Electric Bazaar is a young fashion brand, operating primarily online with a distinctive personal ethos. Founded by close friends, Alicya Mamo and Shamima Khonat, the design platform is dedicated to creating beautiful, singular pieces that deeply honour South Asian heritage.
Indeed, from their jewellery to the clothing, what strikes you most is the brand’s stunning authenticity. This is literally sewn into the fundamental fabric of the fashion. “We give talented artisans from South Asia the due credit,” Alicya told us. “It’s common to have your clothes tailored in that part of the world, and we wanted to give the many female workers who work in handicrafts the good pay their skills deserve.”
Designing the products, the diligent duo work with craftspeople “on the ground” in India and Pakistan to produce “in-house, limited-edition pieces” which “revive the wonderful traditional crafts” of the subcontinent while respecting the regions too. This at once combats the harmful culture of fast fashion, which erodes the environment through intensive manufacturing and plastic waste to name but a few adverse processes. Almost as if an homage to nature then, Electric Bazaar’s style is constituted of precise shapes, simple yet arresting designs, and a range of rich and pastel colours.
“Shamima and I started the business after we met at university,” Alicya elaborated. “We were both Hijabi-wearing Asian women who loved incorporating our heritage into outfits e.g. I might pair jeans and a t-shirt with a cultural statement necklace. Shamima’s family is from India while mine hails from Pakistan. We’d both enjoy the excellent textile work of the local artisans when visiting our home countries, and enjoyed displaying them. We soon had people telling us how much they loved the looks, and we’ve grown naturally from there! We have a recreational passion for design, especially when it allows us to express the full extent of a colourful identity.”
Alicya shared some of her favourite conventional touches: “in terms of design, I love block-printed fabrics: indigos, blues and olives. The ‘Meenakari’ jewellery with intricate patterns is beautiful as well. I love antique mirror work where using real mirrors is rare: you’ll get a lot of plastic sheets being used rather than the real thing. I love the heavier embroidery work for clothes which you can see in our ‘Kuchi’ collection. You can really get a sense of genuine Afghan style where the patchwork is clear.” However, while Electric Bazaar consummately brings nostalgic fashion to the fore, the brand is also defined by an organic modern spin.
Alicya explained the importance of adapting the original products according to a changing international context. “Colours that might go well together and work in vibrant, tropically orientated South Asian culture might seem too bold when it comes to the West. For us, the brand means taking traditional elements and preserving their impact. We might choose subtler colours that work for the weather and social style of Britain. We also make simple statements with our designs rather than trying to include a multitude of detail, which can overwhelm a piece. We’ll still use traditional fabrics which are hand-woven and dyed and very good quality. Finally, we try to make the fashion timeless. Our collections do appear classic.”
Created in 2017, Electric Bazaar enjoyed its first big fashion show at the prestigious Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. “It was such an honour,” Alicya beamed. “We were invited to showcase our clothes and jewellery, and received free creative reign. The pieces we chose were shown on the runway, and we were able to do our own styling and pick the models too. The biggest highlight was seeing the mixed audience we drew! There weren’t just Muslims or Asians coming up to our stall afterwards, but people of all ethnicities and cultures.”
Here, the fashion brand’s lynchpin of Modest Fashion has been central to their success. “It’s a concept that’s trendy at the moment, but simple, humble fashion has existed in the world for ages – women have been dressing in their own modest fashions for centuries. Our take on it simply speaks to our religion as well as our ethnic backgrounds. We saw a gap in contemporary modest fashion in that multicultural respect.” However, while Electric Bazaar’s designs may be renditions of an eternal approach, the modest lifestyle Alicya and Shamima channel brings a new professional angle. “We are explicitly anti-exploitation, from the way we treat our workers to the planet and everyone around us. This pure philosophy is what underlies every unique design.” Indeed, big fashion houses might showcase catalogues of elegant, respectable fashions but still hypocritically operate in an unequal, decadent manner. In fact, Electric Bazaar conversely goes so far as to support their artisan women through socially conscious enterprises such as their excellent Sewing Machine Project.
“This aims to empower women from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab regions in Pakistan to earn a living from home by starting up their own self-sustaining tailoring business. This allows them to support their family by making garments, doing embroidery work, repairs and alterations.” And so, staying loyal firstly to themselves, Electric Bazaar not only emerges a contending fashion brand, but also remodels the very industry through which it is breaking. They go further than reviving an underrepresented culture to establishing it as a strong cornerstone of a more refined future. “Everyone has their own perspective to give. A society thrives when it celebrates these inner differences. Ridiculous competition only forfeits great talent.”
What are your plans for the future?
We’re enjoying the steady growth. However, it would be good to increase the network of independent artisans we have on ‘the ground’. We’d also love to create shared female working spaces in Pakistan and India, outside of the home to encourage the women who work with their fingers to appreciate their independence in the public sphere.
You and your co-founder Shamima seem to have a strong female friendship. Does Electric Bazaar promote this idea too?
Definitely – if it wasn’t for our friendship, we wouldn’t have the brand. Obviously, you do get competition among friends, but if you’re both confident in yourselves, I think that helps. It’s why there are a lot of businesses started by men together – I don’t think low self-esteem is as much of an issue.
Also, having a like-minded friendship is great! Shamima and I do not argue and a have a similar peaceful approach to problem-solving.
What are some tips you can give to other young women who might be considering a start-up business?
If you have an idea you believe in - go for it. Every business has a risk, but if you really want it you must do it. You don’t even need a lot of start-up money, and don’t underestimate the power of close friends and community in helping you at the start.
You don’t need to be particularly well-versed in business either! You can pick up skills, and also tap into some undiscovered talents of your own along the way. A business has so many facets to it, from the ideas to the practical, and you need to give the whole of you. You might need to take on the role of photographer, or improve your communication skills, for example. Finally, don’t be disheartened in the early stages. Patience is key.
“Women have been dressing in their own modest fashions for centuries.”