By Zurain Imam

Waqas Ahmed of Print Therapy spent his early years in a small village in Punjab in a household, he says, "where value for hard work, honesty, respect and love helped me to develop my enormous creative potential."

After attending private school in Gujranwala, he attended the prestigious Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design (PIFD)  from which he graduated in 2005 with a degree in Fashion Design and where he is currently an Assistant Professor of  Design Research and Development in its Fashion Design department, mentoring aspiring students of Fashion Design since 2007.

Here, Waqas talks to MyFashionFix about the impetus behind the launch of the Print Therapy brand, the line of artisanal and cerebral jewellery; the importance of human connection and meaning in the label's exquisite pieces…

MyFashionFix:  Where did you grow up and were you always artistically-inclined?

WA:  I spent the early years of my life in a small village in Punjab. I clearly remember as a child always being fascinated by the various traditional craft practices of that place. I feel that the experience of growing up in that particular area has been a metaphor for my love of craft and the ability to create. Similarly, Saba (Waqas’s life and business partner) also has her own set of experiences particular to her upbringing.

MFF: You later attended the Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design (PIFD). What did you study and specialize in there?

WA:  I graduated in 2005 from the PIFD with a degree in Fashion Design and have also been mentoring aspiring students of Fashion Design at the same institute since 2007.

MFF: What was your thesis about?

WA: My thesis was based on the idea of exploring various notions of feminism as symbols of beauty, fragility and strength.

MFF: You launched Print Therapy with your wife Saba in 2012-13. Is she still involved with the brand?

WA: Yes Saba is still a very important part of Print Therapy.  She also has a degree in Fashion from the University of South Asia. Print Therapy is actually the brainchild of us both.  It initially began as a clothing line in 2012. We both had this penchant for looking at clothes as unique artifacts and always paid attention to the minutest details, rendering them a jewel-like aura. This led to the production of our first jewellery collection in June 2013. But now we have kind of defined our roles to keep our involvement more organized. My area of expertise majorly includes design research and Saba takes care of the process of execution. Design development is something that we are both involved in.

MFF: What is the philosophy behind print therapy?

WA: Print Therapy’s philosophy is based on the very simple idea of producing jewellery pieces that have certain meanings; we take the spirit of creating as an opportunity to celebrate our personal fascinations, inquire into our ambiguities and voice our opinion against various personal and social concerns.

MFF: What is the idea or significance behind the label's name?

WA: The name also resonates with our philosophy. The art of making and selling is actually a therapeutic sort of phenomenon which helps us to connect to new people; get to know about them and to let them know about us. It is about sharing thoughts and making a meaningful contribution to the way people feel, perceive and respond. Print has always been a significant medium for us to communicate all these emotions.

MFF: what are the main inspirations and influences of your jewellery pieces?

WA: Our inspiration always comes from small things that are particularly significant at a certain point in our life. It could be as simple as something that we just randomly hear or see, that makes us think and ask questions or brings us comfort, gives us good energy or makes us feel loved, proud, connected, affiliated and fascinated … or conversely stimulates burdensome feelings of guilt, anxiety or responsibility.

MFF: what medium do you primarily work in? Can you briefly describe the process of creating a Print Therapy piece?

WA: We majorly use brass as the basic raw material. The process of manufacturing involves the traditional Indian jewellery- making techniques. The printed parts of each piece incorporate our personalized miniature size patterns, printed on fabric and very precisely enclosed in each piece under a thick layer of resin.

MFF: your pieces seem to be buoyed by strong feminist statements; gender communicating emotions and even current events that might affect social change. Why is all this so important to express in your work?

WA: The communication of certain emotions or messages through our pieces has become an increasingly important detail for us, because we strongly believe that design is a very powerful form of visual manifestation and it gives us the liberty to accept and express our diversity as human beings. It goes far deeper than our words, in how humans relate to each other while human relations are the core of our social issues. We really want design to be a part of everyday conversations: for example, to comment on what is going on in the news. We personally think if design could be channeled correctly, it could be a powerful agent of social change.

MFF: What sort of woman would be attracted to Print Therapy pieces? How would you describe the Print Therapy woman?

WA: The Print Therapy woman is somebody who takes life as an opportunity to explore, express and contribute. She indubitably embraces her character; takes pride in being a woman and defines fashion as a bodily practice that posits her as an individual, within society and the world.

MFF: your pieces, especially the earrings have evocative names such as 'Chand Bibi 'and Memsahib'. How do you come up with such names and what is their significance?

WA:  Our designs are representative of our observations, experiences; the people we meet and the places we visit etc. “Memsahib” investigates, how cultural borders, whether physical or mental, are slowly disappearing or shrinking down to the physical border of an individual’s own skin. It also refers to the strange aesthetical journey of an Indian woman across cultural frontiers during the iconic era of the British Raj“Chand Bibi” seeks inspiration from the persona of Chand Bibi, a Muslim warrior princess, as a metaphor to portray the aspirations of today’s Pakistani woman, who is continuously thriving to utilize her strengths and become independent.

MFF: Your line is featured in the influential online designer collective 'Not Just A Label’. How did that come about?

WA:  Being a member of ‘Not Just A Label’ black sheep community is something that I am really proud of and love to talk about! During our two weeks-long presentation at the International Fashion Showcase London 2014, we met NJAL’s team and they loved our product for its eccentricity and originality. Two years later, in 2016, they contacted us again and featured our label in their black sheep segment. It is a very special segment of their online designer platform and it celebrates the most striking labels from all over the world! 

MFF: Briefly tell us about the exhibition 'Butterfly Effect' you curated in February 2014 at the Pakistan High Commission in London?

WA:  I represented Pakistan at the International Fashion Showcase (IFS) London 2014 through the curation of a group show. The two weeks-long display titled ‘Butterfly Effect’ exhibited collections of five different labels including Print Therapy. It revealed epics from a culturally diverse Pakistan with the interpretation of indigenous crafts and the strategic blending of fashion with business .The collections brought to London the concept of global monoculture with the representation of ‘Made in Pakistan’.  

MFF: Up until now, how did you advertise your label?

WA: We majorly target young women and knowing the fact that our youth has become extremely gadget and internet -savvy, we rely more on various social media platforms to advertise our work.

 MFF: What are the reasons you decided to start stocking with

WA: I was introduced to Andleeb Rana (COO, MyFashionFix) through Yahsir Waheed (Fashion designer and design educationist at PIFD). The main reason behind stocking at MyFashionFix is the inimitability of this platform. I love the way this whole online space is curated, with a limited number of select designers and individualistic types of products. It seems extremely serene and arty, instead of being just another E- store representing retail madness!

MFF: what are your expectations of stocking at MyFashionFix? What type of audience do you want and intend to reach out to?

WA: At MyFashionFix, by maintaining the exclusivity of the product, we expect to expand the brackets of our audience and reach people who will find a certain sort of intellectual connection with our pieces and understand the visual messages that these pieces hold.

MFF: What are your future plans for print therapy?

WA: Print Therapy strategizes to strengthen its representation in local and international fashion milieus as an independent jewellery label. It also plans to diversify the product range and come up with two more lines. One is going to be an extremely exclusive bespoke line and the other is going to be more on the contemporary side, majorly focusing on day-looks with highly affordable price points.