Sustainability in Stitches

Designer Imam Hassan talks about his fashion inspirations, design philosophy and the importance of sustainability in his collections

Imam Hassan is a name to watch out for in Bangladesh’s fashion scene. His designs focus on ethical fashion, employing handcraft and fine embroidery, and empowering marginalised Bangladeshi artisans, especially women. His own signature label and collaboration with Friendship NGO reflect his commitment to sustainability and social responsibility in the industry.

What does fashion mean to you? What inspired you to pursue a career in this industry?

For me, fashion is deeply rooted in personal comfort and individual style.

Since childhood, I have been fascinated by the art of personalising my outfits, driven by an innate love for customisation. The hand stitches, unique embroideries, patterns, and personal modifications on the attires worn by family members sparked an interest that would shape my career. It was the idea of transforming my persona into fabric and allowing the world to witness this physical manifestation, that ultimately led me to the fashion industry. In 2008, I chanced upon a job opportunity at Bibiana, a leading fashion house, to work under Lipi Khandker’s mentorship. She was a guiding light in my journey even before my university education commenced. It was then that I realised fashion was my destiny.

What is your design philosophy, and how do you ensure it is reflected in your collections? 

My design philosophy is deeply rooted in the rustic charm and soothing colours of rural Bangladesh, drawn from my childhood spent in my maternal grandfather’s village. The local craftsmanship, earthy roads, diverse greenery, and traditional embroideries instilled in me an appreciation for comfort, practicality, and stories that every stitch can tell. Inspired by the villagers’ adaptability and the natural hues of water bodies with variations in colours due to mosses and hyacinths, as well as the calming landscapes, my designs revolve around earthy tones, echoing the raw essence of the countryside.

In 2015, I channelled my concern for the environment into my Graduation Collection, a series of six looks focusing on fashion’s environmental impact. The world was just beginning to acknowledge the fashion industry’s environmental consequences, and this resonated with my ideals of local craftsmanship in harmony with nature. My journey took a fortuitous turn when I was introduced to Friendship Colours of the Chars. Still in its early stages, the brand’s mission to empower the women of the chars through sustainable fashion struck a chord with me. Influenced by Runa Khan’s vision, I joined the team in 2018, and together, we successfully carried out two standalone slow fashion runway shows, in 2021 and 2022. It is here that I had the unique opportunity to engage with the entire fabric production process, from yarn to outfits.

In 2023, I debuted at the Bangladesh Fashion Week as a member of the Bangladesh Fashion Council. My first collection, Salvaging Art, delved into the richness of natural dyes across a spectrum of natural fabrics, textures, and cuts. It was a great privilege to to walk along with mentors designers such as Maheen Khan and Shaibal Saha.The hand-stitching and patchwork mirrored our environmental impact, serving as a reminder of the damage inflicted on our environment.

My vision is to encapsulate the essence of deshi fashion within the people of Bangladesh and introduce our unique fabric, culture, and heritage to the world. I aim to blend these traditional elements with modern trends, all the while placing a strong emphasis on using homegrown materials and promoting sustainability. Handmade materials are at the core of my work. I find great inspiration in Coco Chanel’s work, who revolutionised fashion with her modern cuts and others that broke away from restrictive societal norms. In addition, Chandra Shekhar Shaha has been my beacon of guidance throughout.

Please tell us about your latest collection and the inspiration behind it.

My most recent ready-to-wear summer resort collection, Dot Genesis, is a transformative blend of fashion and sustainability, taking inspiration from the limitless potential of a simple dot. It merges enduring Asian aesthetics with contemporary retro vibes, further enhanced by the iconic artistry of Yayoi Kusama. More than just a collection, it is a sustainable fashion movement, manifesting the principles of zero waste in kimono-inspired designs, tailor-made for the younger generation.

The collection champions unisex, low-waste, and zero-waste patterns while utilising sustainable cotton fabrics. Its liberating cuts and breathable cotton materials are perfect for Dhaka’s weather. Comprising a diverse range of both modest and risqué pieces, it mirrors the eclectic nature of Dhaka city. Seamlessly integrated into everyday style, Dot Genesis offers fresh perspectives with its innovative motifs and prints, all set to illuminate, instigate change, and steer a sustainable, conscious, fashion-forward revolution.

Are there any specific sustainable practices or materials you prioritise in your process?

Sustainability is the cornerstone of my design ethos. I prioritise the use of sustainable and homegrown materials such as cotton, silks, and handlooms in my designs. Ethical sourcing and reducing fabric wastage are at the heart of my sustainability commitment. Further echoing my eco-conscious approach, I design pieces that are versatile and can be interchangeably worn as part of a wardrobe or capsule collection. The idea is to create both-side wearable attire that not only provides different looks but also maximises usage, thus minimising the environmental impact.

My collections promote zero-waste and low-waste patterns, illustrating that fashion can be both innovative and responsible. This journey towards sustainability in fashion is not just a commitment but a revolution I am proud to be a part of.

Photographs: Farabi Tamal