Sue Randhawa is the owner and one of the main creative forces of The Optical Boutique, Vancouver’s foremost luxury eyewear destination. An all-around powerful woman, Sue shamelessly wears herself on her sleeves. She is bold, brave, and unafraid to make a strong fashion statement. We talked to Sue about her origins and inspirations in the eyewear business, the fashion seen in Vancouver, and the importance of expressing yourself through style without worrying about what others think.
Moda & Estilo: Tell us a bit about how you became an optician? Why did you get into eyewear?
Sue Randhawa: I have been an optician for 25 years, starting out when I was in my early twenties. I got into this field initially because science was at the heart of it. I was wanting to get into a health based profession where I could be part of a solution to someone’s problems. I know that it sounds very cliché, but I wanted to help people.
M&E: Are you from Vancouver originally? Where did you grow up? Tell me a bit about your personal history.
SR: I was born in India and came to Canada at a very young age, my family settled on the East side of Vancouver. I remember as a young child being in the hub of a cultural melting pot, I was intrigued by everything going on around me at the time: the Habitat Movement of 1976, the BeeGees, bell bottoms, and platforms. I was only about 10 so I wasn’t quite old enough to be part of anything, but the fashion captivated me.
M&E: How important is style to you?
SR: Style continues to be important to me because it’s an extension of who I am. I’m very fortunate because I’ve been able to incorporate my two passions, science and fashion, into what I do every day.
M&E: How would you describe your personal style?
SR: My personal style would be described as bold or strong by some people. I have a very definitive way of dressing, I can go from one extreme to another. I don’t follow any set trends, I tend to wear what makes me feel good. I like to express who I am through my clothes.
M&E: Your style is very bold. Why is that more interesting to you than something more subdued?
SR: Why do I tend to be more bold than subdued? I think that comes from wanting to express my strength. I want people, women in particular, to know that they too can be strong enough and brave enough to wear whatever they like. They don’t need to follow any fashion rules. It’s about learning to express who you are at your core, you can be soft spoken or loud, shy or assertive. You don’t need to fit any fashion mold. Be strong enough to create your own mold. Use fashion as a way to express your mood, your taste, and your creativity. Just because you get to a certain age doesn’t mean it’s time for you to start fading away!
M&E: You have a very interesting way of mixing traditional Indian clothing with Western designers? What compels you to do that? Is it important to represent your heritage?
SR: Fashion has no rules for me. It’s as simple as that. I mix polka dots with stripes with squares with flowers. I mix up Indian jewelry with Western pieces all the time. I’m not afraid of the Fashion Police coming after me. People get very hung up on what other people think. I say, “Don’t over think fashion.” Just do what pleases you. I’m Indian and very proud of my heritage. I hope I represent that every day, but I don’t make a conscious decision to incorporate it into my look for the day.
M&E: What’s the key to finding eyewear that’s fits an individual?
SR: It’s not so simple. When somebody comes in to see me I like to make my recommendations based on their features. I look at their skin tone, bone structure and face shape. I ask questions about their lifestyle. I want to know a little bit about their personal sense of style. I listen to their wants and needs. The chosen frames have to work with all of this and most importantly the Rx and of course the budget.
M&E: You’re always wearing glasses of some sort. What does eyewear add to a person’s overall style? Aside from functional benefits, what does it add stylistically?
SR: The right pair of eyeglasses can change your look so dramatically. Never before have eyeglasses been as popular as they are now. I’m having a lot of fun right now doing what I’m doing because people are realizing the impact and power of having the right pair. This is where the fashion component comes into it. I have women coming in to see me that are wanting to change their look stylistically. They know that glasses are the first thing that anybody is going to see or notice on them. They know that it makes sense to have more than one pair of glasses now. This is where I often give my clients fashion advice ranging from a recommendation on a haircut to putting an outfit together.
M&E: Do you see Vancouver as a stylish place? What sets it apart from the rest of the world?
SR: I would say that Vancouver as a city is too laid back to be stylish. Our climate and location puts us in a position where most of us would rather hit the mountains to ski or the ocean to sail. Saying that though, I see the fashion front changing and Vancouver developing as a place where fashion is definitely setting a tone. The development of eco friendly designers in the city is amazing. We’re seeing great talent coming from the fashion schools.
M&E: What are your favorite haunts in the city?
SR: My store is in Kerrisdale and I love that area because it’s old and quaint. It dates back over 100 years and for Vancouver that’s historical! I also love Gastown for its great restaurants like L’Abattoirand Chambar. Reflections rooftop patio at the Hotel Georgia is another great place.
M&E: Who are some of your favorite designers internationally and locally?
SR: My favorite international designers would be I think Dries van Noten, Comme des Garçons. I like Céline and Marni as well. Locally in Vancouver, I would say that the genius of Evan Clayton is pretty amazing. Evan Ducharme is another favorite.
M&E: What’s your favorite part about attending fashion shows?
SR: My favorite part about attending the fashion shows in Vancouver is that I love to show my support for the young emerging designers like Evan [Clayton] and Evan [Ducharme]. Connally McDougall is another amazingly talented designer that I met at VFW in March. The caliber of designers that showcased their designs this year set the bar very high. I draw inspiration from speaking to them and finding out about their goals and ambitions, and I want to see them succeed.
This article was originally published on Moda & Estilo – Global Lifestyle & Emerging Fashion Magazine.
Sahro Hassan is an 18 year old fashion designer, whose family immigrated to the United States in order to escape the violence of their native Somalia. Sahro, an ambitious and talented young woman, is already in the process of designing her third collection designed for young Muslim women. After hearing about Sahro’s inspirational story, we reached out to her to get her take on her own style, the importance of Muslim role models for women, her feminist aspirations, and why to not, as she says, “use the present as an excuse.”
