Azra Walji is no stranger to the Kenyan fashion scene. You may know her best from winning the Heineken African Fashion Challenge in 2017, which was closely followed by a show case in Lagos Fashion And Design Week 2017. However, this 28 year old designer already has seven collections to her name. She’s shown at Mozambique Fashion Week 2013 and FAFA 2014, as well as, being nominated for a Kenya fashion award and dressed Miss Universe Kenya for a Gala Show in the Philippines.
Fashion is the only way I can truly express myself in a creative form.
Azra has interestingly built her brand around contrasts. It’s high-end fashion that embraces different colours and fits; but steers clear of outlandish frocks and see-through tops. Azra’s vision is to create sophisticated clothes that are luxurious but wearable, modern but warm, as well as fanciful but pragmatic. Hers is modern storytelling that invites people to try fashion novelty. Azra took some time off from producing her 2019 collection (to be released soon) to answer some TDS quick-fire questions:
Tell us a little about your journey leading up to this moment
My love for art and creative talent started way back from a young age. I would experiment a lot with fabric and textile as a teen, as well as, make myself clothes. In 2008, I headed out to Malaysia to Limkokwing University of Creative and Technology in Malaysia, graduated with degree in Retail and Fashion Design in 2012. ZarAzra, which is a high end prêt-à-porter fashion house, was founded in the same year. Having my name in the brand, where I produce all my creative talent, is not only my dream but an honour to my existence in this lifetime. I specifically create custom made pieces.
Why fashion design?
Fashion is the only way I can truly express myself in a creative form. It lets me release my creative ideas to the universe, it is my passion. I live and breathe fashion!
Why did you decide to go with made-to-measure model?
Choosing custom made is beneficial to me because I like that each one of my pieces are unique in their own way. And most importantly, they fit my client’s personality. Clients firstly come for a consolation session to discuss what they need made, then on to the sketching and designing process where the client pays for the sketched design. From there, 70 percent of payment is made before the creation process begins. Clients are only required to come for one fitting and final pick of the garment. The final payment is made after the client is satisfied with the fit and overall look.
In an earlier interview, you mentioned that you make all the pieces yourself. Plans to expand?
I do all my work on my own because I believe that all my pieces need to be perfect and meet international standards. I would love to expand my team later on but I strongly feel that I would need to train them to international standards and to the level of professionalism ZarAzra provides.
What sets the ZarAzra apart from other fashion houses on the continent?
ZarAzra has an out of the box style with art & crafts techniques, as well as, lots of intricate and detailed fabric manipulation. Each design has a story to tell.
You’re so young yet you’ve already shown on quite a few runways. Biggest lesson from the runway?
Showcasing in international shows has made me believe strongly in being unique and different from other designers to make a powerful impact.
What was your experience with the Heineken challenge?
I learned so much from other creatives around me. For example, while in Amsterdam, I learnt the art of manufacturing my prints on fabric; from sketching, to computer and finally printing. Also, being able to create my own shoe design was defiantly a new experience. It also pushed my talent so that I could represent Kenya at LFDW2017 (Lagos Fashion & Design Week), in collaboration with Heineken, to the best of my ability.
What stood out for you at LFDW2017?
Generally, Lagos is very fashion forward. They have actually modernized their designs but still incorporate their roots, cultures, art and crafts. Just being able to showcase alongside some of these top designers in Africa really gave me a lot of my creative self-awareness and confidence in my passion.
How does it impact your brand having a sibling who is well known in the industry?
To be honest, this does not affect my brand in any negative way because we are two different creative beings with very diverse creativity. He’s more into the elegance and glam while I’m more the girly, structured and futuristic looks.
How has your brand evolved since you launched?
Throughout the years, ZarAzra has grown in terms of the concepts behind the collections. It has also narrowed down to focus more on high-end designs; which has been a bonus because not many brands in Kenya offer elegance.