By Amy Nicole Tangel
In a time when arts and entertainment are entering a resurgence, so is the world of fashion, and for two women designers on a mission to empower, not only have they overcome the setback by emerging with new collections, but they are thriving through inspiration with support for other artists.
It was 2017 when designers Ayesha Khanna and Imani Jones first met at a fashion show, and since then together they have brought their vision of clothing design and empowering women to the forefront of fashion capitals all over the world. Between Ayesha’s clothing line, Naurah USA and her entrepreneurship, combined with Imani’s modeling, design and business marketing endeavors, the two women said they have been inspiring each other to build and grow since day one.
“I see Imani and it’s like two cars side by side,” said Ayesha.
Most recently, Ayesha has signed on with Shop Local Designers, a new creation of content for designer brands and a platform for them to stand on conceptualized by Imani along with Co-Founder and Program Director, Joseph Ralph Fraia. Shop Local Designers was launched in August 2020 as a means to help designers and small businesses recover and bounce back from the effects of Covid; bringing Ayesha and Imani together once again.
Ayesha said she is just one of many designers who are part of the program, and she has launched her line with them not only in NYC, but in Atlanta, Ga., as well. What started out initially as online support, until in-person shopping and events opened back up, has rapidly grown into weekly events, boutiques in major cities along the east coast and beyond, and both women are now gearing up for their return to Fashion Week in NYC and Milan this September.
“They (Shop Local Designers) will have my back. There is this desire that if ‘we grow, we’ll grow together,’” she said.
Inspiration for Ayesha’s clothing line comes in large part from growing up in India in a world of dance. She was trained from a young age as a classical dancer and said as a teenager in college she began choreographing routines, but distinctly remembers it was at the young age of 14 when she first had visions of having her own school. For seven years, Ayesha was a member of the first school in New Delhi to bring jazz dance to the city and toured internationally with Dance Works Performing Academy.
Ayesha moved to America in 2005 after she married her husband and thought she left her international dance career behind. With accolades in India, Ayesha said she didn’t know how she would continue her dance career, but with determination and passion she distributed flyers door to door at her apartment building and turned her living room into a dance studio. Initially, Ayesha said she moved to the states for love and knew professionally she would have to start from square one.
“Basically, everything I have built over the last 15 years both in dance and fashion is literally from scratch,” she said.
Fast Forward over a decade and a successful dance company founded by Ayesha, Bollywood Funk NYC Dance School, just celebrated its 14th anniversary. In the midst of it all, Ayesha was living life as a working wife and mother in NYC when she said she began to feel like she was missing out on all the colorful clothing from her native country while living a non-glamorous and hectic life.
“I was getting sucked into the monotony of the black dress. I was losing the part of me that wanted to look cute and unique,” she said.
With a growing desire to bring effortless clothing with a unique style to the young, professional working people of NYC, Ayesha said she took her family roots in Indian Couture and re-invented a casual yet glamourous take with a handful of samples in 2017. She launched her Naurah USA boutique in her living room, just as she did with her dance school, and not long after she said Imani’s fashion show with FIND Your ID NYC came along. Ayesha said she had never done a fashion show in her life, but she had this nagging feeling she had to do it, and the rest was history.
“Seeing Imani juggle five models with steamers going…you realize when you see something so perfect, there is a storm going on behind the scenes,” she said.
A seemingly natural-born entrepreneur, Imani grew up in Queens and started modeling when she was a 16-year-old, but she said it was in college when she started really doing runway. While she started out in Brooklyn, she eventually spent five years abroad in Italy and attended Bocconi University in Milan where she studied business marketing and broadcast journalism. It was in Milan when she developed her first company, Find Your ID NYC, and in 2017 she brought the company home to NYC.
The now 27-year-old said she started the creative agency to specialize in helping artists by providing outlets to showcase their talents through events, media, and networking opportunities. During her time in Milan, Imani said when she started the company she was primarily working with Italians, and from that experience it helped broaden her business mindset. Ever since her return to NYC in 2017, Imani continued to travel, work, and live between Milan and NY until COVID came along, and now she said she is eager to finally be making her return to Milan for Fashion Week in September.
“This is the longest time I haven’t been back since I moved there,” she said.
Being led in heart and forward-thinking, in 2019 Imani began another entrepreneurial venture and launched the now non-profit organization, PYNK NYC as a continued effort to support women in the arts. Imani said the inspiration stemmed from seeing women often sexualized in entertainment industries, especially creative industries, and she wanted to provide a safe place and networking platform to connect with other like-minded individuals.
Events are currently held monthly, and Imani said the organization has recently been signed on by Airbnb Concerts to sponsor PYNK NYC. In addition to the new sponsorship, Imani said the organization has grown in mission and has recently become a 501 (c)(3), with the intention to provide funding for women creatives toward their projects to take them further with creative exploration.
“The idea originally was just we wanted to do something to create a safe space for women creatives to showcase their talents,” said Imani.
In addition to the creation of Shop Local Designers, Imani branched out yet again during her downtime and found her own creative outlet through the development of her new fashion line, Kühler Co. NYC. When everything was shutdown, she said she began working with her design team and put out the first collection in October 2020. Designs from the collection can be found not only in NYC, but shops in Washington D.C., Charlotte, and Atlanta.
“This was kind of like a pandemic project. It was in my mind for a while, but I didn’t have the time to do it,” she said.
Both women agree they feed off each other’s energy and said they have stuck together the longest out of other people who have come and gone. As for what’s ahead, if the future is a reflection of all Ayesha and Imani have respectively built in their careers and passed on to others, this could be just the beginning.
To view Ayesha’s collections, visit www.naurahusa.com and follow her on Instagram @naurahusa. For more information about, Find Your ID NYC, visit http://www.fyidnyc.com and follow them on Instagram @findyouridnyc and to keep up to date with Shop Local Designers, follow them on Instagram @shoplocaldesigners or http://www.shoplocaldesigners.com.
Photos courtesy Joseph Ralph Fraia (@jrfstudio) & Ayesha Khanna