Born and brought up in the vibrant cityscape of Old Dhaka, Emdad Hoque grew among a community that appreciated the arts. As a young boy, he found himself taking a keen interest in the arts – be it in the form of his parents’ passion for handloom materials or in his interest in sketching and painting. Growing up with a strong aesthetic sense, he couldn’t help but find himself drawn to the world of fashion. At a time when the idea of a fashion industry itself was vague and fragmented, fate had a way of allowing Hoque to find an entry into the fashion realm. While just an Intermediate student at Dhaka College, an ex-teacher offered him work as a fashion columnist for Shaptahik Bichitra. Interestingly, his main job was to organise fashion competitions for local craftsmen, alongside finding ways to promote the products featured in the magazine. That job lasted him a solid 15 years – his passion took him to later being the organiser for the competition itself. But that wasn’t the only door that had opened. His stint as a journalist led him to joining BRAC silk development project of RDP, where he got involved in developing the quality of yarn and silk weaving process, along with introducing modern technology to sericulture. Later, he joined BRAC to manage their textile department,and was involved in the production of check fabrics, and silk for Aarong, alongside training traditional weavers in Sirajganj on the process of producing quality fabrics for export.
Finally, he joined Grameen Uddyog and also pioneered Banglar Mela, a chain store that works with local materials. Today, he stands tall and proud as the Vice president of Fashion Design Council of Bangladesh, Director of Banglar Mela Ltd, a chain store of clothing, and the Chairman of Studio Emdad (Pvt) Ltd, a retail store of artisan products.
The Dhaka Tribune sat down with Hoque to learn more about his extraordinary journey with fashion.
What inspired you to delve into the world of fashion?
It was a combination of things that led me into this industry. When I began working as a journalist for Bichitra, that’s when I realised this is a field I feel very strongly about. As I worked on promoting local craftsmen, I began learning about and discovering different regional fabrics. I felt like this was an industry where there is immense scope for creativity. The hidden talent and beauty of the industry was still undiscovered and I felt like I wanted to dedicate my life to this cause. Moreover, I grew up in a house where my parents themselves used a lot of handloom materials. That’s where my interest in handloom stemmed from.
What role do you play as the Vice President for the Fashion Design Council?
My roles include promoting the local, indigenous products and artisans. Over the years, we’ve worked with several different kinds of local products, with the most recent being our work to promote khadi and Tangail silk. Currently, our work is mostly focused on a grand khadi festival set to be held in November.
With over two years in the fashion scene, what has been your most memorable moment?
I think the most memorable moment for me was when President Clinton visited in 1999. I presented him with local handloom and craft products during his visit to our country; designing all the quilts, and various other gift that were gifted as souvenirs to The White House. Another moment was when I put together a gift basket consisting of exclusively Grameen products for Queen Sofia on her visit to Bangladesh in 1999.
Where do you find design inspiration?
In an era where the Internet acts as a portal to every kind of design inspiration, I feel like my inspiration is found from my surroundings. As someone who travels a lot, I always keep myself updated with latest trends but at the end of the day, I design something that is an amalgamation of all the ideas that I think would look good when put together. For me, the design process begins when I have a certain collection in mind. I try to sketch out my designs for each piece, then I identify what would be the best fit in terms of fabric. For me, the most important thing is the fall of the fabric.
According to you, how far has the fashion industry evolved?
The phrase “fashion industry” didn't even exist here 30 years ago. The lay person didn’t understand the concept of designing. However, in the last few decades, the scene has developed, bringing forth an influx of producers, artisans, designers, beauticians, photographers and models. Overall, they’ve created what we now call the fashion industry. I am very hopeful this growth will continue.
Can Bangladesh compete with other international markets?
Currently it’s not so easy to catch up to international markets because we have a long way to go as far as the foundation of the industry is concerned. We need to build the industry’s infrastructure through groundwork. We don’t have proper yarn or machines..we need to strengthen that base and then we can definitely be at par with international organisations.
As a fashion designer, what is the most exciting part of your job?
For me, I believe the most exciting part is that every day feels like a new day for me. Fashion is a field where everything comes full circle. It goes round and round – you need to know math and you also need to have a strong aesthetic sense. And every day, you have to come up with new concepts. When or how you’ll develop ideas or when ideas will spark, you’ll never know. However, it’s not like I have a 9 to 5 job where I have to find my creativity within those hours. Whenever an idea sparks, I make my drawings and that’s how my designs flourish.
Things no one knows about you?
I have really strong powers of imagination. I love dreaming. Finally, I’m very sensitive and very positive.
Who’s your favourite fashion designer?
It has to be Japanese designer Kenzo. He represents Japanese folk motifs and I love that about him. I love his design sense, his work. He works with completely raw materials. What’s most interesting about him is how he launches and exhibits his collection - it’s either on a train, or on a ship. His out-of-the-box thinking is what sets him apart.
Any one celebrity you wish you could design for?
Shabana Azmi. I find her really crafty, ethnic. She represents her country beautifully and has this really elegant way or carrying herself.
Most difficult part of being a fashion designer?
You need immense financial support since you have to come up with new concepts, new ideas, and having the financial freedom to execute them is really important.
Which local brands do you personally shop from?
Aarong and Yellow.
How would you define your personal style?
I love wearing handloom based products such as taat. I prefer wearing simple cut Panjabi made with fine fabric or material. That’s more important to me than embroidery.
As the VP of FDC, which is the most promising local brand right now?
Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
The sky is the limit.