Around The Way Girl: Aisha Yousaf

“I didn’t see the culture being represented in a way that I knew it growing up.”  Graphic designer by day, clothing designer by night, Aisha Yousaf is taking her Pakistani roots and bringing them into fashion with her debut clothing line Aya IntlHer goal is to combine her love for fashion as well as her culture to talk about racism and inequality in a way that can be translated into any language. She is currently working on her second collection while working a full-time corporate job, as well as many side hustle illustration projects. She is making a name for herself at local festivals as well as internationally through social media. We were excited after finding her Instagram page and wanted to hear her story as both an artist in a corporate setting and an entrepreneurial boss lady!

Tell us a little about yourself!

I’m a graphic designer for Walgreens Corporate Headquarters. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs. I am originally from Los Angeles, then moved to Houston, then the suburbs of Chicago. Now I live in Logan Square. My dad is from Pakistan–so I am half Pakistani and my mom is German, Lithuanian and Polish. That’s why I don’t look fully dark.

The Pakistani culture was very dominant when I was growing up, that is why I am gung-ho about showcasing how beautiful and awesome it is. I think it has a very scary presence in the media right now and I wanted to show it in a  whole new level. I didn’t see the culture being represented in a way that I knew it growing up. That’s why I started the clothing line Aya Intl. I started the clothing line during the summer around Renegade Craft Fest.  I made a couple of shirt designs and then realized I want to keep designing clothing.

What was the biggest challenge when you were starting the Aya Intl. clothing designs?

Actually, one of the biggest challenges was emotional. It was at the Renegade Fest. I was surprised, but not surprised, by how many racist comments I got from my line.

Really? At Renegade?

Yes! I got really sensitive at one point and had to regroup myself. One guy looked me directly in the eye and asked if I worked for ISIS. One of my friends who was helping me and wearing a T-shirt from the line had someone walk up to her and ask, “What does your shirt say? Does it say I hate whities?”  Stuff you couldn’t even make up people were saying to my face.

What are the messages on the t-shirts? 

I have a few different designs. My personal  favorite is the illustration of a woman in a headscarf and underneath says Strength in Arabic. It is my female empowerment design. I have another one that says Overlooked Citizen. It’s for women, minorities, the LGBT community, the underprivileged, pretty much anyone who has felt overlooked  by their government. These designs have heavy political tones and my next collection won’t as much. It will be more or less showcasing Desi styles.

When can we expect your next collection?

I am currently working on it! I think summertime. I want it to be summer clothing.
How do you balance your full-time job while trying to launch your clothing line?
It’s really hard. REALLY HARD! That is one of the reasons why it has taken me so long to start something that I really want to do. Then on top of that I am supposed to manage social media, meet new people, make connections, networking. It’s so hard and sometimes I just feel like I used all of my energy after work and I have none to create my projects.
How do your parents feel toward you wanting to start Aya Intl. and being an artist? 
My dad is very cool with it. He actually helps me translate a lot of the words. I have a really, really, low understanding of Urdu [Pakistani Arabic] and Hindi. Everything I know is from listening to my dad and grandfather speak, watching Bollywood movies and listening to Bollywood songs. I really don’t know how to speak or write fluently so [my dad] helps me translate everything.
My mom is a little more nervous. Sometimes I think she doesn’t want me to start this clothing line. She’s nervous because of how Pakistanis are portrayed in the media and is scared people might misunderstand me and my intentions.  She thinks I’ll be some sort of target even though there aren’t any religious undertones in my line. Even though everything is written in one language and representative of my culture,  the translation is universal.
How do you stay inspired when creating? What motivates you in your artistic process?
Oh my God, everything! For instance, I went to a show last night and the outfits the musicians were wearing were highly inspirational! Music is probably my biggest inspiration right now. My summer vibe collection is inspired by some of my favorite musicians. I constantly look at Tumblr, Instagram and other blogs. I constantly look at what people are wearing and how they style it.
What is your biggest challenge with owning Aya, which is a full-time job itself, and working five days a week at your other job?
It is something I struggle with mentally. I’m in a job where I have to be creative all day then come home and try to stay creative and switch modes. Some days are really easy and other days are really hard because I’m exhausted from my day time job.
Do you find it odd that your are both a “corporate artist” and “artist?” 
Well, I need to invest in my clothing line, so I am really grateful for my 9-5 job. I see this as a steping stone to many different things. I see Aya as a clothing line. Later down the road I would love to add jewelry. It’s mine so I can do whatever I please. I  can incorporate my illustrations. I have an idea for a zine I want to create that I can sell on the site as well. I feel like I can use Aya for a million different  things.
I also use the website as a portfolio. I love photo styling and assisting on photo shoots. The best part of having my own clothing line is that I am also building my photo portfolio.
What advice would you give to young women who are still working their corporate job, while trying to launch their own business or path?
Haha! I’m still trying to take my own advice! I’ve done so much before Aya. I’ve always done illustration and I ran an online vintage shop with one of my friends. It took awhile to figure out, but once I figured out what I wanted the purpose of my art to be and the meaning, that really helped fuel me. It’s really important to find your niche. It will keep you motivated and inspired. The message that I am trying to spread has a purpose and that fuels me. It excites me when I see people wearing Arabic [words] and not seeing it as a scary thing. Instead it opens up a dialogue and gets people to talk about the Arab community.
With your art background, how did you learn to become so business savvy?
Well, I had to figure out how to turn my hobby into a business. I am very inspired by other entrepreneurial ladies. I am constantly learning about other women that I am inspired by. I just kinda go crazy stalking their lives and figure out how they got to the point of success. I think you should follow other women who inspire you and you know that their goals and your goal is attainable. I have so many creative outlets that I never envision myself to just settle.
I’m also surrounded by creative people. Kyle (Aisha’s boyfriend, who is a local DJ in Chicago) is super motivating and inspiring. We talk about business plans and collaborations all of the time.
Ok, last question! What is your favorite thing about Chicago?
SUMMERTIME! I also think Chicago is such a great launchpad city for artists. It’s not too expensive or over saturated. Kyle and I talk about this all the time. Chicago is a really good community of people who support each other and collaborate on projects. It’s great to be here as an artist or creative type!
To purchase clothing and keep up to date with Aya Intl. please visit Aisha’s website at Be sure to follow Aisha on Instagram @aisha_yousaf to see her amazing illustrations and other creative endeavors!
{Know an Around The Way Girl we need to to get in touch with? Let us know in the comment section below!}

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