic. I moved to NYC in the year 2005. Its been 13 years since I have lived in this city and it has changed me so much ( in a good way). I am from New Delhi, India and though its a very vibrant city and fast paced too, it didn’t quite prepare me for my new life in New York. Moving here was a BIG CHANGE. Both on a personal and a professional level. I was pretty fascinated with the city life, the people, the famous streets and neighbourhoods that I had only seen in movies up until then. It was a bit overwhelming to settle into the new ways.
Coming from India, where you are so used to having a huge support network of family and friends, I found myself struggling to create a brand new identity at first. But then, this city is ‘where dreams are made of’ they say. Living here I always found myself surrounded with so much inspiration, be it in dance or art. I had the opportunity to grow my skills as an artist and that is what I loved the most about being here.
SNM: We do not know much about Indian fashion scene. I believe our knowledge is affected by Bollywood movies. Tell us more about your background and childhood. How did you get into fashion?
Ayesha: I was born and raised in New Delhi, India. Its interesting that you mention Bollywood. It is the most well known Film industry in the world, and Bollywood is a big part of my life. I come from a family where art and education both were given a huge emphasis. I started my journey as a classical indian dancer at the age of 4. I was always in love with the arts and realized that Dance was my true passion.
Watching Bollywood movies, following the dance routines and the fashion/ styles of the lead actresses definitely shaped my artistic world and inspired me to follow my dream of becoming a full time dance professional ( something that was pretty rare in India at that time). From a teenager, going into my twenties, i trained as dance professional/ choreographer with a very well known Jazz dance institute in New Delhi. Fashion is something that became a part of my life, thanks to my family. I think its extremely imp to have a unique sense of style. To be different! I get that inspiration from my mother, who was/ is known till this date for the way she draped her beautiful Indian sarees and styled her hair with a rose.
She was a famous media personality and her profession demanded her to be well dressed. Watching her get ready for work, was a favorite part of my daily routine. I was lucky enough to inherit that innate sense of style and elegance from her. Fortunately for me , it became a part of my life and translated in my fashion choices ( personally at first). I have to be honest, I didn’t quite imagine becoming a designer , but I always felt very strongly about fashion. Growing up, I wasn’t very brand conscious, but loved looking at beautiful garments. I followed almost every Indian designer and watched their work, cover to cover.
Being proud of my Indian heritage, i enjoyed wearing Indian traditional garments and accessories during festive occasions. Every time I wore a traditional outfit, it transformed the way I felt and I soon realised , how like dance, fashion too has a huge impact on the way it makes you feel about your self. I think , the curiosity to explore this feeling , through another artistic medium is what led me in the world of fashion. In the year 2001 , my sister in law launched an Indian couture line ( Naurah couture ) and that is how and where I got to really learn and see what goes behind making those intricate Indian garments. I felt very lucky to be brought up in an environment where i was not just watching new fashion trends but learning the nuances of what brings a beautiful garment to life. From selecting the materials, to the hours and weeks of intricate hand work, it’s a true labor of love. I just had to find a way to continue this legacy, but make it unique, with a strong point of view.
SNM: How does living in New York changed your personal style and work routine?
Ayesha: Living in NYC has had a profound impact on my sense of fashion. As much as this city is big on new trends and styles, i think it really does have room for people to dress the way they want. There is less judgement, perhaps because people are way too busy. I realised that blending in with the crowd was easy, whether it was at parties or just heading out for a meeting and taking a subway. Being a woman entrepreneur for over a decade ( i started my Bollywood fusion dance school in 2007) does come with a demanding work schedule and one that is constantly changing.
As a dance professional, my work attire is comfortable and one that allows enough room for movement. But as much as I love being comfortable, the fashionista in me loves to dress up. I am always running around for meetings, rehearsals ,events and time is definitely short. My personal style mantra is simple. Wear something that makes me stand out. Always! Whether that is by accessorising my outfits with a great piece of jewelry or by wearing a bright outfit, the one thing this city has taught me is in order to survive and more importantly thrive,“ Be Different”.
SNM: How is Indian fashion scene different today from American/European markets? Is it less or more competitive?
Ayesha: Indian fashion scene has changed considerably over the last decade. The fashion choices are not as ‘ costume’ like as the were a few years ago. The women are choosing to wear garments which are fashion forward , have modern silhouettes but still come with the rich Indian hand weave and embellishments.
