LIHU‘E– International fashion designer Sha Ali Ahmad of Ahmad Couture owns a clothing studio in New Delhi and in India, however Kaua‘i holds a special place in his heart.
For the past 13 years, he’s been bringing original fashion to Kauai and he helped start the annual Kauai Fashion Weekend — which would have had its eighth iteration last month, but was postponed due to COVID-19.
“I visited Kaua‘i for the first time on an invitation from a great friend of mine and it was love at first sight with the island,” said Ahmad.
Visiting Kauai very soon became a ritual and he scheduled his trips directly after fashion shows in Miami. Over time, Ahmad began to bring his collections with him every year.
Ahmad was born in a small town in North India called BHEL Jhansi, and fashion was not his first passion. Instead he was known for his large-sized oil paintings and watercolors.
“Having been brought up in a laid back place like that, I picked up art pretty early in life and have a degree from an art college,” said Ahmad. “I won my fair share of prestigious awards in school, along with many of my paintings getting sold at famous exhibitions within the country.”
One day, when Ahmad was going through his career options with the support of his family, he received a fashion show invitation. He went to that show and it changed his career choice forever.
“That show changed my life and left me properly mesmerized. It was the start of a fascination towards the fashion industry for me,” said Ahmad.
Ahmad said he knew it was an unconventional career choice, since many Indian parents want their kids to pursue careers in medicine or engineering. But he did it anyway.
“An understanding family is a huge blessing since they wholeheartedly encouraged me on to go for a profession I love,” said Ahmad.
Ahmad worked his way up the industry ladder after doing a few runway shows in India, he got a job in a fashion house and started designing for some countries in the Middle East.
“Being a small-town boy, this was priceless for me in terms of learning the tricks of the trade,” said Ahmad. “ My love affair for designing grand outfits was quick to take shape.”
Besides designing beautiful dresses, Ahmad was considered a talented cricketer in his district and represented his state in badminton in India.
“(I) had a great run in sports and art,” said Ahmad. “They helped me grow as a designer, with sports teaching me discipline and hard work and art setting my imagination free.”
In 2013, Ahmad and Marynel Valenzuela, owner of Inkspot Printing hosted their first Kauai Fashion Weekend (KFW) at the Hilton Hotel, which is now called the Kauai Beach Resort.
“The one event was (such) a huge success that (former) Mayor Carvalho jokingly dared Marynel to hold it every year,” said Ahmad. “We took the dare seriously and held the event every year since then.
He continued: “This year we were going to be organizing our 8th Annual Kauai Fashion Weekend but unfortunately we have to wait for the pandemic to get under control.”
Valenzuela echoed Ahmad, saying postponing the 2020 event was a tough decision.
“We miss everyone this year, the fashion show event has been apart of our lives,” said Valenzuela. ” As much as we would love to postpone the event this year, there’s still a lot of uncertainties in our current situation.”
Ahmad enjoys helping the youth of Kaua‘i go after their dreams. Ahmad said it also gives him great pleasure to recall how a few of the local girls he trained as models made it to the front cover of some famous fashion magazines.
“We have trained over 150 girls to walk the ramp, girls who now have the confidence to dazzle the world with their professionalism and style,” said Ahmad.
“We could facilitate that because we always do editorial shoots for these magazines at Kaua‘i’s exotic locations, with the help of Sue Kanoho from Kauai Visitors Bureau and Kauai Economic Development Department,” said Ahmad. “Natasha Kertes, an extremely talented and famous fashion photographer from Miami, shoots these for us.”
Ahmad said the Kauai Fashion Weekend event wouldn’t have become what it is today if it wasn’t for his people behind the event, which he considers as his Kaua‘i ohana.
Ahmad’s vision is to see Kaua‘i on the map of great fashion destinations.
“I know it’s a long way to go before that happens, but with relentless dedication everything is possible,” said Ahmad. “Kauai is one of the rare places in the world which knows how to successfully pair heritage with a modern outlook.”
Ahmad’s most cherished piece of couture that he created was for a 7-year-old Louisville girl who had a rare blood disease which helped him get through some of his own personal hardships.
“After coming to know of her story from a friend Shannon Hori, News Anchor from Wave 3 News, I was so touched and inspired to gift her with a gown I exclusively designed for her,” said Ahmad. “Remembering Audrey’s joy on wearing the dress keeps me going through tough times.”
Stephanie Shinno, reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.