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Hadiyah Hussain - Letters from Hadiyah

Updated: Apr 11

The Designer infusing textile with stories

Written By Zulema Ali.

Hadiyah Hussain is a designer and textile artist, whose brand, her namesake, is all about creating clothes that embrace culture and diversity. Stories stitched, screen printed and woven into her pieces become narratives of migration, family, tradition and empowerment. A celebration of colour and heritage. 

Our interview took place online, from studios to bedrooms. In her element, Hadiyah is surrounded by her work, boxes upon boxes line the walls, inside them an array of materials, and samples, waiting to be turned into her newest collection. Just a one woman team, there isn’t enough time in the day to create all the visions that circulate her mind. 

Images Courtesy of Hadiyah Hussain.

Hadiyah’s Pakistani heritage and British upbringing are defining features of her work. But identity isn’t always so straightforward. In the diaspora your identity is often put into boxes, hyphenated off as you reel off a list that defines who you are. For Hadiyah, the order with which she identifies herself is often changing. ‘Pakistani, British-Pakistani, Muslim woman’, the substitution is an unconscious decision. If you embody all of these things at once, then there is no hierarchy to order, because she is not more one thing than another. 

But this wasn’t always the perspective that she had. ‘As a young kid I would never own up to being Pakistani, or being from Pakistan because I didn’t think it was cool’. Growing up in the West brings with it the embarrassment of being from another land, you’re bullied for your differences, ‘you want to fit in with your white friends’. It seems easier at that age to hide your heritage in an attempt to blend in. 

But as time passes it is kind, and forgiving, allowing us to grow out of the shame imposed on us by society. There is always time to embrace your culture and reclaim our identity. ‘As I grew up, as I went to college, I was like “Yeah I’m Pakistani”. These words said with newfound pride. ‘I like being different compared to when I was younger’. This transformation at college to an arms-open full embrace of a culture, also influenced Hadiyah’s outfits and jewellery. ‘When I got to uni, I just started covering myself in Gold…I just went to Green Street and picked up Jhumkas and Chooriyan’. It created a shield ready to answer the question ‘Where are you from?’. A heritage no longer hidden but transformed into a badge of honour. 

With the influence of Pakistan and England in her childhood, this merged together in Hadiyah’s fusion collections. The western influence comes through in the more westernised shapes and silhouettes. ‘My family often says, “she makes clothes for Goriyan, she makes nangay kupre”’. But balanced alongside these western silhouettes, Hadiyah weaves in her culture with stories from her family and heritage. Storytelling ‘through language; Urdu and Arabic, through my community, through my friends’ everything gets incorporated into her pieces. Intertwined are stories of her Nani's migration, and sisterhood. All a reflection of her Pakistani heritage that becomes translated directly into her work. 

The stories that the pieces hold within them are what are really special about the clothes that Hadiyah creates. They evoke interest and prompt questions - ensuing beautiful conversation that untangles stories of heritage from the diaspora. For Hadiyah, being able to reply ‘oh it’s my Nani’s letter, it’s in Urdu and I've constructed it into a print’ is the most validating experience. It’s the stories that the pieces evoke that are most meaningful, it's not just a brand, there is an individual story told with every piece. We take Hadiyah’s story and it travels further, transferred onto our own tongues and spread. 

Hadiyah has been releasing collections since 2021, when she started her brand. Her first, ‘The Sisterhood Collection’ derives from her university days - a collaboration with Swarovski called ‘Beauty Encrusted’. The purpose behind the collection was to equate ‘being beautiful to being modest as well, there’s so much beauty in modesty’. This print was a celebration of that. People often get uncomfortable around this idea, Hadiyah wanted to confront this. ‘I got a lot of my hijabi friends… and literally just got loads of different fabrics, I covered them head to toe with the fabric - the fabric wrapped round and round’. Adorning the models with more jewellery and tikkas, the fabric draped artistically around came to be the final image. The idea was to counter this narrative of ‘oppression’ that people that wear the hijab are labelled with, ‘I just want to highlight the beauty in it basically’. ‘That’s how it started. That’s where the imagery came from’. And once the images were printed it was hard to ignore the loud echo of ‘sisterhood’ that resonated. 

As her first collection, it paved the way perfectly for the future of the brand. It also encapsulates how the brand got its start, help from friends, advice on marketing, sharing the brand on social media, without all of this Hadiyah wouldn’t have gotten the start that she did. ‘I had a lot of women around me that I just wanted to say thank you to as well’. 

Another collection, ‘Letters from Lahore’ was born out of familial ties, a reminiscence of migration journeys and heritage. Rummaging around in her Nani’s shed provided a goldmine of family archival photographs and letters, a plethora of memories all boxed away. ‘I found like diaries of hers, and letters that had the Lahore, Pakistan stamps on them’. Being unable to read Urdu, her Nani read the letters out loud to her. ‘One of the letters was to my Nana, he was in Lahore the whole time going back and forth’. The nostalgia that outpours from these letters cannot be measured, it’s precious. The words are weighted by love. So from these letters was born the swirl that adorns the ‘Letters to Lahore’ collection. The words written in Urdu become distorted to form the pattern that you wouldn’t realise at first glance is drowning in meaning. 

Speaking Urdu is a big part of the Pakistani identity but not being able to speak it fluently means that Hadiyah relies on family and friends to help her. ‘I come up with a word and then I message my cousin to ask how do you write this in Urdu?’. Being able to write in Arabic but not Urdu means a lot of the time it’s literally just copy and paste. But Hadiyah’s relationship with Urdu hasn’t always been a linear one, ‘I used to be able to speak it up until the age of probably five and then I just lost it’.  The long term plan is to be fluent in Urdu in the next five years, ‘I get a lot of help from my family and my Nani’, but her dyslexia only makes this process harder, ‘sometimes…it’s in my brain but it doesn’t come out of my mouth. And there’s a broken connection between that element which takes me a long time to learn’. But this doesn’t mean that meaning is always lost. Her Nani talks to her in Urdu that is broken up with a little English, ‘but the way she gestures I know exactly what she’s saying’. 

The ‘Precious’ collection is a portrait of oranges, browns and golds, the text ‘precious’ in Urdu forms the repetitive pattern that adorns the material. This comes from a story of her Nani saying ‘old is gold’, everything is precious, all the jewellery collections, all the heritage, the history, the culture. The actual print sample is from her days at university, handwoven on a loom. Screenprints of precious were used on top alongside portrait images of her Nani. 

But this is only the beginning of the work that is to come. ‘There’s so much archival work that hasn’t come out’. Her own portfolio of pieces and designs made years ago have yet to come out. 

There is a lot to look forward to in the future of the brand. Branching out from her collection of ‘Letters to Lahore’, Hadiyah is also planning a solidarity collection of ‘Letters from Palestine’ coming up. It’s important to showcase some permanent solidarity, something that is always part of the brand. So these letters will be a way of showcasing support - these will be spread out over numerous countries all affected by colonialism. Testimonies from people connected to these places will be adapted into pattern and infused onto clothing - a message of solidarity worn. ‘Anyone that wants to share their story that will be turned into a print that people can wear’. Clothes that carry messages. ‘You are wearing somebody’s story’ and what’s more powerful than that? 

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