“There’s nothing really out there for brown girls, is there really?”
Her creative eye saw a gap for cool and quirky feminist apparel, particularly for the discerning British Asian fashionista.
After all, how many times did you go into a shop hoping to find a Sunita, Jakir or Daljit? Too often the names only include Johns, Janes and Andrews.
Well, her clothing brand, Good Girl Gang prioritises British Asians and other people of colour for once.
While mainly girls sport her gorgeous and unique designs, the striking illustrations and fun slogans appeal to all genders.
Above all, however, her brand is a masterclass in the power of social media with 12.7k Instagram followers.
She now has a worldwide reach with fans from Malaysia to the United States or models like Simran Randhawa.
Nevertheless, she retains the community feel that makes her brand so successful.
We speak to Nawel Hussain to about how she started the brand, where she plans on taking it and her advice for other South Asian creatives.
From Creative Beginnings
Based in Leicester, Nawel Hussain feels as if she’s been making art forever. She credits her family, especially her filmmaker uncle, for helping her grow as an artist.
While she initially would enter her paintings to exhibitions at Leicester’s New Walk Museum, she tells us:
“For my art foundation, I wanted to get into fashion design because I was really into fashion. But I did textiles and I hated it so much – like creating your own garments, I was like, this is not for me.”
“So I moved to fine art and then I got into film making.”
After all, this featured in her early artistic experiments:
“I always used to record short films when I was a kid with my dad’s camcorder and edit on Windows Movie Maker”.
But then for her Art Foundation degree, she recalls:
“My final piece was a video installation, focusing on light and shadow in derelict places and how it kind of enhances the beauty.”
It’s clear that Hussain would eventually find the path to the right form of creative expression for her. Still, when creating the Good Girl Gang brand, it was actually “a spur of the moment” discovery.
Starting Good Girl Gang
Hating the Art Foundation degree, she left university and was in the process of finding a job and volunteering, before an idea sparked between herself and her cousin:
“We wanted to create handmade pillows, that’s where it started originally. Then we moved from pillows to t-shirts and totes.”
Nawel’s cousin always wanted a ‘Brown Girl Power’ t-shirt as:
“There’s nothing really out there for brown girls, is there really? On tee shirts, on totes, on apparel…you never see things that highlight brown girls.”
“It’s always..it’s general, not really specific – like girl power.”
Although, it wasn’t a straightforward path for the brand and its iconic designs featuring female characters.
“I designed a few drafts, sketches and then we started with that. But then we had screen malfunctions so for a whole year we were just off. We completely stopped everything and I redesigned the girls”.
Early designs included ’It’s Not Your Babe’, ‘Brown Girl Power’ and ‘Not Exotic’. Hussain describes the designs as becoming more refined as she turned her hand to professional design software.
Nevertheless, aspiring young creatives shouldn’t be put off her use of professional software:
“I was self-taught and everything. I didn’t do graphics in college, I took textiles.”
“We realised that we could print the tee shirts at home by ourselves using screen printing. So we YouTubed it and literally just learned from YouTube.”
It’s refreshing to hear such a different story to creative success. After all, so often the only legitimate path into the arts appears to be university.
Yet Nawel Hussain’s story shows the value of feeling empowered enough to follow your own path:
“I don’t like being told what to do.”
“Being told in uni: “oh you have to paint this. You have to create this.” Now it’s like I can create this, I can create that and if I want to create, it’s fine. If I don’t want to create it, I don’t have to.”
Still this is a lot of pressure for a young creative. After the departure of her cousin to focus on other projects, Nawel Hussain took sole control over the brand.
Despite being the only designer, she didn’t realised until responsibility fell to her the full extent of the hard work:
“So much work, I don’t think I even realised until my cousin left. Because I was designing solely, she wasn’t really into art. But we were both doing the production, marketing, packing and so on.”
“Ordering like stock is a big thing too. Because if you’re out, you’ve got to keep on top. So, we’d like share that out, but now, she’s not there so you’ve got to be on game constantly. So, it is really tricky, but I’m handling it fine.”
This is a lot for anyone to handle. It’s clear that practical matters of Good Girl Gang keep Nawel Hussain busy.
Although when it comes to the design side, she finds her inspiration from anywhere and everywhere:
“I don’t sit there and brainstorm. Normally it just comes to me, if my grandma says something like sexist or she’s always like: “oh boys can stay out past this time but you’ve got to be back at this time.” So if someone’s said something, I’ll quickly write it down in my notes.”
Like anyone however, she does encounter creative blocks. When trying to maintain consistency to keep her huge audience, she describes these moments as the worst, but continues:
“There’s not really a specific time that I get inspired, it’s just everything around me. It’s kind of like if I see something, I’ll just draw from it – or friends too.”
Of course, Nawel Hussain does have some methods to ward off this bug bear of all creatives:
“I watch loads of films. I’m really a film buff, like old classics. I try to read books but I get distracted very, very easily. So it’s hard to keep my focus so films seem like the easiest way to go to relieve my creative stress.”
“I love Bollywood but mainly just cult classics. Like Martin Scorsese, Nicolas Winding Refn. Like I go to a lot of film talks, Q&As…I haven’t really been watching that many films recently. But I am really into film.”
“If I can’t create anything or express myself, I just watch a film and to hopefully help me get some creativity out. Like yesterday I watched Mean Streets with Robert De Niro – it’s my favourite.”
Good Girl Gang’s Identity
Here, eagle-eyed readers will be quick to see the influence of Hussain’s personal interests.
