Business savvy, creative and driven - the co-founders of the premium, sustainable clothing designer brand House of Ahmed recently launched a Creative Lounge.
It is their very own co-design studio where, "People can come and co-design, see samples, come with their references, their budget and their time and we are ready to give them an excellent experience," said Ahmed Tuhin Reza, one of the co-founders.
House of Ahmed, or HoA in short, began operating commercially full-fledged from 4 April, 2019.
"The purpose that fuels this brand is the desire to take the magic of Bangladeshi artisans and the label Made in Bangladesh to the global platform," Tanzila Elma, another co-founder shared.
Their logo representing the waterlily – the country's national flower – is a testament to their commitment to being a homegrown internationally known high-end, festive wear brand.
A bespoke customised experience for customers
A runway show was arranged to launch the Creative Lounge where model Tanzia Mithila walked in a handloom Mirpur katan shari with zardosi work.
"This product comes in a Tk 5 lakh to Tk 6 lakh package. People are ready to spend this money and appreciate this option being available within the Bangladeshi market," said Elma.
For the Creative Lounge launch runway, a total of 20 outfits were showcased – 10 for women and 10 for men. For women, they had traditional Mirpur banarasi and katan embellished with zardosi.
The bridal dupattas were made using muslin, and the hand printed sharis were made using organza. Raw silk was used to make the lehengas.
The materials used were mainly muslin, raw silk, Mirpur banarasi and katan and organza. The designs were made with cut works, zardosi, embroidery, hand paint and glass work.
The last wedding season was a booming success for House of Ahmed. Since customers could not go abroad due to Covid-19, they started gravitating to the high-end festive-wear brand to supplement their event wear.
"After the response we saw, we realised now we can buckle up and go for expansion and get ready for the next level," said Ahmed.
This was also the time when Elma suggested they should go for their store that should have an absolutely bespoke customisation section. Even internationally there is little scope for co-designing, so they decided to provide this opportunity for customers.
Finding the gap in the Bangladeshi niche-market
Before starting House of Ahmed, Elma and Ahmed realised the need to create a premium ethnic Bangali fashion house with everything proudly made in Bangladesh. They witnessed how a large number of Bangladeshi customers always shopped from luxury boutiques in India.
Both business graduates - Ahmed from Brac University and Elma from North South University - they have always had the entrepreneurial spirit. Previously, Elma used to run a boutique called Elmas.
Combining their affinity for commerce and creativity, the duo found themselves in a partnership with Apex where Elma designed beautiful clutch bags.
Following that they received a consignment of Tk15 lakh from Nino Rossi to design bags and they sold 10,000 pieces. It was clear the pair have an unquestionable flare for commercial success through their instinct to design and get into the details.
Ahmed said, "When Elma and I look at the clothes market, we get inside the mechanism and science and how these clothes are being made."
The Creative Lounge at House of Ahmed is set to integrate customers into the intricacy of the design process and make them a part of the design journey.
The brand strives to provide their customers with a high quality experience. They ensure the fabrics too are of high quality and suited to the consumer.
Furthermore, the co-founders wanted to ensure they were still uplifting their craftspeople by not just providing a safe space for them but also pushing their creative bounds to make ethnic wear that could compete in the global market.
Shining the light on local artisans
Consumers see and appreciate the final product on the shelf, especially the handwoven embroidery crafted by local artisans on ethnic wears like kameez suits and sharis. But rarely do customers get to go behind the scene and learn and experience the intricacies of the design work itself.
During our discussion, Elma also mentioned Bangladeshi craftspeople and the importance of preserving the fading artisanal craftsmanship our country has to offer.
It was more important to her to create products that were authentically of Bangladeshi origin and made people buy them from here rather than travel to India for special occasions such as weddings.
Through the Creative Lounge, customers will be able to glean the artistry our local artisans have mastered and passed down over generations. Elma also explained how they built up their team of 200 local artisans.
"We looked for some senior craftspeople who have 20 to 30 years of experience and then we onboarded them. These karigors have leaders, so we onboarded the leaders first and gradually we built up the team," she said.
Each craftsman has her or his own style. At House of Ahmed, they are trained through various creativity contests where they are asked to make designs using various materials.
They further incentivised the artisans by announcing a prize money for three best designs. This helped the artisans think outside the box and allowed them to expand their skill set and repertoire.
"Suppose a person is skilled 6 out of 10. It is our responsibility to ensure their skill level goes up to 9 out of 10," said Ahmed.
Elma urged whether people visit the store to purchase one of their bespoke outfits or not, they should come to the store to get an experience and feel of what Bangladeshi artisans can make with their hands.
Ahmed and Elma ensure the work environment fosters creativity and keeps the artisans motivated and interested.
Elma explained, "Since most of the work our artisans do is hand based and they work on the floors, we have made the floor out of wood. The artisans have their own paintings with their signatures hanging on the walls."
Every season, HoA centres their designs on a theme and they train the artisans on that particular theme. The artisans are shown samples so they can have a practical experience, after which they learn the process and way the design needs to be created.
It also allows them to come up with ways to create the designs with the materials available in Bangladesh. They can adapt accordingly.
Elma's leadership has a nurturing and encouraging element. She has a compassionate and affectionate approach. The efforts the brand makes towards their artisans allows them to keep their retention high. They are also the highest payers in the market.
Ahmed believes it is the artisans and their craftsmanship that have allowed the brand to transpire and thrive.
House of Ahmed is rivalling high-end, designer traditional wear in the subcontinent and the home grown brand has earned the trust of the niche-market they cater to. The clothing designer brand is also on a mission to strengthen the training efforts for improving artisan skills.