Some of her craftsmen are falling ill because of the ongoing heatwave in the city, others are simply functioning on low energy levels because it is the month of Ramadan and they are fasting.
“I have no choice but to prioritize the designs that absolutely need to get completed,” she surmises. “My store is opening before Eid so I am probably going to stock more traditionally pretty designs at first with the funkier modern cuts following a few weeks later.”
The soon-to-open store is located right next to the very ‘it’ Mews Café on the happening E-Street in Karachi, varnished, minimalistic and with all the makings of a designer retail haven, if the samples are anything to go by.
There are silks, digitally printed with giraffes, myriad versions of roses and the ‘FJ’ logo, tie-and-dyed organza wraps, cotton capes, ruffles, collars and beautiful wedding-formals, with extensive hand-embroidered florals, geometric stripes and even a bridal entourage of elephants.
“All my embroideries are done by hand,” says Feeha. “I don’t believe in compromising quality through short-cuts.”
These are words that ring true, particularly because they are being said by Feeha. For Feeha is something of an anomaly, having taken the longest time to venture into retail, at a time when a growing milieu of local designers have been quick to set up stores of their own.
So many others have sped ahead of her; enterprising young graduates with a knack for business and veterans with their eyes on retail, opening flagship stores in prime locations and spreading their wings with regular fashion week showcases.
“I am not part of a rat-race,” says Feeha. “If I wanted to show at every fashion week, all I had to do was copy designs off international runways and present them as my own”
“What’s the hurry?” asks Feeha. “I am not part of a rat-race and I am not on a quest to take over the market. If I wanted to show at every fashion week, all I had to do was copy designs off international runways and present them as my own. That’s what so many others are doing, aren’t they? It’s not possible for a designer to showcase collections at successive fashion events, one month after the other, without compromising originality. I want to do things right even if it takes me longer to do it.”
It’s an applaudable sentiment but it still doesn’t make business sense for a designer to be barely visible, especially at a time when social media has become a perpetual advertising platform for local fashion. When she debuted, Feeha was hailed as a bright young spark, emerging from an impressive legacy in design and winning rave reviews for innovative, trendsetting collections.
And then she retreated into the shadows, emerging only occasionally for the odd fashion week showcase or trunk show.
One had expected her to have inherited the marketing genius of her father, the remarkable Tanveer Jamshed, better known as Teejay. Polka dots and androgynous shalwar kameez, back in the ‘80’s everybody who was anybody wore Teejays.
However, hardly anyone’s been seen wearing ‘Feejay’ over the past year except for Feeha’s friend and actress Mahira Khan, who carries the designs exceptionally well.
“We have been selling well over Facebook and through private orders,” defends Feeha. But limited online orders don’t have the same reach as retail standpoints and the designer knows it.
“We stopped stocking at multi-labels because payments often come late and it’s a huge hassle,” says Feeha of her recently low profile
“We stopped stocking at multi-labels because payments often come late and it’s a huge hassle,” explains Feeha. “The retail store should have opened late last year and I have been paying rent for its location throughout. Unfortunately, I fell ill and things got delayed.”
It turns out that there’s a very sad reason why Feeha had to slow down business.
“Late last year, I got diagnosed with chronic trigeminal neuralgia. I have been perpetually visiting doctors. For three months, I was restricted to complete bed-rest and given heavy doses of painkillers. I have tried out physiotherapy and taken doses of morphine in order to get through the day. There have been times when I haven’t been able to stand and have had to get about in a wheelchair. I limp when I walk and I have also been diagnosed with arthritis.”
At just the age of 31 – Feeha got married last year – the designer has fallen victim to a condition that generally occurs amongst people around the age of 50. Sensations of excruciating pain travel from the face down to the rest of the body, lasting from a few minutes to several hours. There is no absolute cure for the pain, although it can be managed through medication. “There were times when I would just sleep through the day,” she continues. “I would try to give directions to my craftsmen and tailors over the phone, but I wasn’t physically able to oversee things. It’s why the shop’s opening got delayed.”
Sipping soothing cups of medication, Feeha says that she’s opening up the shop through sheer willpower. “We’re also going to launch our e-store over the next few months,” she says. “I am not completely well and it may be difficult, but I feel that it’s something that I have to do. And it keeps me going, makes me feel well, gives me a purpose.”
She may just come through. At a young age, the designer has already seen more than her fair share of personal tragedy and like a phoenix, she’s always managed to rise from the ashes.
Four years ago, she lost her elder sister to a sudden death and now she’s battling health issues of her own. And yet, she’s all set to launch a shiny new store with prêt, luxury-pret and off-the-rack wedding-wear, with prices beginning at just Rs 2000. Feeha loves her craft earnestly and it shows in her designs.
Does it make sense, though, to open right before Eid, at a time when most people have already bought their Eid wardrobe? “My father always used to bring out a whole new collection right before Eid and it would sell amazingly well,” says Feeha.
It’s about time those aesthetics were available for walk-in customers to buy, whenever they please.Better late than never, then.
Published in DAWN on July 15, 2015.