On a stunning late summer day in September I met Singaporean-New Yorker Nazya Ayaz for brunch in Brooklyn, home of craft beer and cottage industries including Nazya’s very own fashion label. In 2007 Nazya moved from the Little Red Dot to the Big Apple and this November will officially launch Stylemeister; a label, storefront and e-commerce platform that will enable local designers to market and sell their clothing alongside Stylemeister’s own line. It’s been a long and winding road from Singapore to Stylemeister and Nazya was kind enough to share her journey with me as we sat down in the shade of an elm tree in Prospect Park. You can listen to the interview here or read it below.
As a child, and even a young adult, Nazya had no particular desire to be part of the fashion industry but was often complemented on her natural style, even being told she could wear a gunny bag and make it look trendy! With this kind of encouragement she decided to look further into fashion. Her first foray was FATWardrobe, a blog that introduced her to many local designers and even led to her covering New York Fashion Week in 2013. However, much as she enjoyed sharing the air with Anna Wintour it was meeting the local designers that propelled her to consider launching her own label.
I freely confess I know nothing about fashion and am much more at home talking to content creators working in film, photography and words but Nazya insists that fashion is an equally legitimate art form describing it as “the medium we choose to express our personality…to say who we are without speaking a word.” I ask her what she is saying with her faded and distressed boyfriend jeans, leopard print sweater, tiger print belt, electric blue suede shoes, shades and shocking blonde hair atop an angular Asian face of ambiguous origin? “Sass.” She says laughing but baring her teeth.
As someone who believes that fashion is a way to express one’s personality without words I asked Nazya what the personality of Stylemeister is and she also responded with one word: “BADASS!” Nazya says she’s very drawn to attitude, those that are unapologetic about being themselves and that, to her, is best described as badass.
Stylemeister will start out with active wear including statement sweatshirts but will branch out into a contemporary line that will juxtapose soft and hard elements like pairing lace or tulle with studs or leather. This, it seems to me, is yet another expression of Nazya’s personality; an alluring Asian beauty, just like my wife, who takes shit from no one, also like my wife!
Stylemeister is still in the early stages so Nazya has to wear many hats including creative director, business development and sales but not design for which she pairs with designers including Cecilia Motwani from Project Runway who is designing Stylemeister’s contemporary line. Design requires as much engineering as artistry to ensure fabrics work together without affecting the movement, for example. Nazya says she has the vision but can’t stitch a thing so works around her limitations by partnering with people with complimentary skill sets, an approach she recommends to artists of all stripes noting, “a lot of creative people, I’ve found, really suck at business. I’m more of a business person who loves fashion so I bring that to the table.”
I should mention that, in addition to running Stylemeister, Nazya has a day job creating conference programmes for the oil and gas industry, which sounds pretty dry compared to fashion but is essential to keep the cash flowing at this early stage and, as she says, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” so it’s pretty handy that she lives in the city that never sleeps. New York, says Nazya, is far and away the biggest influence on her and Stylemeister. She describes NYC as a city that doesn’t care whether you like her or not but, having previously lived in Singapore, Australia and Europe, she admits that it’s the only place she truly feels at home. Regarding her homeland she doesn’t feel that the country she left ten years ago would necessarily have provided the inspiration she needed to create Stylemeister but admits it may’ve changed since then. However, she’s still not sure her red latex jump suit would be well received on Orchard Road!
Trying to turn a profit off creativity is not something everyone is equipped to do, Nazya has admitted that a lot of the creative people she’s met suck at business so she’s partnering with them ensure their creativity, which she so admires, finds a market. One of the ways she does this is through trunk shows hosted four times a year as a platform for designers to promote their brands and sell their samples to a buying audience sourced by Nazya. It’s a networking event too, with food and drinks, where the buyers can get up close with with designers whom they would never normally get to meet. They key to the success of trunk shows are that they are physical events that bring people together in the real world. Nazya says her career in events has proven to her that no matter your presence online there is no replacement for doing business face-to-face. The Internet, she says, is a tool but it’s not the only tool and it certainly doesn’t replace a handshake. All of her designers have their own websites and online stores but they need to employ multiple channels to get their brands out there and the trunk shows are an important one. Stylemeister’s online store will be another. Despite the abundance of online fashion portals Stylemeister will be offering personally curated collections designed and made in the USA as a unique value proposition. Nazya says she also looks for clothes with a story behind them, perhaps a unique production process or design aesthetic.
As a soundcheck starts somewhere in another part of Prospect Park I wrap up the interview by asking Nazya what’s next? She says she wants to grow the trunk shows in to a recognised event that drives business to the online platform, which will deliver the revenue to sustain and grow. Beyond that she wants to be able to fund educational programmes in alliance with women’s groups. She is of Pakistani and Malay descent but has clearly taken a non-traditional path. She’d like to give more women the opportunity to follow their dreams no matter where they come from. This, as well as the cash, would make all the sacrifice worth it.
To find out more about Nazya & Stylemeister check out the links below: