Nazila Sawhney discovered fashion design later in life.
She left Afghanistan for Canada after she finished her education in finance and worked in the field, even winning a few awards.
“When my daughter was born, work became difficult," she says. "Following a break, I looked for an alternative way to have a balanced and fulfilling career."
That was in 2006. In the absence of the internet, Sawhney studied fashion magazines for inspiration and style.
"I lived in India for [some time] and admired how effortlessly lovely everyone looked," she recalls. "Regardless of status or a sense of awareness, people looked so beautifully eccentric with a nomadic, natural feel. I loved the colors and chaos. The Indian culture and the pride that people feel were absolutely mesmerizing to me. I wanted to be immersed in that feeling.”
Her path was starting to take shape and she created her design studio, Nazila Couture. Sawhney describes her style as “a little unexpected, a little edgy, sophisticated, and always, always high quality.”
“I realized how fashion affects our mood and confidence level," she says. "There and then, I decided I could actually lift people up with the right clothing design.”
For Nazila, the power of fashion also lies in how it delivers a message and uses her platform to create social awareness. Each one of her collections tells a story. Her latest work is inspired by Nadia Anjuman, a brilliant Afghani poet who was killed fighting for freedom through her words.
"She fought against the strict laws in Afghanistan that forbid women of all things except cooking, sewing, and reading the Quran,” she says.
Sawhney encountered setbacks ranging from the design process, production, and finding reliable people to work with, but she took them in stride and made them into learning experiences. Each one of those has been a step forward for her. Sawhney's clothes have now been showcased on the runways in Canada, India, and the U.S.
“My clients have a hard time emptying their closets," she says. "That’s how it should be. You should not want to get rid of them for a very long time.”
Two years ago, her social awareness led her to create the nonprofit Untold Stories Foundation.
“I think in this day and age it’s rare to find the time to listen to others," Sawhney says. "We are all in a bubble, trying to get through the day. Untold Stories provides a platform for you to be heard and healed. By telling your story, you are creating awareness on an important social topic that others can relate to. Your story creates an opportunity to raise funds for a cause.”
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Last year, the organization raised money for Afghani widows and orphans. This year, it's donating to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, specifically addressing children who receive chemotherapy and later face infertility as adults.
Her goal is to raise as much money as possible while providing the sponsors, supporters, and attendees a memorable experience.
“The way we choose our cause is by inviting people to submit their stories and based on a particular topic, we decide on a relevant cause," she says. "This time, we felt strongly about children battling cancer. Within the community, we have come to know many people who are devastated by this disease. Our untold story of Nadia Anjuman fighting for her life ties in with these innocent kids who are left to fight equally for a fulfilled life.”
The Untold Stories Foundation — Runway to Reality event is scheduled to take place at The Clayton House on Sunday, October 20. Tickets are $50 to $200 via Eventbrite. You can find Sawhney's work on Nazila Couture's website.