Chicago fashion designer Azeeza Khan shares her inspiration, advice, and much more
Uncover how Khan's style has evolved over time, how her hometown of Chicago plays a part in her fashion, and what she's been working on during the pandemic.
Azeeza Khan has single-handedly put her hometown of Chicago on the map when it comes to designer fashion since launching her eponymous label, AZEEZA, in 2013. On top of being recognized by Women's World Daily as the Windy City's "It" designer, her brand's retail flagship along Chicago's Magnificent Mile was placed on Forbes list as a "top destination" and was recently highlighted as the only local Chicago designer in the Louis Vuitton City Guide. With her signature dresses worn by some of the biggest icons of our time, including Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Barbra Streisand, and Gabrielle Union, Azeeza Khan has lived out her dreams over the past eight years—while also finding ways to improve. We caught up with Azeeza to discuss what inspires her creative design process, how she spends her time away from work, and what it means to be a successful entrepreneur of color in a highly competitive industry.
How did your business begin, and what inspired you?
The business began as a simple form of creative expression: to create beautiful dresses that existed only in my head. I wanted elegance while retaining a sense of modernity. I wanted opulence, but I wanted it to be wearable and for every day. And of course, I wanted the quality and elevation in craftsmanship, fabrication, and design. But what inspires me the most is when I am able to invoke this sense of feeling like your best self—drawing power from that very feeling. I want to enable this sense of true confidence.
What inspires your styles?
There are items that were a part of my first collection that are still a part of the permanent collection today. For us, it's more about building upon our existing designs rather than starting from scratch. Of course, in the beginning, there was a lot of experimentation with different fabrics and embroideries. A lot of my current primary materials, like raw silks, crepe de chines, and chiffons, were incorporated into my designs from the start. Although staying true to our brand DNA remains a priority, there are always ways we try to add newness to each season to keep our offering fresh.
Color plays an important role, especially at the start of the design process. There's so much beauty in our day-to-day life, and I'm constantly referencing things I see that inspire me. We take pride in doing our own custom color swatches—for instance, the berry color was developed directly from expelling color from a pomegranate seed, and our peony pink actually came from a peony I picked walking on the way to work. Believe it or not, my daughter's toy room is probably my biggest source of color reference. I get a great deal of inspiration from our playtimes, given that she's really interested in art and experimenting with different mediums.
What excites you about your job?
It excites me when someone wears one of my garments and I get to see the confidence and power that comes to her by looking—and feeling—her best. This joy we create has been the most exciting part of my job and one of my biggest motivations. This is why we have relentlessly perfected effortless, easy, universal, and wearable garments.
What are the big changes happening in your industry right now?
Like many industries, the transition to working remotely and social distancing in the COVID-19 era has been the biggest challenge. With design, our process is so hands-on and collaborative. We're very fortunate that technology has allowed us to have a seamless transition. Overall, the face-to-face elements of the business between clients, partners, and the team itself has drastically changed.
Why is AZEEZA based in Chicago? How have the city and the people influenced your fashion sense?
First and foremost, I'm a Chicago girl. Chicago is home to me, and I attribute the brand's success to how supportive the city has been, especially when I first started.
Chicago and Chicago girls are constant sources of inspiration for me. Our store on Magnificent Mile acts as an experiential development lab to refine design, fit, assortment, and, most importantly, a deep understanding of the customer. Pre-pandemic, I was able to really engage with customers on a personal level and develop relationships that gave me real-time feedback on the garments. This had a huge impact on my fashion sense and the overall designs.
How do you balance your creative and personal life?
Taking on a lot of projects at once can get overwhelming, so putting my well-being first is important. I'm mindful of when to give myself a break. I truly believe that when you're feeling your best, you work your best. Getting lots of rest, eating right, and working out are things I try to incorporate into my routine consistently.
Surrounding myself with loved ones and positive energy is something that I do as an instant mood booster. Whether it's taking a walk with my husband and daughter or FaceTiming family and friends, spending that time with them is a way I'm able to take a moment for myself and recharge.
How has your style changed over the years?
I would describe my style as easy; I like to go with the flow. I really focus on balance, it just comes down to what I'm feeling in the moment. I don't like to overthink it.
My daily go-to look is usually an easy short dress or a sweatsuit set. I love a full look, and I'm not afraid to wear materials like raw silk in the daytime. Let's just say I have a lot to choose from.
What are three must-have items in your closet?
These days, we all need to wear masks and do our part, so silk masks are important, and elevated, staples. Otherwise, I love to have a nice fresh pair of white sneakers. And I live in Chicago, so a really, really warm coat is essential.
What advice would you give to those looking to channel their creativity?
In this age where social media reigns and information is easily accessed, it's important to not let others influence you too much. I think that creativity speaks in the most authentic way when you're being and expressing yourself, rather than trying to reference or imitate other creatives. I would also say to forget about what other people think. Oftentimes, I see a lot of young creatives not moving forward with a really cool idea because they don't think it's perfect. Don't let perfectionism hold you back from taking the first step to making your idea come to life.
What is priceless to you? What motivates you, and how has it changed your life?
What's priceless to me is being a successful POC business owner in a very saturated and competitive industry. I'm a career-oriented person, so I love that I'm able to wake up every day to a creative career that's fulfilling. Seeing the success of the business has been really humbling, and it has motivated me to continue on this path to do better and to do more for the brand's success. There were so many highs and lows throughout the journey here, but I wouldn't trade any of them for the world as they all contributed to this experience.
Get a chance to meet Azeeza Khan during our virtual Priceless experience on April 14, 2021. Register here!