It seems Huma Syed and her one-year-old daughter are both taking their first steps.
When little Noura embarks on her first solo walk, those wobbly steps will mirror her mom’s leap of faith into the world of fashion design.
“That first step is the hardest, because you’re so full of self-doubt,” says Syed, who launched Noura’s Couture (nourascouture.com) just two months after the birth of her first child last year. “You’re sleep deprived, you’re exhausted and you feel like you’re not attractive anymore.
“Women are so hard on themselves; especially when you’re starting a business you tend to doubt whether it’s worth it.”
Syed is quick to credit her husband, Hanza Iqbal, for encouraging her to follow through with her dream of launching her own clothing line.
“Having a supportive spouse is number one,” she says. “Every push I got from my husband was really encouraging.”
A world away
The last two years have been a whirlwind for Syed. In February 2014, the 27-year-old moved from a glamourous life in Dubai to start a new chapter with her husband in Kanata.
“It was a big culture shock to move from there and adjust to the very quiet, Ottawa suburban life; and the weather … I came in February, too!” she adds with a laugh.
Back in Dubai, Syed had a full-time career working for Danone – the French multinational food giant behind products like Activia yogurt and Evian water.
“I had a really high-flying career with lots of travel,” says Syed. “Dubai is a very exciting place to be.”
Dubai also kindled Syed’s interest in fashion. While in college studying information systems and business, she volunteered backstage at runway fashion shows during Dubai Fashion Week, a permanent feature on the international fashion circuit alongside cities like London, Paris, Milan and New York.
“As a struggling student, I would volunteer so I could get the backrow seats at the fashion shows,” recalls Syed. “That was how I got myself involved with the fashion scene back there.”
After getting married, moving to Canada and giving birth to Noura, she decided to merge her two interests – fashion and business.
“After I had my baby, I felt like it was now or never,” says Syed. While she considered returning to corporate work again, she felt it was time to pursue something she was really passionate about.
“I just began drawing and coming up with different ideas,” says Syed, adding she likes to research different cultures and their architecture for inspiration for her fashions. “I really feel that if you have that artistic inclination, you can find inspiration anywhere.”
Syed says she’s intrigued by other cultures and people’s lifestyles, and tries to reflect that through her designs.
“I’ll try to bring in an element of another place, like Africa, Morocco or Turkey,” she says. “A little piece of their world into ours is really exciting – through colours, patterns or embroidery.”
Syed is constantly juggling her time at home, taking care of baby Noura while furthering her new business.
“When she’s watching her cartoons, I’m thinking of designs,” she says. “Whenever she’s taking naps, that’s when I go into overdrive – designing, researching and taking orders.
“Luckily, she’s been napping quite a bit right now.”
Noura’s Couture just launched its second collection, which features a lot of 100-per-cent pure silks for spring and summer.
“It’s such fine material,” she says, adding she sources high-quality fabrics from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. “You can wear silk from day to night; throw on a blazer for work, then dress it up a bit to go out in the evening.”
Customers will also find lots of chiffons and other exciting mixes like “plushy fabrics” – things Syed says you just won’t find in North America – and certainly not at the modest price point she offers.
“Because I’m so picky with my own clothing, I feel that I would be cheating my customers if I don’t provide them with the same quality that I expect for myself,” she says, adding that she selects her materials – right down to the buttons, lace and zippers – when she’s travelling abroad.
Many of Syed’s designs feature classic patterns, such as florals, stripes and polka dots. When planning her designs, Syed always aims to blend elegance with wearability.
“I really feel that women should not create the divide between comfort and fashion,” she says. “When I was working, I realized I wanted stuff that was comfortable, but at the same time really classy and elegant.
“A lot of my clothing has eclectic designs – it will be something simple and subdued but at the same time with a little pop.”
A common thread to the luxurious garments offered by Noura’s Couture is modest, flattering designs.
“If you look throughout the history of fashion, you’ll see that the element of modesty can bring out the elegance in a woman; to be feminine without showing too much,” says Syed. “It brings a little bit of subtlety and mystery.”
Syed says this is an important part of both her personal and professional design philosophy.
“I believe a woman is more empowered when she’s not baring it all,” she says. “That’s the holy grail – that respect for your body, for yourself and for your womankind.
“True elegance stems from respect and confidence.”