Malika Rajani and her dog, Coco, greet me at the door of her house and I am immediately fixated on her simple, black leather dress. Mesmerized by the basket weave details throughout the dress, I compliment her on it and I’m not surprise when she gracefully says, “Thank you, this is from my fall line.”
Rajani is a fashion designer who is based in Calgary although was born and raised in India and studied fashion design in New York. She works with leather primarily, crafting textured elements such as laser cut and fringe into everyday wardrobe pieces, creating timeless designs for “conscious, modern women” who are independent, and enjoy work as much as they enjoy going out and having fun.
Even though she had always been interested in fashion, she continued to pursue her MBA and was working as a financial controller for her brother-in- law’s dealership when she initially arrived in Canada at 23.
Her interest in fashion became heightened when she couldn’t find a desirable leather jacket and decided to design her own. “I used to wear it everywhere and people started asking me where I got it from. That’s how I got started with my own line.” She submitted a project to the Parsons School of Design in New York and ended up receiving a scholarship to study there.
Rajani admits that studying at Parsons was not easy for her; even though she loved fashion, she didn’t know how to sew or sketch. “My first semester was very tough and I doubted myself. I thought, ‘Should I be here?’ and ‘Should I just go back home?’” She got through her studies by working day and night on her projects, confessing that it always took her longer but that it was good to learn.
After her studies in New York, she returned to Calgary. She opened a store, Passione Boutique, in 2009 with a friend and then launched her first line in 2012. Rajani eventually closed Passione Boutique, explaining, “Calgary is not a boutique city.”
Closing down her boutique was not only disappointing to her, it also made her apprehensive about whether or not people would support her line. In the end, she did find success with her clothing line in Calgary and is now working on broadening its horizons.
When she was working at Passione Boutique, Rajani was able to stay engaged with the fashion field and see what customers were looking for. “As a designer, you get too creative to think about the little details that people care about because you’re so involved with the designing aspects.” While helping customers at her store, she would take notes about the aspects people liked and didn’t like when they tried clothes on. She explains, “Simple things like lining. It matters how good the fabric that touches your body is.”
Through working in fashion, one of the most important lessons that Rajani has learned is how significant time is.
“Everything is so quick that you have to be on time. You have to have your samples done by a certain time, show your line to people by a certain time and do your production by a certain time. If you’re not timely, everything has a ripple effect and you could waste a year over it.”
Rajani explains that the fashion industry is a difficult one and it is necessary to be persistent. What keeps her going is thinking about the finished product. “Seeing the line come to a finish and when I wear my own samples, I feel proud of it. I feel like it’s a big achievement. I feel like I’m getting somewhere.”
Ultimately, Rajani wants to see her designs in department stores such as Holt Renfrew or Saks Fifth Avenue and to live in New York once again. Even though her work has been successful, she still is not exactly where she wants to be. “I want to set my line in a way –“ she pauses thoughtfully and then continues, “You have to start somewhere, so I think this it my starting point.”
You can purchase Rajani’s designs at www.malikarajani.com. Her fall line will be released in September 2016.