While some items are open to interpretation, more culturally specific tees are perfect for British Asians embracing their Desi-ness. Great examples include ‘Brown Girl Power’ and ‘Nazar’ featuring the actress, Kajol’s iconic stare.
“Actually the ‘Brown Girl Power’ started with a bindi on top. She was actually called Anjali, at first.
Because from Indian films, Kajol is like my favourite, so we based it off her characters.”
However, to make the design open to brown girls of other backgrounds, they swapped the bindi for a nose ring. Yet, even this is customisable as per the brand’s ethos of making clothing more “personal” for the wearers.
In fact, the characters on designs are given different women’s names to achieve this:
“I never really come across with a tee shirt with a character on it that’s got a name per se.”
“There was never any thought to it. We just thought: “Hey, shall we name the tees, name the girls? And it just happened really.”
Though she adds:
“‘Not Exotic’ was Miho from Watchmen so it kind of reinforces the culture behind the character. I’m not sure I’ll introduce more. It’s just a creative block again, it’s just hard to get more out. But hopefully, there’ll be more characters soon.”
In the meantime, there’s plenty to keep her customers happy. Good Girl Gang’s range of tees and totes are easily customisable online in a range of colours.
Delivered in pretty tissue paper and stickers, Nawel Hussain adds a special touch to every aspect of the brand. For the British Asian brand, excellent customer service is at its heart.
Finding a Global Audience
It’s clear that Nawel Hussain’s natural creative instinct is a huge asset to the brand. Her knack for creating a strong brand identity explains why Good Girl Gang “picked up really, really fast”.
Indeed, Good Girl Gang quickly won big-name fans like British Asian model, Simran Randhawa.
Nonetheless, Hussain still credits her friends for being “really supportive”, sharing the brand on their own social media.
In fact, the Good Girl Gang Instagram community seems essential to it earning a global audience. Its reputation as a friendly brand is crucial for Hussain. Having received positive feedback on customer service, she finds “it’s little things like that that push you to keep going”.
Regardless of whether the brand’s customers are in Czech Republic, Russia, Malaysia and Croatia, Hussain encourages all to engage:
“We always say tag us and share your look. Maybe people just take that word for word. [People] feel more open to sharing themselves in the tee shirts. Because normally if I bought something from a boutique here, I don’t think I would share a photo of myself wearing the tee shirt.”
“I think it’s a lot of word-of-mouth. Because I’ve had a lot of repeat customers to turn multiple orders. I’ve noticed people will post photos and then they’ll post photos with their friends.”
“There was another one, the ‘Boys Lie’ tee and two friends had them, both of them. It’s so cute.”
“I’ve even had friends tell me that in Cambridge, they’ve seen someone wear them, or Soho in London.”
“It’s really surreal actually. It’s quite a personal thing to express yourself and market it to people because it’s part of you. I get quite insecure about my designs sometimes. But people seem to really, really dig it.”
Looking to the Future
Having achieved such incredible success after really only working on the brand in late 2017, it’s fascinating to discover where Good Girl Gang will go next.
She alludes to maintaining the personal aspect of Good Girl Gang. Despite Hussain’s natural inclination, she more recently appeared on its social media to keep a balance between business and personal.
It’s heartening to see how she aims to create a value-led business. Focusing on accessibility through fair pricing and regular sales, she acknowledges the young age of her target market.
All the while, she seeks to balance this with sustainability, researching eco-friendly packaging and cotton tees.
But referencing her favourite brand, Weekday for its beginnings in screen-printing, Nawel Hussain tells us:
“I want to start doing stickers, maybe hats. I want to try to get more creative with it. Even like clothing like trousers or jackets. I feel that’s way in the future but it’s what I’m thinking.”
And why not? After all, it’s again in Hussain’s blood:
“My family were actually into garment making too. Like my uncle used to screen-print tee-shirts as well. So I mean it’s always been there. It’ll take time obviously, but hopefully, I’ll get into that more.”
“But for now, I’m going to focus on feminist apparel because there’s not really enough of it.”
A Final Note
For young British Asians, finding a creative career can be difficult between family expectations and discrimination in the Arts.
While Nawel Hussain modestly insists she’s not “mature enough” to know, we convinced her to share some advice:
“Honestly I think that try and ignore what people say and put you down. Because some people are just jealous if I’m honest with you. They’ll say something to kind of put you down and steer you onto another course.”
“If you’re really are into art, like the creative industry, then go for it. Because at the end of the day, it is your life.”
“You’re not going to be wanting to be stuck in a job that you’re not interested in. Like a nine to five job, sounds like a pain if you’re not into it.”
However, she reminds aspiring young designers to constantly design and express themselves.
She encourages creatives to:
“Just take baby steps, just produce something, even if it’s something small like a hobby or interest or something. As long as you’re creating something then you’re doing something.”
In fact, she reflects on her journey to Good Girl Gang’s current success:
“I think a few years ago I wouldn’t have imagined me doing this really.”
“Like even talking to strangers. That would not have been like what I’d imagine myself doing so you’re just got to like get out of your comfort zone. Otherwise, you’re not going to get anywhere.”
We look forward to seeing how Good Girl Gang progresses with Hussain’s inspiring outlook. The brand simultaneously feels fearless and fun with slogans like ‘Boys Lie’ and ‘Hot and Halal’.
Plus, the forward-thinking fashion brand clearly addresses a key gap in the market. It’s great to see a clothing line finally catering to young British Asians.
With Nawel Hussain’s passion for creating and innovating, we’re sure that Good Girl Gang will continue to go from strength to strength.