It’s rare that fashion nowadays sparks instant joy (unless you’re shopping on Nineteenth Amendment full time…) but that’s exactly how we felt when we first saw Ferrah’s collection. Dallas-based Ferrah’s name is derived from the Arabic word for ‘joy’ so it’s not surprising they combine the most cerebral points of inspiration (like Indian female protection squads) and intense thoughtfulness around design elements (creative materials and drapes) to create pieces that ooze female empowerment and fun. Cofounded by Lea Nyland Poulsen and Lela Orr, their combo of Parsons training and Danish design sophistication makes us fall in love with the details. In this designer spotlight, we hear the backstory behind the duo and where they currently stand on the Women’s Movement, eco luxury in the fashion industry, and combining creative hats.
How and why did you start designing?
Lela: At a very young age I loved sketching and appreciated fashion. One of my earliest memories, before I could even read, includes paging through my grandma’s copies of Vogue and drawing my favorite looks. Throughout my life, my interests changed drastically but my love of fashion always stayed constant, so I knew there was something there.
What is your brand aesthetic and what makes your brand unique?
Lela: Our brand aesthetic is timeless, sensuous, and full of life and movement. Our ultimate goal is to create pieces that bring our customers joy. Ferrah is an eco-luxury brand, meaning we focus on sustainability by using zero-waste techniques, we stay environmentally conscious by using natural dyes and mostly organic and/or natural fabric and consider ourselves luxury as we create high-quality fashion staples made to last years.
What is your fashion philosophy?
Lela: My fashion philosophy actually inspired our name. Ferrah means “joy” in Arabic and, to me, that’s the most important aspect of designing – creating pieces with the customer in mind and selling something that will make women feel confident, beautiful, and most importantly, joyful and happy.
Clothes impact the way we feel and think. I believe it’s important as a designer to acknowledge the transformative impact clothes have on our persona and strive to create pieces that boost confidence and compliment the female form. Trends are perpetually changing, so wear what makes you happy and feel confident regardless of trend. For me, it’s more about style than any fashion trend.
How has your design changed over time?
Lea: Over time my designs have developed into more wearable and commercial pieces. For a long time I didn’t think about the woman I was designing for, and only wanted to experiment with volume and pattern-making, pushing my boundaries as a designer without any commercial aspect in mind. Over time, I developed a great sense for the women I admire and want to dress and I always have her in mind when I pair functionality with comfort AND style. I aim to create pieces with familiarity and a twist, evoking curiosity by playing inventively with the female silhouette – my previous experimentation comes to life in a more subtle manner.
Lea: Our latest collection; “This Is For You” had its creative starting point during the 2016 Presidential Election followed by the Women’s March. Lela and I were very moved by human interest groups focused on female empowerment across the world. We were particularly interested in one group of women based in India, The Gulabi Gang or the Pink Vigilantes. This gang was originally formed as a result of many Indian women suffering from domestic abuse. These women came together and started patrolling the streets with sticks, ready to step in if they witnessed any assault. The Gulabi Gang are taking back their rights as women, teaching their young to stand up for themselves and to fight back against suppression. We were very moved by the Gulabi Gang’s female support system, sisterhood and courage, which lead to our Gulabi-inspired sari draping techniques. To achieve bold, powerful and also sensuous looks, we sculpted and draped many yards of fabric that hugged the body and embrace womanly curves.
What is your biggest hurdle building a brand today?
Lela: Making quality womenswear in an industry saturated with extremely talented designers can be very challenging. I found that competition was very fierce, first at Parsons, then later in the real world building a brand. However, I think this pushed me to stay true to my own aesthetic and work harder than ever.
When you start any business, there’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears involved and there are so many integral components to building a successful fashion brand. When I started my career in the fashion industry I was only 23 and very naive, but knew my customer and aesthetic. You eventually figure the rest out and I actually think that naivety mixed with determination helped propel me to where I am today.
What do you think about fashion today?
Lea: Pffeeeww – this is a hard question! I think the fashion industry has gone through massive changes just in the last decade – it’s almost like it has become socialized or democratized and therefore also more accessible to anyone with fast fashion giants like Zara or H&M. This on one hand can be seen as a positive; enabling women and men from all walks of life to look and feel their best. However, our environment has also taken a toll from fast fashion as over consumption has become the norm. Li Edelkoort [of Edelkoort Trend Reports] recently said ‘fashion is dead.’ Meaning, fashion used to be an indicator of the avant-garde and grand ideas and is now merely an answer to the all-powerful consumer. Although I admire her and do believe she has a point, I also see consumers becoming more and more aware and asking brands to practice ethically with higher quality standards. With all that being said, I think there are some really interesting and contemporary point of views coming out from young emerging designers such as Marine Serre who recently won the LVMH prize or even Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia, and his very strong influential aesthetic.
Where do you go and what do you do for inspiration?
Lea: In our team at Ferrah, we like to talk – and often about the big subjects in life. Lela and I have such a great ping pong of how we view the world and everyone in it, that sometimes we get lost in our conversations and all of a sudden we end up with a really strong subject we want to talk about in our collections. Furthermore we both appreciate art and love going to the DMA, or the Dallas Museum of Art, for visual inputs and inspiration. Lela is a great lover and knower of music and will often introduce me to lyrics and melodies that can become the whole mood for a collection. And, finally we find documentaries or relevant TV shows – basically storytelling – super inspiring to create worlds around. It’s a great database of influence and enthusiasm that we can stick our heads into when we need that kick-off for a new collection.
Lela: Become a jack of all trades. When starting a career in fashion, some may not realize, becoming a designer or creative director and building a brand requires knowledge in many fields. On any given day, Lea and I act as a fashion designer, stylist, trend forecaster, set designer, retoucher, graphic artist, video editor, financial advisor, marketing manager, art director, curator, project manager, casting director, etc… Don’t be afraid of a challenge and take on internships or jobs in various fields, even some not fashion-related. While we still consider ourselves “emerging,” we found that our combined years of insight and experience are key to building a successful brand.
Swap pink hats for metallic mermaid skirts and shop Ferrah’s first collection launch “For You” now and get your eco-lux lady on.
In Boston for the Stories Over Season’s Pop Up, come see their metallic skirt in person at 220 Newbury Street!