Newly single mom of two, Suhaila Niazi is spicing up the runway. As a retail therapist, personal shopper for the Hudson Bay Company and designer, her hands are full. Often times, they’re full of designer bags, coveted shoes and gorgeous handbags, but full nonetheless.
The Montreal born style diva hobnobs with the likes of Michael Kors, Erdem and Tom Ford by day. She has dressed countless celebrities including Celine Dion, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr. to name a few. By night, she’s a mom to son Deen, 6 and daughter Zoha, 11.
“To me, all my clients are celebrities, from the stay at home moms to lawyers, I love making my clients feel like celebrities. I identify with the working woman, the stay at home mom, the single mom and I consider myself a superhero too,” says Niazi nonchalantly while arranging a row of Calvin Klein pants in her chic, all white downtown Montreal personal shopping office at the Hudson Bay Company.
The passion and love for what she does is palpable. Our interview is interrupted when her phone rings. “Say smokey eyes, pale lips, I wanna look hot,” Niazi whispers into the phone speaking to one of Montreal’s top lawyers getting her makeup done. She then turns back to me and continues our conversation.
Niazi had the opportunity to meet renowned American fashion designer Michael Kors in 2010. He flew her down to Toronto for his fashion show. When they met, he asked why she was not wearing any of his pieces. She told him none of his pieces fit. She then focused on her health, started working out and eating smarter. That Christmas, he mailed her the “most beautiful dress and leather jacket for reaching my goal (of losing weight) as a motivation.”
In 2011, she was approached by Luko Marion to be in his Cashmere Collection and make a dress out of bathroom tissue. Cashmere sent her a box with 15 meters of toilet paper. The dress took one month to design and was gorgeous. This year, Cashmere invited Niazi back to the competition where she designed a brand new dress.
Out of fifteen designers in the entire collection, Niazi is the only South Asian, yet the reaction she gets from the community is “you make dresses out of toilet paper? Vhaat?”
Niazi says she faces many taboos being a South Asian designer. According to her, the community is concerned about two things; that she works with naked people and when she will get a real job.
“Cultural pressure ends up sometimes putting a stain on my white blouse; therefore I don’t wear white blouses anymore. I’m making sure I’m always organized, always with my game,” says the 39-year-old fashionista.
In 2011, Niazi was sitting down over dinner with good friend Razi Khan when he asked her what was one thing she had always wanted to do. She responded that it was to design her own clothing line. That was the beginning of Khan and Niazi’s partnership and Al Shakour was born; an exclusive clothing line with a charitable twist. Every year, Al Shakour donates 2.5% of their sales to a different charity as their way of giving back. Pieces are handcrafted and never more than two to three of any given style are made, making them exclusive and sought-after.
“Al Shakour believes that a model in fashion does not have to be a typical thin, tall figure or stereotype. I believe that every single person is a model for something,” says Niazi.
Niazi is a pioneer in the Montreal South Asian community; she continues to swim upstream in a community that has yet to understand her vision. Her flair for fashion and design continue to be both avant-garde and highly coveted. While the South Asian community may not understand her, she is not letting that get in her way. She has hit the ground running with Al Shakour and has her vision set on even loftier goals.
“I want people to understand what is a real job. To make money and to make a difference; not only to the other person you’re working with but to yourself. I want my children and people around me to understand that no matter what you’re doing it’s important to do it with a true heart,” she reflects.
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