Anum Bashir is tirelessly fantastic. She’s got the most defined sense of style in the region, heaps of business acumen and a healthy side of humility. With exciting projects on the horizon, she talks to Georgie Bradley about quirky beauty products, podcasts and how Ramadan is making her more spiritual.
The stars are aligning quite beautifully for Anum Bashir, of Desert Mannequin fame. She’s 30, thriving and is very happily “not broke!” Three years since her digital platform launched, Anum has regularly if subtly dominated the fashion scene with her pithy and alternative stance on the industry, offering interesting caveats where “clothes are best served with a side of intellect” as goes the tagline of Desert Mannequin.
It’s never just about the cuts or the colour with Anum, it’s about the wider context and talking points that clothes engender: “I love to sit with like-minded women and talk about politics among other topics. Fashion is oftentimes viewed as very frivolous and women in the industry are not as highly regarded as attorneys or surgeons are. It’s very incorrect because fashion and art help bridge divides between socio-economic backgrounds, it’s a very substantial industry,” she says.
And if anyone should be praised for the gear shift in how the industry is being taken more seriously now, it’s Anum. Because she “doesn’t want to be recognised as someone who wore that shirt on a Sunday,” she has those thought-provoking conversations, she wants to push the envelope and she is, but brilliantly, without drowning her followers with self-centric narcissism.
Since the launch of Desert Mannequin, she’s in a very different place right now. Shaking off the “impatient syndrome” of her 20s, Anum has reached a level of achievement where she doesn’t demand warp speed success. Now she’s happy to let each new venture marinate. “I used to be all about the yallah yallah yallah but now I let things happen when they are ready and it feels really good.” It was with this endearing impatience that led her to constantly add feathers to her cap but now, with a much more methodical and polished manner.
Today, she’s between places. When we speak she’d just got off a plane from Doha after hosting a fashion event and was planning her outfits for an upcoming trip to New York. Add to that she’s in the exciting throes of promoting her recently launched “boy meets girl” collaborative capsule collection, DMxN-DUO for AW17 with a “really cool designer based in Tbilisi,” Natuka Karkashadz, which presents a distinct dichotomy and balance of genders with lace and corduroy in equal measure across the looks. Interestingly, this collaboration was formed from an initial friendship during a “purely R&R vacation in Georgia” with Natuka and now they are in talks to do a spring-summer collection next year “which will be three times as big. I love working with designers that I foster friendships with, it always makes for the most interesting projects.”
With her recent hop from Doha to Dubai, she’s definitely in the thick of the industry now and openly admits that being in the city “is a lot more suited given the nature of my job”. But she still maintains a low-profile sans arrogance and an entourage demanding PR-perfect copy about her. The exhaustive list of projects above is an incredible feat for three years and Anum has enjoyed the fruits of her labour around the world whether it’s in London, Paris or Dubai. She laps up the jollities and privileges as much as the next person that come with exclusive invites and events but she wants more – not more of it, but more beyond it.
So, she’s given Desert Mannequin a lick of paint: “The platform outgrew its identity. The more I dabble into consultancy projects and work with different kinds of people in the industry, the more I want to get more stories from other writers involved on Desert Mannequin. Now it’s got a more publication feel to it now. I’m also launching a beauty subsidiary under Desert Mannequin called ‘Let’s Face It’” where quirky, independent beauty products will be put out based on Anum’s love of less is more makeup. As part of developing a stronger voice for her platform, she’s also launching the DMFM podcast – are you as win-tossed as me by now? – “I want to be having these kinds of conversations [our Skype interview] on the podcast – whether it’s about fertility issues, marriage woes or illnesses. It will have a strong fashion undertone to it but I want it to be real discussions with real discussion. I think the industry is very much romanticised but behind it are very real people who have their day-to-day struggles,” she notes.
In the spirit of cultivating critical conversation, I ask Anum about her take on the revolution of modest clothing which has always been linked to faith rather than fashion conscious women. For her, dressing modestly has always been a natural gravitation: “I am going through a ‘more is more’ phase in my life; it’s what I feel most comfortable wearing. I enjoy covering and cloaking my body. I love how TheModist.com drives home the message that dressing conservatively is not just for Muslim women, it’s for a woman who might decide that her breasts aren’t what they used to be, so she wants to cover them, you know?”
With Ramadan upon us, Anum turns to what the Holy Month means in the modern Khaleeji world, as someone who was born and raised in the region. “On some level, as I get older, I have become more spiritual, reflecting on blessings, I give to charity, I’m listening to the Qu’ran every morning and I like to think at the end of the day, I am a good person that people like to work with. I am actually quite fundamental about the way I am choosing to navigate my 30s, it’s very important to me to build strong, lasting and loving relationships,” she says.
But with all the noise on social media (the heartbeat of her brand) is there a way to strip back and ‘fast’ from it in the same way you fast from food? “A detox from anything in life is always a good idea. But we are living in such a fast world that really doesn’t allow for us to switch off. Being an entrepreneur is incredibly exhilarating and has given me a type of high I’ve never experienced before because I’m in the driver’s seat but I can’t sit here and promise I will stop. But I do hope to slow down and be in tune with Ramadan. It’s an interesting time to leverage my platform and share with everyone the beauty and importance of the Holy Month.”
A recent encounter with a good person during one of Anum’s run-of-the-mill trips to the post office restored her faith in humanity. In a time when you turn on CNN and you’re seeing the world crumble with the worst people steering us in every which direction, you’d be forgiven for thinking that people aren’t compassionate or at least don’t have the time to show acts of kindness. But while Anum was retrieving a package, she was told she needed to pay an outstanding custom fee of AED10. She proceeded to give her card to pay for it but only cash was accepted. The closest ATM was a 10-minute walk away. Before she set off, a man stood behind her in line, offered her the AED10 saying it wasn’t fair for her to walk in the heat and it was his good deed for the day. “He wouldn’t accept the AED10 back even though I said I’d get it for him, so I insisted I owed him a burger or something!” As simple a gesture as it was, what we learn from instances like these, in light of Ramadan ahead of us, is that a life without kindness isn’t a very nice world at all. And if Anum is one thing as well, beyond her fabulous status, she’s a gracious person.