They want unique and limited edition pieces which allow them to experiment with new emerging styles. “There is a lot of individuality” and there are no boundaries when it comes to design. Indian dresses have always been all about embellishments and that is very fashionable today. Its great to see how Indian fashion is becoming more and more popular and being showcased on international platforms. The reason may be that Indian fashion, as much as its evolving, still has strong roots in tradition. There is definitely a huge surge of new designers in the country and that has made things way more competitive than it used to be. But that just goes to show there is a rising demand for Fashion and that is a positive change for sure.
SNM: Tell us about your collection and inspirations behind the idea.
Ayesha: Naurah USA was officially launched in 2017 as Indo Western ready to wear and Bridal Fashion line.This is after I experimented with the idea for well over two years but didn’t quite feel ready to take the plunge. Living and and working as a full time dance entrepreneur in the city for over a decade, I enjoyed wearing the designs from the brands here. But at the same time, I missed the feeling that I had when I wore my traditional Indian garments. I have always been proud of my heritage and for years I yearned to dress up in those colourful garments. Unfortunately, living here, those occasions were far too few and soon I felt my fashion choices becoming a lot like everyone else.
At some point, I owned 10 black dresses. All different, but black!!! Just like every other woman at a nightclub in NYC. I was blending in!! I was looking good in the dresses, but not exactly feeling different, great to be exact. Thats when I decided to trust my instincts and create a line that was a beautiful blend of my rich Indian heritage and my new fashion style that I developed living here in NYC.
The inspiration behind the collection are the strong, beautiful women of this city. They are always on the go, hustling and pushing to keep their dreams alive. I wanted to create designs that would be unique just like these women. They should be able to wear dresses that reflect who they are and help them stand out in the crowd!
Indian traditional garments are known to be far too heavy and not exactly wearable unless its an important occasion/ wedding/festival. I wanted to break that stereotype here and give women the chance to adore garments that would resemble the rich Indian heritage, yet be practical to be worn on ANY occasion. “ Make Every Day a Style Statement” is how i like to define my collection.
SNM: How does Indian heritage and traditional man crafting skills affect your creative process while designing the collection?
Ayesha: My design process is a little unconventional. Most designs are created in my imagination ( I can think about it to for days) . I can get inspired from a simple print or even a piece of traditional jewelry. I try to conceive a “ look’ with a basic color palette and then move from there.
Fortunately, there are so many different techniques of hand work/ craftsmanship. I like to experiment with a new technique each time. Its exciting to create new design samples with beads, threads, sequins and more . Its a lot of trial and error before the embellishments are finalised. Needless to say, its a time consuming process and it can take weeks to create a piece. Its a balancing act while I design. Its very important to me that the designs are elegant but have exquisite embellishment at the same time. Mostly I prefer to use the the traditional work to accentuate a silhouette or to bring out the colours on the textile. Less is more is the philosophy. Since the handwork is so labor intensive and unique, I feel it truly deserves to be highlighted on the garment .
SNM: What are the difficulties of today’s realities when you launch your own brand. Can you give an advice to Emerging Talents who are about to launch their brands?
Ayesha: As an emerging designer, the hardest part is to balance the creative & financial aspects of your new business . As the market is getting saturated with new designers, its even more important to stay true to your vision . My advice “ Start by being different”. The most important think before launching your brand is to think about your “ ideal customer”. To visualize that one person and flesh out all the details of him/ her personality.
The design process will gradually unfold from there. My personal challenges have been trying to maintain a production house which is overseas and keeping up with the marketing efforts while I live in NYC. I have to work at two different time zones and it can get quite challenging especially during the peak months when a collection is due to be ready. It helps to have a team , however small so that you can concentrate your efforts and not compromise on the quality.
I have learnt that as important as it is to create good designs, all efforts are waste if you don’t take the time to promote your brand. Social media is great place to start but your customers are aways going to be your best promotion. Invest in them.
SNM: What are you fascinated by at the moment and how does it feed into your work?
Ayesha: Recently I traveled to Milan and just fell in love with the architecture. Ever since I have been back, I have been dreaming of creating designs inspired from this city. At the moment I am experimenting with some new handwork designs influenced and inspired by the Duomo in Milan.