Designer, Sahro Hassan, wearing one of her own designs.
Moda & Estilo: Tell me a little bit about your experience growing up.
Sahro Hassan: Sure. Growing up back home was really hard, but it didn’t look that way at the time because everybody around us was living the tough life. It was really, really difficult, especially for women because we did not have a way of expressing ourselves; men mostly dominated. When I came here with my parents when I was ten or eleven years old, I found so many ways for women to express themselves and the freedom to do what they want. I found that I am really passionate about fashion and expressing myself through that.
M&E: What was the ultimate reason for your family’s emigration to the United States?
SH: Mostly for safety reasons, but also to better our education, because we did not have a good education system and there was a war going on. My parents thought it would be a better choice for us to be in America, get a good education, and have a better future.
M&E: How did you first become interested in fashion?
SH: When I was in eighth grade, I was shopping for a formal dress. I went to the store with both of my parents, and I would try something on, and they would be like, “No, no, you can’t wear that. We don’t like it.” I got very frustrated, so I decided to make my own dresses. That’s how I got started. Before that I really loved art, but I really capitalized on fashion, and that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to give the same opportunities to young, Muslim girls. There are a growing number a Muslim girls in the United States, but when you look in the magazines, you don’t see any Muslim women that you can look up to. I want to be that figure so young girls can look up to me and say, “I can do this as well.”
M&E: So you said you were interested in art. What kinds of art were you attracted to?
SH: I was just drawing and writing a lot of poetry.
M&E: When did you start working on your own collections?
SH: I started working on them last year (2013 in October). I got started in an academy that was for young business students to write a business plan, but what I didn’t know was that we actually had to make a prototype for our business. I did that, and ever since it has been an ongoing journey.
M&E: How would you describe your collections? What words come to mind when you think about them?
SH: I’d say modesty, different, vibrant, unique, and really expressive, but telling a story in a way.
M&E: What inspires when you are making your own collections?
SH: I look through magazines for inspiration, but that rests less with what I see in them than what I don’tsee. As I am looking at magazines, I think, “Ok. How can I make this work? How can this be reassembled so that a Muslim girl can wear this? How can I style this in a way that is appropriate for me to wear and still be stylish and expressive?” I also draw a lot of inspiration from the TV that I watch.
M&E: What kind of magazines do you like to read and what TV shows are you watching?
SH: I watch America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, and What Not to Wear. I read Marie Claire and Vogue. The list just keeps going.
M&E: Would you like to see yourself in Marie Claire or Vogue someday?
SH: Absolutely! I mean that’s my dream—to one day be in a magazine for something that I love doing and to be that role model that young Muslim girls can look up to. We need a Muslim advocate on the covers and in the pages of magazines, and would love to be that.
M&E: Where have you exhibited your clothes? Have you been in any runways or anything like that?
SH: I have had two fashion shows, and am working on my third one. Eventually, I am going to be trying to sell my clothes to the community. I also do a trade show at a local business.
M&E: How would you describe your personal style?
SH: It matches my mood: I love having fun and I love animal print. Whatever I wear depends on my mood. Like, if I’m not feeling good, I like smoky eye shadow. But I also like to be comfortable.
M&E: You said that you want to create a space for young Muslim women. How does that affect how you design your clothes? Do you see your clothes differently than those of other designers?
SH: Absolutely, I am trying to not follow other people’s designs. I am trying to use “Muslim” as my edge, and instead of just fitting into a style, I’m trying to make that style fit me.
M&E: Do you see yourself as a feminist?
SH: Yes, I do see myself as feminist advocating for women and young girls to not be afraid to share their thoughts and express their creativity. I also believe that women are very underestimated while men dominate, especially in developing countries like Africa. It is very normal in Africa where I grew up for a 12 year old to get married and have children without having any plans for the future. The creativeness of women is locked up in cage, and they have no freedom to speak their minds or take any leadership roles. I believe in challenging tradition in respectful ways. Right now, I am facing against the odds because it’s culturally looked down upon for a girl that’s not married to travel or to further her education. By going to college, I hope to inspire Muslimahs (Muslim girls) to seek a future for themselves and demand their rights as women.
M&E: You are 18 now, so you are still in high school?
SH: I just recently graduated actually.
M&E: Congratulations! What is your plan for the next year or so then? What does the future hold for you?
SH: My plan is to go to school next year. I’m going to Mount Ida College for Fashion Design. I’m still going to be working on my collections on the side as well.
M&E: What was being a young designer in high school like?
SH: In a way it was challenging, because I have had a lot of people criticize me and I didn’t have the confidence that I do now. Now, I just do what I want to do and say what I want to say. It was also difficult in the sense that I had to balance school, chores, work, and sports. But fashion was a way that I could get away from all of that. That’s why I love it.
M&E: Where do you find your confidence now? Where does it come from?
SH: It comes from all of the hard work I’ve put into my collections, once I ignored what people were saying about them and just did what I wanted to. People recognize my drive for it, and have started to come support me.
M&E: Do you have motto that you live by?
SH: I tell myself to use myself as an inspiration and not as an excuse. My family use to think that I wouldn’t be able to go to college because we couldn’t afford it, but I kept telling myself that I didn’t want to use that as an excuse, I didn’t want to use the present as an excuse. I’m just going to use it as an inspiration for why I need to be here and why I need to better myself.
M&E: What advice would you have for other young women, especially young Muslim women, who are interested in designing their own clothes?
SH: I think that you just need to be yourself. Don’t be afraid. “Muslim” is a name and a label, but many people will tell you that you can’t do this because the religion says this. Challenge tradition and just do what you love doing, and don’t be afraid to be different. Every designer has their story and don’t be afraid to tell your story through your designs.