Threading countless references to Pakistani culture and heritage through each design, Rastah has grown to become a brand laden with intricate connections to the community and customs upon which the brand values were built. Through the adoption of rich colour palettes and the incorporation of traditional techniques with fresh, revised twists, Rastah’s artistry is undeniably infused with their story-driven approach to design, constantly seeking to spotlight Pakistani heritage whilst developing a unique reworking of classic craftsmanship.
In the process, the brand platforms social commentary within their work, imbuing pieces with political messages that call attention to the void of accurate representation of the South Asian experience in the West and the need for sustained cultural identity within creative spaces, particularly in the world of fashion.
Let’s start with your beginnings – what led you to the realm of fashion?
My journey into fashion was driven by creativity and a desire to highlight Pakistan's overlooked role in the global fashion scene. Inspired by our rich heritage and craftsmanship, I saw an opportunity to tell our stories through fashion. For me, it's about connecting people with the beauty of Pakistani culture and craftsmanship through each piece I design.
I understand that you’re all based out of Lahore, Pakistan, and also grew up in London, Toronto, and Vancouver. How does the fusion of these backdrops serve to influence your approach to styling and design?
Growing up in diverse cities like London, Toronto, and Vancouver, I developed a deep appreciation for the interconnectedness of people and the unique stories that shape our identities. This multicultural exposure has greatly influenced my design ethos, leading me to deeply value my own Pakistani heritage. In my designs, I strive to create a rich tapestry of textures, colours, and patterns, reflecting a fusion of global influences and the layered narrative of my experiences.
Can you tell us the story behind the brand name?
The brand name Rastah has a humorous yet meaningful origin. It reflects my personal journey of rebellion and determination. In Urdu, Rastah means path or journey. This name is symbolic of my decision to forge my own path in the fashion world, defying traditional expectations and pursuing my passion despite the perceived risks.
You’re no stranger to experimenting with colour-rich prints and embroideries in your designs, often contrasting vibrant patterns to produce effects rich with character that immediately draw the eye. How do you decide upon a colour and or pattern for a piece?
My design process is instinctual and story-driven. It begins with writing out the collection as a narrative, from which we derive the emotive elements, including the colour palette. The choice of colours and patterns is about capturing the right feeling rather than overthinking or excessive editing. It's about trusting my instincts to create designs that resonate and feel authentic.
You’ve stated that you “flirt with tradition but reject nostalgia.” I like this notion a lot, in which your collections serve to celebrate the current whilst honouring cultural and artistic customs. How do you propel your approach into the present whilst maintaining the core that underpins the brand’s ethos?
Our approach is a delicate balance between respecting our roots and forging ahead with innovation. We draw wisdom from traditional techniques, using them as a foundation, but we're always pushing towards a future filled with new ideas and excitement. This is evident in how we use conventional methods in unconventional ways, like applying traditional bridal embroidery techniques to craft abstract, distorted patterns instead of the typical clean florals. It's about honouring our heritage while continuously evolving and reinventing.
Rastah also infuses political statements into its artistry, such as through the feature of an SSSS Boarding Pass badge on a hoodie, symbolic of the supposedly random screening selection process that occurs in airports, that’s all too often motivated by race. How do you interpret streetwear, and fashion at large, as a vehicle to address political messages?
Fashion, particularly streetwear, is more than just a creative outlet for me. As a minority designer and person of colour, I see it as a platform to voice important political messages and address societal taboos. The South Asian experience in the West, often overlooked or misrepresented in mainstream media, needs authentic representation. By incorporating political elements into our designs, like the SSSS Boarding Pass badge, we're taking the opportunity to tell our own stories and highlight issues that resonate with our community. It's about using fashion as a tool for social commentary and change.
Let’s discuss this year’s September capsule – what was the vision for this collection?
The Reclaiming Raj collection for our September capsule, celebrating our 5-year anniversary, delves into the complex history of the Subcontinent’s relationship with the British Raj. It's an exploration and critique of the colonial exploitation that stripped much of our cultural wealth. This collection is about repossessing the narrative and showcasing the rich heritage of the Subcontinent.
Emphasising traditional craftsmanship, many pieces are hand-embroidered, taking 30-40 days to complete, all meticulously crafted in our Lahore studio. This collection merges western silhouettes with our traditional techniques, symbolising both a reclamation of our narrative and a reshaping of fashion dynamics.
At its heart, Reclaiming Raj is a personal reflection on post-colonial identity and the lingering effects of racism. It challenges the idealisation of the West and the resulting cultural identity loss in the Subcontinent. This collection is a call to celebrate our rich legacy, embracing and honouring our intrinsic identity.
Who would you like to see most in your pieces?
Drake and Shah Rukh Khan!
Finally, what’s next for you as a brand?
Retail stores hopefully and maybe a footwear collab if it's meant to be!