BHS alumna uses culture to build fashion brand By Iman khan

She watches as her models walk down the runway, showcasing her designs. One model wears a long green dress, with a feathered torso. Her hijab contrasts with the low-cut neckline and her fingers hold the handle of a black bird cage.

Afshan Begum Iragorri ‘11, a Pakistani Muslim, incorporates traditional techniques from Pakistan into a modern style, creating pieces that reflect the free Muslim women of the world.

Iragorri displayed this image on her website, as a representation of her collection, Azaad.

Iragorri has always enjoyed art, even from a very young age. When she was 3 years old, Iragorri began drawing, painting and cultivating a passion for art.

“When I got to high school, I asked myself what I wanted to do with my art, and fashion was the first thing that came to mind because I loved dressing up and I loved creating art, and I wanted to combine the two worlds together,” Iragorri said.

Iragorri graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design last spring. Her final project consisted of five outfits, which she presented at Mass Art's Illuminate Fashion show.

“My collection was inspired by female empowerment in the Middle East and South Asia. It was the overcoming sexism and the violence that women go through in that part of the world,” Iragorri said. “I know that a lot of women are either forced to wear a hijab or either when they do decide to wear it, they’re discriminated against.”

Iragorri used various tools to design her collection, including photoshop and illustrator (Provided by Afshan Begum Iragorri).

One major aspect that Iragorri made sure to include was the balance between traditional and modern clothing (Provided by Martin Iragorri).

Iragorri included accessories, such as a hat that originates from South Asian cultures (Provided by Saheera Ashraf).

Iragorri emphasized the use of bright colors in her designs (Provided by Saheera Ashraf).

Iragorri’s collection was named “Azaad” meaning “free” in Urdu and Pashto. She compare her models to bright, beautiful birds who were once trapped, but are now free. Her combination of modern and traditional evoked this sentiment of freedom.

“I wanted to present their free choice of being able to wear it or not in the collection. The collection is pretty modest, but there are low-cut necklines and you do see some skin,” Iragorri said.

After her success at Mass Art, Iragorri continued to search for other opportunities to show her work. She recently came in contact with a local model who hosted a show in Cambridge, and Iragorri was able to provide her pieces. She was also recently featured as one of Boston’s seventeen upcoming designers at Boston Fashion week, where she presented her work.

Iragorri’s sister, Hassina Begum ‘09, applauds Iragorri’s devotion to fashion and how she incorporates Islamic cultures into her work.

“Her work is inspiring because it shows a modern point of view on a culture many find backwards or conservative,” Begum said. “In the western part of the world, ‘less is beautiful’ and Afsha does the exact opposite; she proves through her work that a woman can choose to be modest in her attire and still be fashionable. I'm proud of her for representing her culture because many don't know much about it at all.”

Three models display Iragorri's designs at a Mass Art event (Provided by Michael Blanchard).

Iragorri's models smile after the Illuminate fashion show (Provided by Afshan Begum Iragorri).

One model wears a dress that Iragorri accessorized with and without a hijab (Provided by Michael Blanchard).

Her models created the image Iragorri wanted for her collection (Provided by Richard Bertone).

The greatest aspect Iragorri used was traditional hijab combined with low-cut necklines, creating a modern style (Provided by Richard Bertone).

Iragorri finds that the fashion world is gradually opening up to representing Muslim women.

“In New York Fashion week this year, they’ve highlighted some designers who accessorize all their models with hijabs. In the beauty industry, I think Covergirl has a beauty ambassador who is a hijabi,” Iragorri said. “So, I think they’re starting to open up to it a little bit more, especially since we have Trump as a president and he’s going against all of us Muslims. Now they’re sort of fighting back by doing this, and it’s becoming a little more open.”

Designer Afshan Begum Iragorri walks down the runway with one of her models (Provided by Afshan Begum Iragorri).

Iragorri has advice for aspiring designers.

“You can’t just expect something to be handed to you or for you to just get noticed right away. You have to be showing everywhere and take every opportunity that you can get,” Iragorri said.

Despite the challenges she has faced as a fashion designer, Iragorri encourages young designers to pursue their passions and to not be afraid.

“For modest designers, I would just say, you don’t have to worry about being discriminated against,” Iragorri said. “There’s always going to be someone in the world that’s going to love your products, so go for it.”

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