In a conversation, Khan N Moushumi, the founder and designer of MAE Luxepret, elaborates on her entrepreneurial journey, the importance of preserving local craftsmanship and the future of her brand
How would you define fashion? What does it mean to you?
Fashion to me is a form of creative and artistic expression. It goes beyond what we wear. It’s an extension of our personality, something that lets us discover who we are and express it to the world.
What inspired you to be a fashion entrepreneur, and how did MAE come to be?
I have always loved the process of putting a piece together. I enjoy the play of colours and patterns and how they come together to form a cohesive message in the shape of an article of clothing. I started making festive pieces for myself when I was a ninth grader, and over the years, I’ve had people asking me to design outfits for them. It was a natural progression to go on to have my own label, and in 2019-2020 I put a collection together and launched the first line for MAE Luxepret.
We do a lot of festive wear – that’s where our strength lies. We started experimenting with and testing out the raw materials that we were using for our collections. Our studio has been transformed into a small lab over the last few months, where we are constantly testing out fabrics, beads, stones and every single material that goes into making our couture pieces – just to ensure that everything that comes out of the label is of premium quality. Lately, we have been experimenting with many new cuts and silhouettes, and I can’t wait to see where all this takes MAE next.
How important is preserving the country’s local craftsmanship, and how can designers such as yourself make a positive impact?
Traditional handcrafting techniques such as aari, zari, gota patti, zardosi, sitara, cutdana and so on were passed down from one generation to another in South Asia. As everything became increasingly commercialised, these techniques were lost to mass-producing machines. However, there is an old-world charm about handcrafted and handwoven clothing articles; no machine can achieve that look of intricacy. It also gives us designers the freedom to explore new territories when it comes to creative work.
I have always felt resistance in our industry to go outside the boundaries of the mundane silhouettes and patterns of clothing articles that I feel have been done to death. There are always debates about keeping the tradition intact. However, suppose you are not breaking out of the mundane silhouettes and patterns and incorporating these traditional techniques into your design in a contemporary manner that will speak to the generations to come. In that case, you are letting the craft die.
While we work on our angles to keep these age-old crafts, our main issue is the artisans. Over the years, many of our local artisans have left the industry to pursue a living – because their artistry isn’t valued, and they don’t make enough to fend for themselves and their families. It’s unfortunate how many artisans we have lost over the last few decades. Textile art as we know it will soon start to look different, with exclusivity and creativity taking a back seat and mass-produced clothing articles flooding the fashion scene.
We can start building towards sustainability by nurturing our local artisans still working in the industry. It can be achieved by eliminating any intermediary between entrepreneurs and artisans.
At the same time, we must be willing to increase their wages even if it implies compromising our profit margins. Once they see artistry as a solid option to make a living, they will only feel the need to or will want to teach these crafting techniques to their children, thus passing it down to the next generation. We have to consider long-term benefits rather than worrying about making a quick profit. Groups of designers can come together to initiate and conduct a workshop or a programme where our local artisans teach aspirant karigors these age-old handcrafting techniques. The idea is to keep the art alive and not let it slip over time.
What is your vision for MAE in five years?
The vision for MAE is to craft unique pieces using premium materials that can be preserved for years to come. We don’t make articles just to be worn only once and then stored away. We strive to make pieces that are meant to be worn over and over again – something timeless and distinctive, as well as conscious and meaningful.
The larger vision for the brand is to build a network of fine artisans whose work would help uphold the traditions and culture of Bangladesh, not just to us, but also to the rest of the world.
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