By Isabella Bragoli
Leila Jinnah is a NY-based accessories designer and production consultant. The percolation and fluidity of identity are very much the focus of her work and manifest ideas of struggle and inherent instability that is reflected in the world today. Jinnah subtly challenges us to confront the realities of everyday life and works to transform apparently ordinary notions to rather extraordinary materials and items.
Leila Jinnah has spent the last few months isolating in her apartment in New York City
and we began our conversation discussing what was happening with coronavirus.
Jinnah showed me one of her embroidered masks from which she explained that since
the pandemic she has been imparting more significance and thought to cotton medical
masks. While creating these masks, Jinnah also began to look back on her ancestry
and explore the Indian tradition of mirror work, an embroidery technique of attaching
small, fragmented mirror pieces onto fabric. Jinnah explained that the use of fractured
mirrors within the form of a mask evokes a sense of timeless selfhood – the reflection,
and duplication of identity as we see ourselves reflected in an endless cadence of
mirrors. Ultimately, for the designer, isolation has created an artistic impetus and one
that seems to have culminated in introspection and thoughtfulness of materials, design,
The introspection offered by isolation has shown that artistry is an inherently personal thing but of course, in many cases, it is a shared, public good. For Jinnah, this manifests with her wishing to feel a connection with those she works with. The designer sits with the women who make her hats, forging genuine relationships and a deeper understanding of the millinery craft and manufacturing process of her designs. Jinnah explained how transparency within the fashion industry has become a pressing issue further upstream in the supply chain, with consumers increasingly concerned about fair labour and sustainable resourcing.
For Jinnah, the current social landscape has made the theme of identity and the importance of the craftsman even more poignant, particularly given the context of the Black Lives Matter movement. Jinnah explained to me that whilst outwardly, support is evidenced, unsurprisingly, at the very heart of the industry, there lies systemic racism and exploitation.
Jinnah described how people of colour are disproportionately involved in factories thousands of miles away and remain invisible, suffering the most. Brands have created a production model that keeps garment workers poor and working in dangerous, substandard conditions to maximise their own profits. The buying practices of fast-fashion include ignoring illegal subcontracting and allowing forced unpaid overtime, and it is these practices that have incentivised the complete erosion of garment worker-rights by both manufacturers and the government. When the Covid-19 epidemic has presented the world with the greatest challenge we have faced in a century, we have seen the fashion industry indeed abandon these same workers. In many countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia, brands are refusing to pay for billions of pounds worth of orders they had already placed with suppliers.
In Leila Jinnah’s eyes, we are currently facing an identity-crisis on a global scale. The invisibility of workers and lack of transparency in the supply chain (supported and bolstered by systemic racism) is something that must be reversed and dismantled. According to the designer, the most important thing is introspection, taking the time to learn about what we are buying and where it has come from, shining a light on the maker and their craft. Jinnah’s brand, therefore, in its discussion of identity and focus on the maker has never been more relevant and we can look to it as a model for a more positive and sustainable fashion industry.