From a UN professional to a fashion designer, Shabnam Pecheck made a dramatic turn in her career to do what she always dreamed of doing – designing unique clothes for unique, inspiring women of Generation X, women who’ve seen the world changing at a lightning speed but kept their cool, build their careers, raised families, all while remaining feminine and chic. Shabnam’s company Ardorn is a sustainable clothing brand, which creates pieces that fit every body every time, while taking care of the planet and the people.
Glitter Trotter: Shabnam, I am really happy we have a chance to meet and chat about you and your brand, Ardorn! Tell me a little bit about yourself – where did you grow up? What do you love to do, eat, watch? Your favorite places, people, movies, foods?
Shabnam Pecheck: Well, you can call me a global nomad of sorts. I was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I grew up between the UK, US and Bangladesh. And the last decade I spent here, in Kenya. I love so many different things, like fashion, sports, kids, music, dance, food...
My favorite food of all time is Dhaka street food. So I try to make it at home, but I can never get it right. So, I am always looking forward to being in Dhaka or NYC, where I indulge in great authentic food.
I love people and culture. As someone who has lived many lives in many places, I love experiencing people's culture, the food, the colors, the attire, the music, and dance. Culture helps you see people in their true element, and it’s just beautiful to me.
I am also a total geek and love all things Sci-Fi and Marvel (no offense to DC lovers). This is also culture, right?!
GT: Oh, most definitely! And what do you love about Kenya?
SP: I love its nature; the wild, untamed, unspoiled beauty of Kenyan nature. I guess that is why I have lived in Kenya for so long. Before you ask now, I don't have one favorite place in Kenya. I like to leave the city occasionally and drive to the Mara or Naivasha or Laikipia, where the sun breaks through the clouds onto the beautiful landscape and the long views take my breathe away. I love the pristine beaches of the coast with the most incredible powdery white sand and turquoise waters. I love all of Kenya in all its wilderness. But I also love the urban jungle of NYC, where my heart is. I arrive at JFK and always feel like I've come home.
GT: And where does fashion fit on the list of things you like and love?
SP: I think my feeling for fashion is that of passion not just love. I find great joy in creating different, beautiful, unique things. I have always loved designing. Even when I was admitted to Columbia University, I moved to NYC determined to take night classes at Parsons. Unfortunately, Parsons did not happen for me, but I got a Master degree from Columba in International and Public Affairs.
GT: That’s not too bad of a deal, and look where this degree took you -- to Kenya!
GT: Tell me, why fashion? You are a very creative person, the way you talk about your life and experiences – you could be a poet or a musician, an artist maybe?
SP: I have always wanted to be in a fashion business. But in South Asia, fashion is not seen as a practical career, a career that could provide you with financial stability, which is important when you think about your future, family... I followed an advice from my parents and built a stable, fulfilling career at the UN, which I was very proud off.
Yet, something was amiss. I few years ago, I was having lunch with a friend and I kept lamenting about never giving a chance to my creative side, never trying to turn my passion into a career. And my friend said, "If not now, then when?" It really struck a chord with me. The same day, I spoke to my husband, who was very supportive. I took a leave from my UN job, and then left to start my new journey with Ardorn.
GT: Fashion has many faces – there is street style, haute couture, boho... What is your calling?
SP: I wanted to have a line for women of my generation, Gen X. Not too many designers have clothes for us. They say, fashion is obsessed with youth, right?!
SP: Well, there is a whole generation of women, who are at a different stage in life. And they want to be stylish and feminine in clothes that’s designed for them, not their daughters. I wanted to design clothes that I would wear, and so would my friends and other stylish women of our age.
GT: I really love this idea! Now, tell me why are you producing clothes in Kenya? As a global nomad, you could have picked any place on the globe.
SP: I live in Kenya and I wanted to give back to a place I call home. I set my manufacturing in Kenya, so I can train and employ Kenyans, and bring positive change to their lives and communities. Apparel manufacturing in Kenya is still in its infancy; and producing my line here is a struggle, especially when it comes to finding manufacturers who have the attention to detail that I like. But I hope that by working with me, Kenyan manufactures can learn, get inspired and have the ability to showcase their work abroad.
GT: Aside from giving back to the community, what are other values you have as a business owner? What guides your daily choices and decisions?
SP: I believe in a perfect balance of the 3Ps -- People, Planet, Profit. As a business woman, I believe that you can make profit while still running an ethical business that treats people fairly and does not harm the planet. All my business decisions have these 3Ps at the core. These are my values and my promise to myself and my children.
GT: Does your current collection have a story?
SP: I am not sure I can really call it a collection. There is no unifying theme connecting the pieces. They are all unique and different in style and personality just like we, women of Gen X, are. I often name my pieces after people, who played a role in my life and whose personality is reflected by a dress. For example, the Margot dress is named after an exceptional young friend of mine, who left the UN, moved to France and is now teaching yoga. The Sansi maxi is named after a wonderful soul, who lives in Kenya and is an avid nature lover. The Lauren dress is named after the actress Lauren Becall.
GT: Aside from great women in your life, what inspires you?
SP: Travel. I love to travel. A few years ago, I travelled to Thailand during the Kings birthday and everything was awash with yellow. Beautiful, vibrant yellow. Such a happy color, I thought. I never wore yellow before, but I love it now, and I have incorporated it in my recent line. It's not for everyone, but it just lights up the room. I am also a huge fan of the 50-60's style. So, I love peering through photos of women of that era or watching movies from that time. My most recent inspiration is the Queen’s Gambit; I loved all the clothes in that movie.
GT: Are you taking your line to the global market? I am sure there are many women around the world, who want to look stylish and feminine, but do not have a creative side like you to design their own clothes.
SP: My clothes are sold online, so I have customers all over the world.
GT: What about Kenyan market?
SP: For now, I think big brands are more popular here, just like in other parts of the world. But I hope one day to see Kenyans proudly wearing locally made brands because this would give a boost to local creativity and would help the apparel manufacturing industry and the economy.
GT: I’ve really enjoyed our conversation! Thank you for sharing your ideas with me. Last question - What is your vision for Ardorn?
SP: Great final question! Starting 2021, ARDORN is evolving into a made-to-measure brand that uses advanced technology to create beautiful sustainable clothing for every body, every time. We have partnerships in place with tech companies and made-to-measure manufacturers; and we will be experimenting with 3D avatars, virtual try-ons, apparel personalization, and many other exciting innovations. This is a huge shift for us, but it allows us to ensure we can stay true to the 3Ps while providing our customers with clothes that fit their unique bodies. We are all set to disrupt the fashion industry in Kenya and globally.
GT: How exciting! I have one more reason to be looking forward to 2021!
SP: Thank you!