High stakes in a world of fashion

Published August 7, 2022


Most first-generation Pakistani immigrants living in Italy have limited education and training. The majority are preoccupied with low-income activities such as harvesting fruits and vegetables, tending livestock, working as unskilled or semi-skilled workers in factories, and selling trinkets on beaches in the summer. However, a second generation of Pakistanis is beginning to break out, creating new lives and striving for success.

Farwa Zulfiqar arrived in Maserta, Italy in 1995 at the age of 5 and moved with her family from Brewala near Multan. Finding herself in a new country where she didn’t speak a word of Italian, she was terrified and confused, even afraid to leave her home. During her elementary and middle school years, she struggled to learn Italian and make her friends, often feeling isolated and left out. Shortly after 9/11, when she was still 11 years old, Farwa began facing racist bullying. Her classmates started mocking her and calling her a “terrorist” and she started saying hurtful things about her such as “Why won’t she go back to Afghanistan?”

But through hard work and strong support from her family, she was able to overcome myriad obstacles. At the age of 14, she enrolled in the local art and fashion school and graduated at the top of her class. Some of her work was exhibited at the school’s year-end fashion show, after which she earned her class degree in fashion at the Academy of Fine Arts in Macerata. . After two years of hard work building her portfolio, she is now working as a fashion stylist in Milan, her one of the global capitals of high fashion. Still working to establish herself in this harsh world, she is increasingly sought after by various agencies working with top fashion houses.She also specializes in high quality, eco-friendly children’s clothing. has launched her own line of fashion that specializes in

I met Farwa through a mutual friend. I have produced a series of articles on the Italian Pakistani diaspora. A particular focus is on documenting success stories. This is the story of people who have built a new life here and are not longing for the old country forever. However, most of the people I interviewed were men, and despite my best efforts, I was unable to identify many successful women.

A young Pakistani woman living in Italy often finds life difficult. There is little family support for education, social constraints are stifling, and working outside the home is often frowned upon. And then there is the matter of marriage. Many families strongly prefer to marry her daughters to Pakistani cousins ​​or other close relatives. This serves her two purposes. It is to ensure that girls are “safely married” and at the same time get visas for boys to legally immigrate to Italy. When young women rebel against such arranged marriages, they face reviling and harassment from their families. In some cases, such rebellions have even culminated in honor killings.

How did you come to Italy?

My father was an art teacher at a university in Pakistan. He was born into a wealthy family of wealthy people, but his prospects as an artist were few. He left Pakistan in his early 1990s to work as a home decorator in Paris, where his brother also lived. He then moved to Milan and Rome. In addition to painting, he also worked on false ceilings and stucco. His combination of skilled hands, attention to detail, and strong work ethic made his services much in demand.

He traveled through central Italy and somehow ended up in Macerata in the Marche region of central Italy. Marche is famous for its shoes and many top brands such as Tod’s are based here. There are many wealthy people with luxurious apartments and villas. His father started working for a company that specialized in luxury home renovations. He had a good salary and good prospects, so he could ask his family to join him.

What made you want to study fashion and design?

I first heard about fashion and design schools when they came to my school for orientation. I saw some of the designs, photos and materials they brought. It was like a magical world and it was love at first sight. From that day on, I wanted to be a fashion designer.

In retrospect, I think my love of fashion was an expression of who I am, a combination of my mother and father. , materials and shapes. His mother sewed clothes for her family, so there was always a sewing machine in the house. Also, textiles and clothing are in our blood. Brewala has a long association with textiles. Bhewala Textile Mill (renamed Lawrence Poole) – Pakistan’s largest textile mill. The area is famous for embroidery, and most women learn to embroider from an early age.

In high school, I finally “found myself.” I am no longer the only foreigner in my class. More importantly, I was a star student. I used to help my mother sew, so I knew how to measure, cut, and sew. This is what most other students had to learn from scratch. I loved my design job and spent hours drawing my own drawings. My final grade was 94%, top of my class. For someone who didn’t speak Italian at all until a few years ago, this is quite an accomplishment.

How did your family support your decision?

Help came from many directions.

My mother only had to pass college, but she always wanted her children to do what she couldn’t do: study and go to college. My father was also in full agreement. And there was no discrimination between boys and girls. My brother went to college to study engineering. He studied fashion and design. My sister is currently graduating from art school and she will be entering college this year.

I also received support from Brewala’s aunt and her husband. He is the judge and she is the elder of her family. They had four daughters of hers, all of whom went to college. During our visit to Pakistan, they told my brother and I about our plans and ambitions and offered advice and encouragement.

What did you do after high school?

After high school, I wanted to go to Istituto Marangoni in Milan. This is the top design and fashion school in Italy. I was confident that my grades and grades would get me in, but my family couldn’t afford the tuition and living expenses in Milan. It was a big disappointment for me. My father tried to comfort me by pointing out that success depends more on hard work than on which school you go to. At the time I didn’t understand the significance of his words, but now I do.

I enrolled in a three-year degree course at the Instituto delle Belle Arti (Institute of Fine Arts) in Macerata. My specialty was fashion design, but I also studied photography, leather goods, jewelry and color design.

I worked hard and was never afraid to try new things. For example, I was one of the few who mastered his Moulaj Technique, which prepares dresses directly on mannequins and models. The advantage of the technique is that it can move from design to display very quickly. But to do this, you need to have a very good feel for the material you’re using.

And after your degree?

The first priority was to create a portfolio of work. Sketches, photos, videos – what you can do for your client. I was lucky to be able to participate in the national competition for young stylists. To participate, you had to have 12 mini or capsule collections. I worked very hard on this to create a unique look that combines East and West, and to actually make the dress. I used embroidery. My mother was always by my side, often working through the night.

I made it to the final in Rome and won the more professionally important ‘Critics’ Award’ than the ‘Popularity Award’, which can also be voted on by the public. As an award winner, my work was sold in a very famous concept store in Milan and sold out within a few weeks. This success led to other opportunities, such as appearing on national television and speaking about my work (which I accepted). And an offer to appear in a reality show (which I declined but allowed to use my design and dress).

She also worked as a stylist for Armeena Khan in Pakistan while she was filming Sherdil. It was a very exciting experience.

When did you move to Milan?

In 2020 I decided I was ready to leave Maserta and move to Milan. i told my parents I rented a small apartment and had to work various odd jobs to pay the rent. But I always tried to work in my field. For example, even if the salary is low, I would like to work as a clerk at a top fashion store.

Slowly I started creating a demand for my work. I have been fortunate to work with some very talented people in the fashion business, photographers and video makers. We have produced a great deal of material and built an impressive portfolio.

What are your main projects in progress or planned?

I recently launched a line of eco-friendly children’s clothing. Initially I sold mainly online, but now many boutiques carry my pieces. We hope to launch other lines of clothing in the near future.

Also, I would like to work more with Pakistani stylists and designers. We would like to act as a link between stylists, designers and manufacturers in Pakistan to promote exports.

What advice would you give to a young woman from Pakistan living in Italy?

As an immigrant woman, you will face problems. There are racist prejudices and incidents. These are likely to increase in the coming years as several major political parties adopt anti-immigrant rhetoric and accuse immigrants of crime and job stealing. , must face these difficulties. Remember that the majority of Italians are open-minded and honest efforts will ultimately bring success.

As a woman, you may face challenges within the community here in Pakistan. They may find it difficult to accept your financial and social independence.

But don’t give up on your dreams, no matter what happens.

Daud Khan is an Italy-based freelancer. All information and facts provided are the sole responsibility of the author.

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