It’s been a tough journey on the road to success for designer FeehaJamshed, but resilience resonates from every word coming out of her mouth as she speaks to Instep about going through hell and coming back stronger than ever before.
What is workaholism? Simply put, all work and no play. And with yards of fabric lying around her on the sofa, meticulous illustrations on one end and a notepad brimming with colourful post-its on the other, even as workers gather around listening attentively to the hyperactive instructions given out, designer Feeha Jamshed is the epitome of workaholism – but not in a soul-wrenching, tragic way. Rather, in an enjoyable, inspiring one.
Years ago, however, the situation was a lot different. Come what may, Feeha always managed to add a fair share of fun to her demanding work life. After starting her career with Pakistan’s first-ever ‘awami’ brand, her father’s Teejays, she quickly progressed into launching her own signature label FJ Mass that piqued fashionistas’ interest, selling out almost instantaneously. She soared at twice the pace of designers her age, having a maturity level far beyond theirs, yet at the same time she was fashion’s wild child; a stunner on the red carpet and a regular at the city’s IT parties.
How did such a young, bright spark turn into a self-confessed ‘recluse’ just three years down the line? “That was back then. If you ask me now, I have become a recluse because I was having issues with my physical health which is why I wasn’t going to a lot of places,” revealed Feeha. “I was prescribed bed rest and for four months I was running from one doctor to another not understanding what I have; the doctors couldn’t understand what I had either. The reports came out normal yet I was experiencing excruciating pain. I was eventually diagnosed with arthritis and not many people knew about this in the fashion fraternity, except, of course, my close friend KamiarRokni. And there was a time when Khadija Shah saw me on a wheelchair at Dolmen.”
At a crucial point in her career when she was just becoming a force to be reckoned with among peers and critics alike, Feeha was diagnosed with chronic trigeminal neuralgia. Even for a passionate, driven soul like hers, that meant taking an unprecedented break and “becoming vulnerable”. While competition grew and new designers started exploiting retail opportunities to their advantage, Feeha had to keep her fashion dreams on the backburner. “The trigeminal nerve in my brain would just send these pain signals to the level that it felt like somebody was stabbing me 20 times a second. I was on heavy medication and my mobility got affected. There were days I just couldn’t walk but I would still try to stay in touch with my team,” Feeha shared of her trials and tribulations.
It would be easy, even understandable, to simply lose heart and resort to self-pity under such circumstances but Feeha isn’t one to deter easily. She insists that even though she is being touted as having made a comeback, she never left the fashion scene in the first place. “I only took a back seat on the surface of fashion. I just don’t do fashion events anymore but I was expanding internally. We were working really hard to set up our first store and were busy last year with movies. So we had a lot on our plate,” she asserted.
Still, as the saying goes, out of sight is out of mind. Feeha had faded away from the limelight, only recurring in glimpses of BFF Mahira Khan’s style-savvy wardrobe. But now, after immense willpower and a handful of limps here and there, the 31-year-old is back on her feet for the world to see. The designer recently opened her first flagship store in the alleyway next to Karachi’s newest hip eatery, Mews. Minimalist, sleek and contemporary, the FJ logo on the window screen, in form of abstract artwork, works as the perfect aesthetic seal of approval to the store. Once inside, you’ll find racks full of delectable prêt wear synonymous with high fashion. Replete with elephant-printed sarees, intricately-detailed tunics for all occasions, and formal wear with a strong focus on cuts, the store is a fashionista’s haven.
However, despite being a sight for fashion lovers and a much overdue treat for FJ loyalists, it goes without saying that Feeha has joined the retail game quite late – at a time when her contemporaries have expanded across the country, and some even across borders, and are now tapping into other potential business avenues. With regular showings at fashion weeks within and outside of the country, lawn collaborations and RTW stores across luxury malls, designers of her caliber and age have already developed a strong foothold in the consumer market. Feeha remains indifferent.
“I take my time,” she clarified. “I believe in the tortoise story of slow and steady wins the race rather than just doing things in a very fluffy, fast manner. If it isn’t out there, doesn’t mean I am not doing anything. In fact, I was doing a lot of work last year but nobody knew that because perhaps people were too busy to ask and that’s ok.”
“The issue is that people in Pakistan have an ADD problem. If you are there at every fashion event and you are thriving then people would say ‘oh you’re soaring’. If you are not, then you are nowhere to be found. No journalist called me to ask what I was doing, it was only when the news got out about my store that people starting calling in. My sister passed away, my father had liver failure and was literally on his death bed and at that time I simply chose family over work,” she continued. “As for fashion weeks, I remember telling a journalist that the day you see there is a lot of ‘inspiration’ happening on the runway, you’ll know why I am not taking part because being an original designer, you cannot partake in four different fashion weeks in a year. It used to drive me insane looking at the runway where one could only see one copy after another. You can’t call yourself a designer if you copy others’ stuff. I am a very organic person and I like to do things very ethically. It’s very easy for me to copy something by simply opening a book or scouring over social media and tweaking things but I don’t because then I’ll lose my right of calling myself a designer; then I am just a businesswoman.”
Feeha is indeed an original, innovative designer. Her past fashion week offerings garnered her many an admirer of her slick tailoring and creative vision. Once such person is best friend and actress Mahira Khan, who has become a public muse for the FJ label, but at her own discretion. “I am not the kind of designer who would ask somebody to wear me. Mahira comes to me when she wants something out of my label just like she would go to Elan when she wants to wear their outfit,” said Feeha. “However, yes Mahira does represent the Feeha Jamshed woman – a woman who just walks in her own tune; there will be a rat-race on the road in front of her but she’ll take the curb. She is different from the rest. And Mahira is that. She is very chilled with her life and very self-assured.”
It is no wonder then that Feeha was also roped in to do Mahira’s entire wardrobe for her upcoming film Ho Mann Jahan. Post all the hardships and now very much in the game with a flagship store, an expanding bridal line and movies, the million dollar question remains if Feeha will be able to sustain it. Retail is a brutal business, one that requires consistency and rolling volumes of innovative designs but with her health still in the recovery stage, does Feeha have her back covered?
“We have a strong team in place. We have already made samples for our second injection from December to March, so we’ve really done our homework,” Feeha asserted. “Of course you don’t have control over unpredictable issues, such as a textile mill not printing your designs on time, which is what happened at the time of our launch. At the day of our launch, we received only half of our stuff from the textile factory. So these are things that may at times pull us back but in terms of designs and sampling, we are way ahead of our schedule. We are well aware that in retail you are required to offer new designs every 2 to 3 weeks and we are pretty much covered on that.”
There is no doubt that Feeha is a gifted designer. While she may not the most exuberant saleswoman, she is empowered, independent and a bit spiky too. She is direct and one shouldn’t expect too much sweetness out of her. Despite life’s constant ups and downs, her guilty pleasure remains her work and her passion to design. For now, the growth of her store will determine her fate in fashion until next year when she is game to take on the runway with her fresh perspective.