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Choosing a dignified life: Tale of a transgender fashion designer

  • Published at 12:22 am December 17th, 2016
Choosing a dignified life: Tale of a transgender fashion designer
Nodi's story could have been the same as that of countless other transgender individuals in a noninclusive society like ours: full of resentment that stems from being neglected and vilified and having no right to live with dignity among others. But instead of becoming just another chapter in a rather tragic story, Nodi decided to take matters into her own hands – and succeeded. The 46-year-old is a fashion designer who runs her own business named Dhong Fashion in the capital's Khilgaon area. Besides serving her own customers, Nodi also creates designs for renowned fashion brands such as Jatra, Nabarupa and Aarong. “I wanted to be self-reliant and live a life where I would have respect just like anyone else,” she told the Dhaka Tribune. Nodi's success did not come in a day. “I started my business in 2004 with only Tk50,000. It was difficult, but I knew I had to overcome all odds if I wanted to leave my old life behind,” she said. Her old life was roaming around the city with other transgenders and ask for money in shops and markets. Sometimes, she even sold sex so she would not starve. But Nodi decided to change her life and worked diligently to build up her 12-year-old business. “Now I have three shops in my name and 15 associates to help me run them,” she said with a proud smile. Over the years, she has earned good reputation as a fashion designer and has a base of loyal customers. Afroza, one such customer, was at the shop in Khilgaon when this correspondent went on a visit. “I came to know about him through a friend of mine, and now I am one of his regular customers,” she told the Dhaka Tribune. “His design ideas are unique, which he always shares with me. He comes up with designs that suit me best.” Afroza was addressing Nodi as a man, unaware that her designer was a transgender who identified herself as a woman. Although successfully established, Nodi hides her true identity because of the strong objection she faced in her family. “My family denies the fact that I am not a man. They would rather I lived and acted like a man,” she said, her happy demeanour dulling. Added to that is the social stigma, which has kept her from coming out as her true self. But she is well known among the city's transgender community for her successful business. Nodi is not her real name; it is the name she only uses in the transgender community.
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Nodi's success against all odds has established her as an example for other transgenders, and she does not take that fact lightly. In her spare time, she trains other transgenders on designs and embroidery so they can earn their own living respectfully. Her students include both transgenders who she has taken under her wing as their guardian – or guru ma, as her followers lovingly call her – and transgenders outside of her circle. “Some transgenders have mocked me for my efforts, but I do not pay heed to them,” she said. “I have come to this point in my life by overcoming a lot of hurdles, only because it was my dream to have a 'normal' life, and I wish for others like me to have the same.” Being a fashion expert, Nodi keeps herself updated with the latest fashion trends by browsing the internet. “This way, I can come up with more ideas which will keep my customers happy.” Nodi currently makes nearly Tk70,000-80,000 per month from her business and the training sessions. After paying all the bills and expenses, she has a profit of Tk40,000-45,000. Nodi wishes the government would focus more on improving the conditions of the transgender community. “The government's task does not end at making Third Gender an official identity for hijras [the Bangla word for transgenders]. Hijras have the ability to work in different sectors of the country if they get the same opportunities as others. We, too, deserve a life of dignity.” Ivan Ahmed Kotha, social activist and vice-president of Sex Workers Network of Bangladesh, said Nodi was indeed an example of success and self-dependence for her community. “We want more transgender people to come forward and follow Nodi's footsteps. We are also trying to provide training to them on different business ventures, such as beauty salon, poultry farming, etc,” Kotha said.