Remember when people asked you wanted to be when you grew up? And even if you had no real idea, you’d lead with whatever you were inspired by at the moment: astronaut, firefighter, doctor. Later on, as you grew, that question became one you asked yourself, maybe even if with a sense of urgency as you graduated high school and had to pick a major at university, or when your parents pressured you, or when your friends started landing internships and jobs and by comparison you felt like you had to decide – once and for all.
The reality is, few of us have any clear idea of what we will become, and even less of an idea of what that path will look like. Even a child who does grow up to be exactly what they envisioned, the way forward is never straight, and is filled with loops and U-turns, curveballs and setbacks. For Dubai-based content creator Anum Bashir, a childhood dream did eventually become a reality, but not in a way she could ever have planned for. As the co-creator of Tbilisi-based fashion label N-DUO, which is beloved by influential women far and wide, Anum practically stumbled into the role.
On a spontaneous family vacation to Tbilisi, Georgia, Bashir was approached via DM by the women behind N-DUO, Natuka Karkashadze and Nina Tsilosani, who had noticed she was in town and offered to give her an insider’s tour of their beloved city. At that moment, Anum was already on her way to falling in love with Tbilisi, but her day spent with Natuka and Nina – seeing the city through their eyes – sealed the deal. “There was this instant warmth that I felt from them,” Anum shares in an exclusive interview with Savoir Flair.
By the end of their visit, they had decided to move forward with a collaboration for Fall/Winter 2017, and Anum helped bring it to life with her creative vision. From there, it was launched at Boutique1 in Dubai. “It was exciting to see stuff that we worked on — the fabric that we picked out, the designs that we did together — in a window display,” Anum says.
Soon after their first collaboration, Nina left N-DUO to pursue a career in politics, leaving a gap to fill. It’s here you would typically expect to read “and the rest was history”, but Natuka and Anum decided their next step would be to collaborate on Spring/Summer 2018 together, and see where the relationship went. “Neither party was completely sure how this relationship would grow or evolve,” Anum said. N-DUO’s Spring/Summer 2018 collection proved to be a turning point both for the brand, and for Anum and Natuka’s developing partnership.
Suddenly, women like Eva Chen and Pandora Sykes were posing in N-DUO for Instagram. Man Repeller featured the brand, and Caroline Issa featured them in Tank Magazine. Retailers followed suit. They were picked up by Shopbop, and cool indie stores in London, Copenhagen, and Tokyo, as well as Rania’s Corner in Dubai. “I guess by the time we had wrapped up Spring/Summer 2018, it was just kind of implied that we were in it together for the long haul. That’s when I was formally made Creative Director of the brand,” Anum said.
Anum’s childhood dream of designing clothes became a reality, one that happened cross-culturally as she shuttled back and forth to Tbilisi twice a year. Her shared approach with Natuka was incredibly hands-on, as they would sit together and “draw out everything from mood boards to conceptualizing the collection.” They sourced the fabrics together, and “would just sit there until two a.m., drawing stuff out, looking at old mood boards, playing with buttons, designing, understanding different fabrications. It really was so exhilarating.”
From that exhilaration, a jolt of devastation struck. The pandemic wreaked havoc worldwide, but had a particularly powerful impact on small businesses. “It hit us hard. We had our fair share of challenges,” Anum confesses. “We saw our wholesale distribution shrink significantly. At this time, Natuka and I are literally burning through Business of Fashion and WWD articles, and realizing the importance of direct-to-consumer business.” That quick education forced them to change direction and reinvigorate their website, e-commerce, and relationship with their consumers.
No longer able to physically create together is “something we truly miss doing together,” Natuka shares. “I have such fond memories of us mood-boarding our dream pieces sitting in our hotel lobby. We’d order rounds and rounds of tea and get to work; playing with fabric samples, buttons, lace, scribbling on dozens of sheets of paper. We’re both not the best at drawing, but somehow always ride similar wavelengths when it comes to concepts and ideas. This is our N-DUO process that we cherish and miss so much.”
When nights of matching buttons to fabrics, creating mood boards, and sketching silhouettes evaporated, they conferenced over Zoom, they deliberated over WhatsApp, and they prevailed. “When we were coming up with the concept for our Spring/Summer 2021 collection,” Anum says, “all we could keep thinking about was our N-DUO girl. She still has a life to live, a business to run. She’s got bills to pay, she is raising kids. She’s not trading in style for sweats or pajamas, but comfort is just as important. This collection is kind of dedicated to the girl that’s working from home.”
For Natuka and Anum, that meant beautiful little capes that showed their N-DUO girl off as the superhero she was tasked with being in the midst of a pandemic. It meant relaxed and comfortable fabrics, fabrics that could get wrinkled throughout a long day and still look chic. It meant ease that still felt polished. It meant an authentic response to an authentic problem. It also meant a trial by fire as they had to make decisions together, from a vast distance. “I’ve learned so much about the art of creating clothing because I never went to fashion school and I was never formally trained for this,” Anum shared. “So, in a way, I find it maybe even more enriching than a classroom setting because it’s real life.”
N-DUO’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection came together amid a thousand-and-one other life challenges, but you don’t get a sense of that struggle in the clothes. Instead, they are pastorally serene, softly elegant, and an absolute testament to perseverance. “Brands like N-DUO are keen to find new and sustainable ways to survive,” Natuka says. “Consumers are increasingly savvier, and want to be a part of the narrative, and we’d love to give them that. A magical story creates desirability, and we want people to love and understand our pieces and the personality behind them as much as we do. There’s a lot of emotion and pride in our N-DUO styles, which we’d love to continue sharing for years to come.”
Ironically, the very collection she helped create has never touched Anum’s hands, she’s never been able to see it in person, or try it on. The first time she’ll get to see it? “Probably when it hits stores. We luckily have a stockist here in Dubai. That’ll be the first time I get to actually see something that I created, which is so bizarre.”