Q&A with TOMFW Debut Designer: Nabeel Sheikh

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Nabeel Sheikh at the TOM* lounge after his debut fashion show, Image by Harleen Sidhu

We sat down with ethically conscious menswear designer Nabeel Sheikh minutes after his debut Fall/Winter 2016 fashion show at Toronto Men’s Fashion Week.

Sheikh is the founder of The Travelling Tailor Inc., a business providing custom suit tailoring. His time spent travelling through East Asia inspired the versatile patterns, cuts, and details of his playful take on the modern suit.

We don’t talk about blood fashion and to me that is a term that we need to start bringing up more and more

Gulabi Girls: Recently in the news British Columbia’s mayor, Richard Stewart, has been found wearing the same suit to work for 15 months and nobody had noticed. What do you think about the fact that a man can wear the same suit everyday and no one notices, what do you think that tells us?

Nabeel Sheikh: They need to come see me, that’s what they should do (laughs). I think with politicians it’s a little bit different, they have to kind of reflect their constituency.  So they don’t want to wear maybe too bright or too fashion forward edgy outfits because they may alienate themselves from their audience, or their target market. Who’s a politician’s target market? The middle class voting citizen, so you want to be able to relate to your constituency, customer base, your audience. I kind of understand why they would have the same suit for 15 months, but times have changed and I would say get a modern cut. You can maybe still keep the same colour but get a cut that flatters your body type versus what’s probably going to hide your body type.

GG: Do you think this tells us anything about how society views the suit? The suit is such a staple item in men’s wardrobes.

NS: I find in North America suits are considered pretty much a uniform for men. When I traveled to Europe and went to South East Asia they’re just not part of your wardrobe, they become part of you. Here in North America we unfortunately have a culture that’s very consumable, very disposable. So you don’t see too many people investing in high-end fashion or very fashion forward designs. Unfortunately that’s the way the market is but I hope to change that with my fashion show.

GG: Where did you travel for inspiration?

NS: I went to South Asia to meet with my factories, I wanted to visit the factories. Ethical sourcing is a big deal for me, I was born in Kenya so I’ve seen the third world and how that goes. I want to make sure that the people that are manufacturing my products are being paid a fair wage and are treated ethically. I went to Thailand, I went to Bangkok, I got a translator, we went and we saw factories. We made sure to interview our workers to ensure that they were being treated properly. I did the same when I went to China, same when I went to Spain, Paris, and Amsterdam as well. I’m kind of a global manufacturer now, I have European manufacturing and in South Asia as well.

GG: Would you say worker security and safety is a priority of yours when it comes to your products?

NS: Absolutely, because at the end of the day you don’t want to wear something that you know somebody’s been taken advantage of making. There’s a big thing about blood diamonds years ago, but we don’t talk about blood fashion and to me that is a term that we need to start bringing up more and more. You look at Bangladesh in India and what happened at Rana Plaza, if we were to create more awareness of the conditions these individuals face, we would feel terrible about shopping at brands that are pushing their products out. We as consumers have the power.  I tell everybody customers keep the lights on, if customers are to go to retailers and say hey we want you to source ethically and treat your workers fairly, we can make a change happen. It’s all in the hands of the people that wear the products versus the guys that are manufacturing it. We have to take the power, we just have to know we have the power really.

GG: Who would your ideal consumer be?

NS: It varies, I would say the Bay Street professionals are there, but I would also say rock stars, celebrities, because as you can see from the designs they’re very dynamic, they’re very colourful. I’m also planning a women’s wear collection which I’m sure you guys will be excited to see. I like to have multiple portfolios under my line. So working professionals, athletes, celebrities, you name it I will design it for them.

GG: This is your first menswear collection.

NS: This is my first menswear collection, this is my first fashion show ever, so now that I’ve learned from this I’m going to be moving forward to women’s fashion.

GG: You don’t have a fashion background, right?

NS: No I don’t, actually I have a background in Economics from the University of Waterloo and I’ve been taking fashion styling at George Brown College just to hone up on the verbiage and the lingo and all that kind of stuff. But, I’m pretty much self taught really.

GG:It’s a pretty big deal that you’re here.

NS: I spent time with the factories that I visited, I spent three weeks learning from a master tailor on how to take measurements, how to do fittings, how to do pinning, so I know exactly what goes into making a suit now.

GG: What inspired you to peruse fashion?

NS: I love clothes, I love dressing up. My dad actually I would say is a very snappy dresser and I remember going through photo albums and seeing the suits he used to wear. He used to have wide peak lapels, double breasted suits and I used to tell my dad, one day I’m going to wear your suits, but those suits are no longer here.  Now it’s almost like I’m recreating his wardrobe. He’s a big fan of it as well.