A recent graduate from Drexel University with a B.S in Fashion and founder of the ever-growing Instagram Store "Shop Young Neen" Neena Hoshang Batliwala is the coolest of rising fashion stars in the industry. As a South Asian American, Neena grew up all around the USA and described her style as Sensory overload, humorous, kitschy, and nostalgic. One to watch, Neena has captured the hearts of creatives from every inch of the world through her social media presence and what she has coined to be jellyfish tops inspired by the iconic 2000's kidswear era.
Between running her business and spending time with family over the holidays, Neena sat down with Bol to talk about all things fashion, family history, and South Asian representation.
Hi Neena, it's so lovely to speak with you! Let's start off with a little introduction; please tell me a little about yourself and your perspective on clothing as an up and coming designer!
As a designer & a person, my priority is bringing comfort and joy to people. Human relationships to clothing and material objects are a whole other discussion but allow me to digress momentarily. The items on our bodies and the objects around us are more meaningful now more than ever. Each piece we surround ourselves with has more of an impact on our well-being and day-to-day than we realize. I want my pieces to be an exciting part of people's daily rituals, whether it be zoning out during a zoom meeting to stare at the art print on your wall or the convenience or getting dressed without having to think twice about looking cute and feeling good.
That's an exciting ideology; I completely agree that clothing and art choices are an extension of oneself. As a designer, you have the ability to influence those choices and in turn, affect your consumers everyday lives.
So if you don't mind, please tell me a little about Shop Young Neen!
'Shop Young Neen' seeks to bring the joyous and playful spirit that lives within us to decor and clothing. 'Shop Young Neen' was founded in response to the new norms of pandemic living. Postcards From Quarantine and Dream Girl illustrations liven up our Instagram feeds and the walls we've begun to consider coworkers and confidants. Our Jellyfish tops feature body contouring lettuce edges and contrast color stretch fabrics that accompany you through the workday and around the block for a walk or a jog.
That's so cool. I'm currently in love with your jellyfish tops and cannot wait to get my hands on one myself. Yet what I'm dying to know is the story behind the name Shop Young Neen.
Saying "Shop Young Neen" always makes me chuckle a little. "Young.neen" has been my personal Instagram for a few years, and at some point, friends and even employers started calling me Young Neen. The "Neen," being my nickname and "Young," referencing the names of rappers I listen to. Because I'm primarily selling through Instagram, I wanted the shop name to feel connected to my social media presence.
Side note: I'm constantly thinking about rebranding and name changes because this one definitely doesn't feel entirely like me/ my future goals.
That so funny; I love that the name has so much of you and your history in it. Speaking of history, I noticed that you started your brand by creating shorts from customers' old saris and salwars. How did you come up with the idea to combine your love of South Asian fabrics with a western silhouette?
The sari upcycling concept has been on my mind since 2014 when I started paying more attention to fashion's environmental impact but only came to fruition as an extension of my senior thesis collection. The collection combined references of traditional Indian wear and American ready-to-wear. My aunt, who works in Mumbai's fashion industry, sent me excess sample fabric when I was initially designing my senior thesis, and the shorts you're referencing were made from this fabric. Growing up watching the extravagant Bollywood attire and luxurious textiles glide across the screen captivated me. I am always looking through old family photo albums that documented my relative's immigration across the globe and how their cultural identity was seen through their clothing and home objects. My family immigrated in the late 80s, so a lot of my silhouette references come from this era.
Again, I love that you have so much history and elements of you in each of your creations. However, it looks like you are moving away from indo-western wear into more western clothing from your Instagram. Do you think you would ever go back to creating indo-western garments?
Indo western is very much on my mind and in the works. The category itself feels inherently caught between two worlds, and I hope to continue to bring them together through traditional textiles and modern silhouettes. Because it's so deeply personal, I want every piece to convey that emotion to those wearing the garment whether or not they are South Asian.
Fashion is so deeply personal and, as you've been saying, really intertwined with our cultures and background. I'd love to know what does fashion mean to you as a South Asian woman?
Fashion is another iteration of a home to me. My parents both grew up in Mumbai (we still call it Bombay because that's how they grew up saying it), but my dad is Parsi, and my mom is Kashmiri. In my family, there's always been this duality to even the smallest daily rituals. I think that that's what has made me so attached to combining Indian and western fashion sensibilities. Fashion is emotional to me. At times when I didn't feel a connection to my physical home or self, I could always rely on the pieces I wore to comfort and uplift me.
Speaking of uplifting, do you believe there is a need for more South Asian representation in the fashion world?
I've seen small shifts in the industry from the time I stared at NYFW runway live streams as a 14-year-old to now. We're clearly in a time of social change, and the fashion industry has only just started to welcome faces and bodies of color into the bigger picture. I don't think I can say that without mentioning the thousands of South Asian faces that work tirelessly only to be overlooked. Representation is important, and my heart swells when I get to work with other South Asians or seeing models collaborate with large brands. I feel a sense of urgency around the discussion of fast fashion. Too many global corporations are peddling a false reality of sustainability and not addressing their dangerously unethical practices. It's again, a topic for another day because fashion is eternally indebted to these countries where outsiders take the shiny, beautiful people and objects and forget the hands and work behind it.
Yes, of course, we must remind ourselves of the people that make our garments rather than just the faces of the brand. Fashion and style are so inherently personal, but more often than not, we forget that without those individuals working so unbelievably hard, we wouldn't be able to express ourselves through our clothing, and for that, we are eternally indebted to them.
On a little bit of a lighter note, before we go, is there any advice you would give to the young people in the South Asian community trying to follow their dreams in fashion?
Haha, I don't think I have the accolades to be giving advice to anyone. Still, to those interested in pursuing a career in fashion or the creative industry, I'll say what I am constantly saying to myself: everything is a work in progress, it's okay if you do not have it all figured out; just try everything you can dip your toes in every damn puddle you find until its the right one. Then you'll find yourself drowning in a sea of possibilities, and while that is overwhelming, it's so much better than asking "what if."
That's all for now but make sure to head on over to Neena's Instagram to shop and never miss her newest creations!
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