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First person: Plastic fantastic

January 06, 2013

Nabila.–Photo by Arshad Tareen

She’s the kind of plastic that is durable and weather resistant; unaffected by the harsh weather changes in her life and there have been many. She’s also malleable, the word ‘change’ being her mantra whether she’s changing roles, relationships or whether she’s using that malleability for professional expansion. How the Nabila brand grew from a tiny garage operation to a multi-million dollar enterprise featuring salons, a bridal studio and nail bars is an inspiration to every woman. She’ll be opening her very own barbering shop next month.

We meet as she’s training barbers from as far as Soldier Bazaar and Christian Town.

“We’ve been cutting hair for as long as we can remember,” says Javed, who’s delighted to have been recruited for the upcoming salon and is training under her these days. “We have learnt on the job but ma’am is teaching us technique and styling.”

They’re in awe of her, held in admiration for this ‘plastic fantastic’ specimen of a woman who works 14 hours a day, like a clockwork doll whose energy dies down only when she needs to be rewound. Nabila’s energy does die down around 9pm every night. That’s when she says: “I don’t want to see another human being after 9 o’ clock. Thank God my kids have moved out and my husband works in his studio very late every night.”

Despite retiring from the madness of her life at 9pm, she stays awake on her one guilty pleasure: Karachi’s famous chili chips. Salty snacks are her weakness. But she’s also an incorrigible insomniac, no matter how well her ‘mind coach’ counsels it. The only person she’ll listen to is herself and for her adult years (she’ll be celebrating her 50th birthday in a couple) that has been more than good enough.

She, being the only woman in a group of 59 trekkers, was able to scale the inhospitable terrain of K2 base camp last year. It was a personal goal she had set for herself and accomplished. “I didn’t slow anyone down,” she says as she chalks up plans of tackling Everest next year.

Nabila is her own competition and is unperturbed by the sway of politics that forever blows through the fashion industry. She styled the opening days of both PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Weeks (in 2011 and 2012) and claims that the reason she hasn’t been involved with either Fashion Pakistan Week or PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week is because she’s never been asked. The councils say she’s too expensive.

“I have offered to style fashion weeks free of cost as my contribution to the industry,” she offers.

Contrary to peoples’ opinion of her being a cut throat aggressor, life isn’t all about work and personal goals. It wouldn’t be possible to achieve a healthy mind-body balance without the positive karma, she firmly agrees with Oriental wisdom.

That karma comes from her contributions to organizations like LAML (Light a Million Lives), an initiative to illuminate villages in Punjab or Hunar Foundation, an enterprise that aims to give vocational training to people from the streets and empowering them financially. Nabila has volunteered to mentor individuals interested in beauty and styling by providing them with world class professional training.

“I started from scratch,” she says, “and there is no reason why everyone else can’t.”

Plastic is protective and whether that applies to her as a mother, a wife or more simply just a human being, Nabila is protective too. It’s her cosmetic line of products that she’s busy protecting these days. Something she calls her ‘gold mine’ she has conceived, created and christened the product but needs to patent it before it is launched.

“I’ve been ready to launch for a while,” she confesses at the risk of revealing any information that may jeopardise her plans, “but I have to copyright the name as well as the product first. It’s not just a product, it’s a concept and should be legally patented.” It will release early this year, she shares.

Until then she has her hands full of other things, including styling Humayun Saeed’s image for his upcoming feature film, in which he’s cast himself in the role of a cricketer from the ’90s, no points for guessing who’s the inspiration. Nabila is also styling the ‘item song’ in the film, which will feature none other than Mathira. And submerging into her protective, quiet mode she refuses to let out further information.

What she is happy to talk about is her recent showcase at the PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week, in which the ‘Paper Doll’ concept was somewhat lost on people. She sent a perfectly plastic Barbie doll (depicted by fashion model Ayyan) down the runway in what was intended as a reflection of what women in Pakistan wanted to look like.

“Girls want plastic perfection,” she explained. “They come to me asking to look like a doll; they beg to look like a doll. So I showed them what dolls look like. Months of research and preparation went into developing the concept and it was executed with perfection. Ayyan did look flawless.”

Flawless can appear plastic on the surface; it can even appear unreal but as far as Nabila is concerned there is no such thing as unreal. There isn’t anything that can’t be fixed and she sums up the solution in two words: “If you don’t like it, change it.”