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Ranjana & Naeem Khan – Bringing Two Worlds Together
Picture this: The world of global fashion designers who dress glamorous celebrities with bold-face names and fashionistas; leggy models wearing fabulous fashions and glittering jewels; high-end stores showcasing the whimsies of fashion.
Then picture this: Struggling South Asian women without marketable skills, little income, closeted lives and low expectations, no language skills, always working, always the care-givers with no prospects of a better life.
Two very different world views – yet in a moment they can come together to the benefit of both. Meet Ranjana Khan, noted jewelry designer, and Naeem Khan, the iconic designer who has dressed everyone from First Lady Michelle Obama to Hollywood Royalty. Come September 26, they are opening up their penthouse studio to a fashion fundraiser to support struggling South Asian women achieve success and confidence through the non-profit organization Wishwas.org.
Wishwas, founded by Nivedita Chandrappa, is a wonderful nurturing place for low income South Asian women who have often felt alone and isolated, who are without marketable skills or mentors. Says Chandrappa, “We aim to create a safe space where immigrant women can come together and develop confidence, faith and trust in each other and their futures. We envision a world where all women will have the opportunity to achieve financial freedom.”
A Fashion Evening for Wishwas
Ranjana Khan, who is board chair and a mentor for Wishwas, has supported the young organization throughout its developmental stages, has encouraged the women, donated fabric and designer garments, as well as her jewelry collections for auctions. Now she and Naeem Khan are throwing open the doors of their penthouse studio on September 26 for a fun evening of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres from Michelin starred Devi Restaurant, with a fashion display of Naeem Khan’s Spring 2014 collection, a silent auction, and a live performance by AATMA Performing Arts. For details on the Fashion Fundraiser, please visit: http://wishwasfundraiser2013.
“This cause has touched me deeply because the women in our lives–our mothers, our aunts, our sisters, and daughters–are seldom given the chance to work on skills that boost their confidence and financially empower them strength. Wishwas’ mission helps make this happen,” says Ranjana Khan.
Ranjana Khan on Women, Home & the World
Ranjana, who grew up in Bombay, India, is passionate about women’s struggles. Born and raised in Bombay, Ranjana has traveled a lot for her work and now lives in New York. “I really wanted to live in Manhattan – it had been a childhood dream and when I came here to the city I was totally infatuated with it and I still am!” she says.
Yet India and the Indian culture still have a strong hold on her. “I’m very grateful I have another culture in me – I dig into it all the time and I’m in awe of my country, more than I ever was, of the beautiful things that we have to offer.”
She is very aware that not all women get the same opportunities and that for many immigrant women from South Asia it’s a struggle to find a livelihood and work that they can truly succeed in.
Having lived in India, she knows how hard it is for girls to succeed. “South Asian women are the reason I’ve taken it so seriously. It could be my mother, sisters, aunts – it could be anyone. We educate our sons first, we give all the opportunities to the boys first -whether they are born second or third in the family.”
She feels many South Asian women are taken for granted by society and their families, pigeon-holed in pre-assigned roles and expected to cook and clean without recognizing their full potential. As she says, one could be making a wonderful chutney which could be marketed at Whole Foods or creating embroidery which could be perfect for hi-end stores.
Ranjana Khan has seen the high potential of the skills these women have and would like to showcase their crafts on hip yoga mats and tote bags which are so in demand in the west. She plans to work with the Wishwas women in channeling their talents into high quality goods.
“It is my way of giving back to the women of South Asia, and to empower them – Wishwas really speaks to me,” she says.
“Teach your daughter she’s as good or better than your son”
What would she like to see change in the way South Asian women are perceived? “What really bothers me is how women look at their own daughters. If someone has three sons, everyone rejoices – if it’s a daughter, there’s sadness,” she says. “Things will only change when a woman feels ‘My daughter can do anything my son can do’, and when the family is impressed with their mothers and daughters and the work they do, and realize they are worth something! Even if they have no education, women can cook and sew and communicate with the family. These are all marketable skills.”
As an insider in New York’s glittering fashion world, Ranjana Khan encourages Wishwas workers to get an eye for detail and perfection so that they have the training to enter that world, and create wonderful products. She says: “I have big dreams for Wishwas – I hope their products can be in high-end stores – stunning items which people will feel they must have.”
What would be her advice to struggling South Asian women?
“It’s a big world out there,” she says, “Teach your daughter she’s as good or better than your son. Give your daughter equal education as your son. Remember you were a daughter too!”