‘If you want to stand out, be yourself and own it’: New York fashion designer Aysha Saeed

Aysha NY founder talks about emigrating to the US, design influences, the importance of personal style and building her own label
Saeed Headshot

Saeed left a corporate finance job to become a fashion designer

Aysha Saeed is the CEO and creative director of AYSHA NY, an ethical, sustainable luxury women’s fashion lifestyle brand. She spoke on the New Luxury panel at the Luxury Law Summit New York in 2023.

You were 12 years old when you emigrated from Pakistan to the United States. What was that like? 

The teen years are hard for everyone but mine was especially challenging. I was trying to fit into the American culture and also dealing with English as my second language. Making friends was a challenge and on top of everything, my parents were so strict. I was barely allowed to go out with the one or two friends I did manage to make. So I turned to fashion and style to comfort me and keep me busy. I created a plan in my head that I would become the best dressed girl in my class. Little did I know, even at such a young age, that I was creating an identity for myself by using my wardrobe. I got a part-time job and used that money to buy really well-made clothes. Then I noticed I started to get compliments and these compliments made me feel good. Feeling good boosted my confidence. To this day, I use fashion as a way to boost my confidence and bring sheer joy into my life. 

Why did your family move to the United States?

My family moved to the United States because my parents wanted us to have limitless opportunities and access to quality education. They taught us that we had to work hard to take advantage of these opportunities. Looking back, I truly feel that being an immigrant was an advantage because I didn’t take anything for granted, and still don’t.

You didn’t begin your career in fashion. How did you get your start?

That is correct. I started my career in the corporate finance world and did quite well. From the surface, everything was working out well and I looked happy. But how I felt deep inside was a different story. I felt I was not giving my job everything I had and I was losing interest in the work. So I started to ask myself “What do you really want to do?” Fashion always had a very special space in my heart since I was a little girl. So I made a bold decision that I wanted to pursue a career in the fashion industry.  

I had a wonderful boss and I confided in her that I wanted to switch careers and find a way to get into the fashion industry. To my surprise, she was very supportive and told me she was not surprised by my decision. So with these words of encouragement, I gathered my belongings and resigned and I knew I would find a way to get into the fashion industry.  

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to change careers?

You have to be authentic with yourself. It can’t be fame or fortune that moves you. When you are on a journey to find your true north, then you are on the right path.

How did you begin to build your fashion business?

I loved Italian fashion brands, so I knew I wanted to embark on this journey by learning from these brands. I created a portfolio of really beautiful hand embroideries and luxury fabric sourced from India and Pakistan. I presented my design portfolio to various high-end brands in Italy. I traveled from the north of Italy to the south, showing my works. After much hard work and dedication, I had the great privilege to work with the design team at Dolce & Gabbana. Some of the embroidery styles I designed for them ended up in their runway show. I was so proud of that. I also started to market my embroidery designs to brands in Paris and ended up working with Dior. That was truly a dream come true. I can honestly say, it was these two design houses that provided me with the education and the foundation for the fashion world.

Why do you think these brands wanted to work with you? How did you stand out from others? 

Well, early on I decided I needed to bring something fresh and unique to the table. So I looked at my heritage when I was creating a design portfolio. As you know, I grew up in Pakistan. Women there always wear hand-embroidered garments, especially for special occasions. I worked with local artisans in Pakistan and India to create the intricate embroidery designs that I saw growing up. I also used colours and materials in a way these brands were not used to seeing. Living in New York, I was able to add that culture and sophistication to my design work. Mixing all these various cultures – I guess you can say made me stand out.  

Why did you start your own brand? 

When I worked with brands in Europe, I learned so much. Not only style and design but I also learned about production quality, fabric and fit. So I felt the need to take all these lessons learned and apply them to my own design under my brand. Of course, embarking on this type of a journey is easier said than done. AYSHA NY is the brand I created and it’s infused with tremendous passion and hard work. 

Beyond your experiences in Europe, what other influences did you have?

My mother taught me to be kind, charitable and generous. My father taught me to be a dreamer, to make big plans. So definitely both have influenced me a lot and these influences are visible in AYSHA NY. I also find tremendous inspiration in strong women like Coco Chanel. She built a brand that has lasted almost a century and has not lost its DNA.   

Describe your brand today?

Clothes can provide confidence and I believe it’s important for a woman to use clothing as a marketing tool and a way to define her personal brand. Each style in my collection is designed for women who want to elevate their wardrobe to express both their achievements and individuality. You make a statement when you wear AYSHA NY.

My primary market is Gen X women – who earn their own money, are smart, well-educated and well-travelled. They are leaders in their own right. They have a message to share and goals to achieve. At the same time, they are kind and giving women – that’s really important to my brand. 

How do you approach design? 

I always try to design each style so it has multiple uses. For example our flowy pant is very elegant and made in crepe-like fabric. It can be worn very dressy or casual. It’s about how you style it and what accessories you use. There are hidden details such as two-inch elastic on the side of the waistband. This little detail truly changes the fit of the pants. How a garment fits a woman’s body is very important to me. At the end of the day, I need to design clothing that women will want to wear. It can’t be the only clothing I want to wear. AYSHA NY is all about the end consumer. 

What is your favourite thing to wear?

I like layering, maybe a dress with a blazer or pants with a nice tank and a cropped blousette over it. I like the option of taking a layer off if needed. Also, when you wear multiple items, it shows the depth of your personality. I also like styles that have a bit of wow factor. I don’t like to blend in.

What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?

Don’t hide behind your brand. Own it. Use your name for the brand. Believe it or not, I’m a bit shy so at first I hesitated to call my brand Aysha. But over time I came to learn that the more I infused myself into the brand, the more authentic it looked and felt. Because people can easily copy your style and patterns but they can’t copy the person behind the brand. So if you want to stand out, be yourself and own it. 

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