Nausheen Khurram – The Artsy Entrepreneur
Born in Pakistan, Nausheen Khurram spent the first eleven years of her life in Lahore. Then her family moved to New York and made it their home.
During college, IT was all the rage and following the trend, Nausheen too took it up as her major, but it took only one semester to bore her enough that she switched her major to Graphic Designs. There was always a creative side to her but she never knew that one could make a career out of it, specifically because like majority of Pakistani parents this was never considered an option. They wanted her to become a doctor or at least stick to some related field.
“When I changed my major to graphic designs my parents thought I was wasting time. Choosing to major in graphic designs was a very unconventional decision. No one in my entire family had ever pursued anything in arts. I was discouraged more times than I can remember. My parents didn’t really make peace with it for a very long time. They kind of gave up on trying to change my mind about it.”
She sees the logic in all the opposition and doesn’t hold it against them. Pursuing a career in arts is not an easy thing to do and not to forget that it can get pretty challenging financially as well; and therefore parents want a profession for their children that can guarantee some level of financial security even in the United States of America, especially when one has an independent streak to their approach. One can land a job as a graphic designer, working for someone else quite easily. Even with a low starting salary one can work their way up but that requires an abundance of patience as it can be a very slow progress.
“I had been working full time since I was 16 years old so I knew for sure I can’t and didn’t want to work for anyone but I didn’t know how to go about working independently either. It was the time well before websites like Elance or Fivrr where freelancers can find steady work.”
Right after graduation Nausheen got married to Khurram Azim, who is the Director/CEO of Laaj Studios. As mentioned earlier not knowing exactly how to go about her own venture, she took a break of sorts and sat on the idea of starting her own business.
“My husband was always very encouraging and supported me in all my decisions no matter how crazy out of world they were. A few months after my wedding I decided I wanted to be a photographer which was crazy because I had only taken one photography class in my entire life and that too as an elective course.”
Her decision of becoming a ‘wedding photographer’ did not materialize out of the blue. It was the result of her own frustration to find a good photographer who could do justice to the festivities of a sub-continent wedding.
“There weren’t any female photographers in the industry and that too Pakistani, so I decided I wanted to pursue this. I wanted to give what I thought was missing. With zero experience in shooting weddings I decided I wanted to do this full time. And with the support of my husband I started to plan.”
Initially her family thought she was crazy and she was a bit reluctant to share the plan with her father, who despite being quite liberal was not going to be comfortable of his daughter pursuing such an unconventional concept. A lot of eyebrows were raised in the desi community as well but with the support of her family she went ahead breaking the stereotypes.
“The experience as a female Wedding photographer has been truly amazing! At first when I would show up to cover weddings, the guests would just stare at me in a shock. They weren’t used to seeing a young desi girl shoot an entire wedding. But they were always very respectful. I’ve never had an issue with that.”
Laaj Studios has worked with the renowned Pakistani director Mehreen Jabbar on several projects.
“Khurram and I have always been a huge fan of Mehreen. We had seen all her plays. Working with Mehreen has been a dream come true. Just a while back it seemed an unattainable goal. Getting a chance to work with her was something we couldn’t have planned but I have come to believe if you have passion and belief about something Allah will always make a way for you to achieve it. You just have to have that faith and a strong desire. Sooner or later things will start falling into place. But you must be persistent.”
Their collaboration was initiated after Mehreen posted a status on her Facebook page, looking for a makeup artist for her serial ‘Neeyat’ starring Mahira Khan, Deepti Gupta, Ahsan Khan and Humaiyon Sayeed, being shot in New York. Rabia, one of Nausheen’s sister who works as a makeup artist at Laaj was referred and Mehreen’s team signed her up. Due to some personal reasons she had to drop out of the project and then Nausheen along with their other sister Ambreen filled in. Additionally, Nausheen was their behind the scenes on set photographer as well.
She shared that the serial was shot at the height of winters and they used to stay outdoors for 10-12 hours every day. This made her realize how difficult acting is and her admiration for the actors increased who make it look so effortless, delivering their dialogues while trying not to shiver in the bitter cold!
When asked about her experience working with the most sought after celebrity in the country, Nausheen was all praise for the superstar.
Nausheen’s artistic cravings did not end with the establishment of the Laaj Studios. After 7-8 years of running the studios successfully, she wanted some change as a feeling of burn out was creeping in.
“I was in search of a creative outlet but at the same time I felt the need to create something that gives back.”
In November 2012 she came across a book ‘Start Something that Matters’ that shifted something in her. This helped her narrow down her options. Similar to her wedding photography venture, this new one had a personal connection. She loved wearing anklets, wore them throughout her teenage years but felt that majority followed the same somewhat boring look. After working on her designs for months she found the courage to send them for production and the ‘Nosh Kay’ brand was born.
As for connecting this project to a sustainable cause, she came across Kiva.org, a platform that has been changing lives around the globe by providing micro loans that enables people establish their financial footing.
“Nosh Kay venture has been a very amazing experience. I’ve learned a lot in the past few years which books can never prepare you for.”
Now the brand is not just limited to anklets, but also includes women’s clothing and children’s accessories.
Despite living in America since the age of eleven, Pakistan is still a core part of her life. Her entire extended family is based here and she visits often. She along with her husband want their kids to be in touch with their home country. They make an effort especially for their daughter who is old enough to understand the main stream media’s portrayal of Pakistan.
New York being a melting pot of cultures is in general very accepting. There are people who have a stereotypical image of Pakistan and the media only reinforces this stance, however personally her experience has been a positive one so far. On the subject of stereotypes and one specific stereotype that she would want to break about Pakistan she said:
“Media has people believe that Pakistan is still in the stone ages. All women wear burka and no girl is able to attend school let alone a woman being able to work out side home. Basically women in Pakistan have no rights. That’s something I wish people can change their mind about.”
At the same time she is of the opinion that it is time that our society needs to look into our flaws especially with regards to women and rectify our shortcomings.
“Change comes from within, before we go about changing how the world sees us we need to change how we see ourselves as a society.”